Civil Rights and the Biden Tough Model

National Center for Civil and Human Rights Opens in Atlanta - The New York  Times
National Center for Human Rights in Atlanta, photo from NY Times

The stereotype of Democrats among GOP operatives and the media is that they don’t have the provocative, norm-breaking, don’t give a shit “toughness” of Republicans like Trump, McConnell, and Newt Gingrich. According to the stereotype, Dems are constantly being rolled by the latest new GOP procedural trick, deceit, or bit of race-baiting demagoguery and can only respond with impotent “outrage” and more futile calls for bipartisanship. Where Republicans and the media identify the GOP as tough, they see the Democrats as “weak” because Dems want government to function, care about things like education, public health, and social security, and are oriented toward making rules and playing by them.

As always, there are racist themes and variations woven into the fabric of these stereotypes. Black Democratic politicians and media figures are branded as “angry” and “extreme” anytime they show or are even rumored to show aggression. For example, Michelle Obama was famously branded as an “angry black woman” for things she was rumored to have said before her husband was nominated by the Democratic Party. When John Lewis hugged it out with Republicans, it was a magnificent gesture but it was also the only kind of behavior the mainstream media finds admirable in Black Democrats. Stereotypes of Black Dems work as a form of racial control because Black Democrats have to assume the damage the stereotypes can cause as they work out their courses of action. The stereotypes also function to control the behavior of white Democrats and keep them in a kind of rhetorical subordination to their GOP peers. The expectation is that GOP bullies will always pull the football away from the weak, gullible Democratic Charlie Browns and there’s a disturbance in the force any time a white Democrat like Chuck Schumer comes out with full throated partisanship.

The flip side of this exercise in GOP/media racism is that white Democrats are viewed as “tough” or “strong” when they put down their own minority constituencies. This notion of Democratic strength was racialized into the idea of a “Sister Souljah” moment after Bill Clinton putting down rapper Sister Souljah for sounding like a black activist version of David Duke at an event sponsored by Jesse Jackson, thus humiliating both Jackson and the rapper. Over the 2020 campaign and beyond, Joe Biden has been urged by Dave Weigel and Never Trumpers like Matt Lewis, George Will, and Bret Stephens to “show strength” by renouncing George Floyd demonstrators, Critical Race Theory, or White Fragility author Robin DiAngelo. Whether the target for the Sister Souljah Moment campaign is black, white, Ilhan Omar, or Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the idea is for Biden to use the renunciation to solidify a “personal domination” over the Democratic Party by conducting himself on the model of racial domination.

However, President Biden has broken away from “Sister Souljah Moments.” Much has been made of President Biden’s empathy, but he’s also a feisty guy who isn’t interested in taking a lot of crap. Here’s Biden at an auto plant in March 2020.

Joe Biden at Michigan Auto Plant, The Guardian, youtube.com

As the transcript below demonstrates, Biden has no tolerance for the disinformation on what this man is saying and calls him out immediately and personally. Fox News, GOP commentators, and right-wing conspiracy channels devote most of their time to lying, stereotyping, gaslighting, and purveying other forms of disinformation in relation to public issues, the Democratic Party, and Democratic constituencies. All too often, Democrats and liberals respond by being “offended” and “outraged.” But Biden breaks out of that rhetorical box. Instead of being “insulted” or “outraged,” Biden tells his antagonist “You’re full of shit” and reinforces that message at the end of that part of the discussion by also telling him to “stop being a horse’s ass.” An interesting thing about this incident is that white conservatives work hard at provoking “emotional” reactions from Democrats as a way to demonstrate control over political encounters. But in this case, it is Biden who dominates through his angry insults over the right-wing auto worker’s lying and stupidity.

Man: “You are actively trying to end our Second Amendment right and take away our guns.”

Biden: “You’re full of shit. I did not—no, no, shush. Shush. I support the Second Amendment. The Second Amendment — just like right now if you yelled fire, that’s not free speech. And from the very beginning, I have a shotgun, I have a 20-gauge, a 12-gauge. My sons hunt, guess what? You’re not allowed to own any weapon, I’m not taking your gun away at all. You need 100 rounds?”

Man: “You and Beto say you’re going to take our guns –“

Biden: “I did not say that. That’s not true. I did not say that.”Man: “

“It’s a viral video.”

Biden: “It’s a viral video like the other ones you’re putting out that are simply a lie. Wait, wait wait, wait, take your AR, your AR-14, Don’t tell me anything about (inaudible)”

Man: “You’re working for me, man.”

Biden: “I’m not working for — gimme a break man. Don’t be such a horse’s ass.”

That wasn’t all. In his Jan. 11 speech on the “John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2021,” President Biden employed black history to pose the need for voting rights reform in a starkly dichotomizing manner. Beginning with the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol, Biden opposed the Insurrection to the entire weight of the 1950’s-1960’s Civil rights movement. Biden started with a reference to Atlanta as the “cradle of the Civil Rights Movement and builds further by citing Atlanta’s historical black colleges (Clark Atlanta, Morehouse, and Spelman), the Ebenezer Baptist Church headed Martin Luther King and his father before him and then Birmingham, Selma, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Voting Rights of 1965. The Civil Rights Movement was both a monumental exercise in anti-racist public morality and a massive struggle for social and political power that overturned the legal structure of white supremacy against the determined efforts of Southern political institutions and opposition from the white public. For this occasion, Biden emphasized the bipartisan, multiracial character of the Civil Rights Movement with references to the willingness of white liberals to participate in the cause and Republican support for the Civil Rights Act of 1964. However, he also portrays the movement as anchored in black institutions like Morehouse College, black leadership in Martin Luther King, jr. and black courage and determination of Black activists. In Biden’s portrayal, it was primarily black activism that made the Civil Rights Movement such an exemplary moral moment, had results in such monumental historical change, and came to represent everything that was good about America as a nation.

During his Jan. 11 speech, President Biden was speaking as President of the United States as a nation, head of the Democratic Party, and long-time politician. That’s one of the reason why the sense of the accomplishments of the Civil Rights movement, the anchoring of those accomplishments in the Black population, and the function of Civil Rights as representative of the United States as a nation flowed together so well in Biden’s rhetoric.

Adding to the moral and political aggression of Biden’s speech was his identification of the Jan. 6 Insurrection and Trump with the worst aspects of American history and culture—the 250 years of slavery, the Southern segregation system, Ku Klux Klan, 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham, and Strom Thurmond. For Biden, the Jan. 6 Insurrection as had historical depth because of the links between Trumpian politics and the kind of evils that marked the conservative traditions and personalities that opposed the Civil Rights Movement. One of the weak points of U.S. conservatism is that there is NO honorable tradition with which white conservatives can identify. This is implicitly recognized by President Biden when he nails the Jan. 6 Insurrection and Trump to the cross of violent white opposition to Civil Rights. response to the Civil Rights Movement. Much of what made Biden’s opposition between Civil Rights and the whole of white supremacist tradition such a power move was that conservatives have so little in the way of American history with which they can defend themselves.

Having constructed such a strong historical sketch, President Biden moved to the main event which was advocating the John Lewis Voting Advancement Act against Republican opposition. GOP state legislatures had passed a wide variety of voter suppression acts all of which were aimed at reducing voting rates among Black voters in particular and Democratic constituencies in general. The John Lewis Voting Advancement Act was designed to counter-act this wave of vote suppression by making states once again get pre-clearance from the Justice Department for changes to their voting laws. Relying on his previous account of the dichotomy between Civil Rights and white supremacy, President Biden then poses a stark choice for Senate Republicans.

At consequential moments in history, they present a choice: Do you want to be the si- — on the side of Dr. King or George Wallace?  Do you want to be on the side of John Lewis or Bull Connor?  Do you want to be on the side of Abraham Lincoln or Jefferson Davis?

Given that there was no chance for the voting rights bill to pass over a GOP filibuster, the underlying purpose of President Biden posing the vote in these terms was to bully the Republicans morally by associating them with many of the great evils of American history. And it worked. The Democrats should use President Biden’s Jan. 11 speech as a template for attacking the Republicans on all kinds of civil rights, cultural, and social issues. The Republican Party has been rooted in white supremacy and race-baiting ever Barry Goldwater voted against the Civil Rights Act of 1964 can be stronger in the political trenches if they keep reminding the Republicans what side they’re on.

Democratic Party Mainstream: Manchin Moves Out, Bernie Moves In

Over the last few days, an interesting little debate has developed between Senators Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Bernie Sanders of Vermont. As Manchin became more determined in his opposition to President Biden’s “Build Back Better” proposals and eliminating the filibuster, Bernie Sanders has amped his criticisms of Manchin and Joe Manchin has defended himself and his place in the Democratic Party.

Despite launching two presidential primary campaigns against the Democratic “Establishment” from the left, Sanders is exasperated by the refusal of Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) to go along with the Biden Administration and Senate Democratic leadership:

“It’s not just this vote. These are people who I think have undermined the president of the United States . . . They have forced us to have five months of discussions that have gone absolutely nowhere. I think it’s up to the people in their own states,” he added, when asked by reporters on Capitol Hill whether he supported efforts to primary his colleagues.

Finally doing right': Democrats' big bill offers Sanders chance to deliver  | Bernie Sanders | The Guardian
Guardian

Given Sanders’ history with the Bill Clinton and Obama administrations, there’s irony in him arguing from presidential authority like this. The same with criticizing Manchin and Sinema for wasting people’s time. Bernie also did plenty of that as a presidential candidate.

Just as eager to talk with the media as Sanders, Joe Manchin welcomed the idea of a primary challenge from the left and had every reason to do so given that he beat Paul Jean Swearingen by 40 back in 2018.

Manchin told Newsy he’d welcome a primary challenge. A successor to a dominant West Virginia family who previously served as governor, Manchin has easily dispatched previous primary challengers . . . “I’ve always had primary challenges,” Manchin said. “I’ve been running since 1982.”

Manchin also knows he’s the only Democrat who could win a state-wide election in West Virginia now that it’s a deep red Trump+40 state.

Joe Manchin's Houseboat: 5 Things | Washingtonian (DC)
Ralph Alswang

But Manchin goes further and raises some points about the status of Bernie Sanders as a Democrat in turn.

“Well, Senator Sanders is not a Democrat,” Manchin told Newsy’s Nathaniel Reed while back in West Virginia, pointing out that Sanders was a self-described democratic socialist. Manchin said Sanders’ ideology was “not what I think the majority of Americans represent.”

But this is where it gets more interesting. Manchin definitely is a Democrat and has been a Democrat his whole career, but Joe Manchin has become increasingly marginal as the Democrats have focused more on a civil rights (BLM, gay marriage, abortion rights, ending police abuse), Green New Deal, and reducing economic inequity agenda. Manchin himself is aware of this. Instead of just seeing himself as a Democrat, Manchin has identified himself as a “centrist moderate conservative Democrat” and he’s definitely the kind of Democrat who would get a tough primary challenge if he were in Arizona, Illinois, Connecticut, or New York. Since Manchin first ran for office in 1982, the more conservative Dems have declined as a force in American politics. Squeezed by increasingly right-wing Republicans in the South and minority/progressive challengers in the North and West, moderate Dems find themselves politically isolated and probably have more affinity with the Establishment Republicans who have established a bastion in the Senate than the mainstream of the Democratic Party. Given the 50-50 Senate, Manchin’s affinities with the Establishment GOP and oil and coal interests make him the most important figure in the Establishment conservative effort to stem the environmentalist and clean energy tide and thwart the Biden administration and mainstream Democratic Party. Perhaps ironically, the more marginal Joe Manchin became as a Democrat, the more victories he’s delivered for some of the declining forces in American life.

Manchin, McConnell meet on Senate floor amid Biden spending bill
Manchin, McConnell meet on Senate floor amid Biden spending bill, New York Post

To the contrary Bernie Sanders has gone the other way. Despite maintaining his status as an independent and remaining a democratic socialist, Sanders has converged with the Democratic Party mainstream. Sanders initially touted $6 trillion for the Build Back Better legislation, winnowed it down to $3.5 trill in the main Senate bill, and grudgingly accepted roads and bridges carveout like other mainstream Democrats. The 3.5 trillion bill included progressive priorities on paid family leave, universal pre-school, clean energy, and taxing the rich, but notoriously did not include Sanders campaign staples like Medicare for All and Cancelling Student Debt. Even in the 3.5 trillion bill, “Build Back Better” was about “incremental change” rather than the “radical change” Sanders had traditionally demanded. For his most recent presidential campaign, Sanders hired a number of senior staffers like Briahna Joy Gray, David Sirota, and Nina Turner who viewed the Democratic Party as their most important enemy rather than the Republicans. But by Fall 2021, Bernie was proposing a bill that could just as well have been written by Hillary Clinton.

That wasn’t all. After Manchin and Sinema came out in opposition to the $3.5 trillion plan, Sanders kept his grumbling to a minimum through the rest of the process until Manchin delivered his final rejection in December. Bernie was not only a mainstream Democrat, he was also a team player.

Last week, Peter Doocy of the Fox News propaganda and insurrection network asked a question about President Biden moving “left” which is generally interpreted as moving towards Bernie Sanders. But that wasn’t the case. President Biden promoted an expansive agenda throughout the campaign and it only went unnoticed because Donald Trump took up ALL the oxygen in American politics. Since Obama’s presidency, the Democrats have become a multicultural, socially liberal, and economic reform political party that’s best represented by the city of Philadelphia. As President Biden responded, he is a “mainstream Democrat” rather than a socialist. As a result of the politics of Build Back Better, Bernie Sanders fits in as a mainstream Democrat as well.

Much better than Joe Manchin.

“You Lack Conviction”

When I first started “Early Blackface, etc.,” I saw the blog partly as a writing journal. But this feels like the first entry I’ve made that really focuses on my writing and the long-standing difficulties I experience as a writer.

It seemed like a lifetime, but there was a time from 1977 to 1994 when I struggled for access to words when I was trying to write. Beginning with my nervous breakdown during my first year of poli sci grad school and not really ending until after I had tenure at Morehead State in KY, I would churn with ideas but the connection to words would crumble not unlike the way Voldemort crumbled to end the Harry Potter movies. The reason for the problem was the same for the whole 17 years. I had an underlying combination of anxiety and depression that turned any effort I made to further myself into a version of the torture dreams I was having and trying to shut myself down was one way in which I subconsciously coped. Given that I had invent brain surgery (successful) and grew up in an abusive family, the anxiety and depression had deep roots from my time growing up and was a deep hole that I would have to climb out of if I wanted to write (or really be functional at all).

Vaguely recognizing that I needed help, I sought out therapy in the summer of 1977 as I began a two-year leave from grad school at UNC-Chapel Hill. Likewise, I’ve been in therapy most of my adult life and have sought help while living in Chapel Hill NC, Ann Arbor MI, Philadelphia and London in the UK. I’ve also adapted and shed a number of coping strategies including lots of tennis, pin ball, pool, and “boisterous” partying gradually being winnowed out especially as I developed an allergy to booze. While I was in Chapel Hill, playing four hours of pinball and tennis a day tired me enough that I had some freedom from anxiety and night and could get stuff done. When I came back from my leave, I also began to adapt a trickster kind of persona in relation to my grad school work and began to see everything in my American Political Thought class as “funny” and, much to my professor’s annoyance, filled up my weekly papers with jokey observations about the reading. Represented in this post by Loki, the trickster persona was a resource in allowing me to sidestep the anxieties and allow me to write my fellowship proposals, dissertation, and the articles I’ve gotten published since 1997. Among other things, laughter is a form of aggression and it’s been an aggression that complimented the aggression that had stayed with me from my days as a bullying high school linebacker for the Waverly (NY) Wolverines.

But I’ve also never finished a book and I’ve come to believe that the trickster persona was been limiting as well as enabling. I don’t remember Loki ever winning in the Thor comics I read as a kid let alone the Avengers. And The Joker lost whether he was being played by Caesar Romero, Jack Nicholson, or Heath Ledger. So did the Green Goblin in Spider Man. The tricksters either never win or have won so far out of my awareness that their wins never counted for me. This all came into sharp relief and it started to hit me that Agent Coulson was also talking to me when he told Loki in The Avengers that “you’re going to fail . . . because you lack conviction.” That’s where the trickster persona has been so limiting to me. No matter how many years or decades I spend preparing to finish a book, I don’t have the “conviction” that I’ll actually get a manuscript either finished or published.

And it’s all stupid. If I shared this with friends, some of them would start banging their heads against the wall at my absurd under-estimation of my own capacities.

Stupid but still real.

So what’s been happening is that I’ve been spending my therapy time at age 67 going back through my whole history of demeaning and underestimating myself a kind of self-congratulation (“so clever”), habit, and protection from bigger problems. That’s why I “lack conviction.” Given that the whole trickster mode was a way to distract myself from the pain of anxiety and depression, the whole exercise is pretty painful.

But also there’s a certain way in which “enough is enough” and I’m getting on with it.

Conference Proposal on Blackface

T.D. Rice as Jim Crow, lithograph by Edward Williams Clay

White Popular Culture and Discourses on Blackness in Jacksonian Philadelphia

This study examines three discourses on blackness in the white popular culture of 1820’s and 1830’s Philadelphia–the lithographs of Edward W. Clay, blackface minstrelsy of T.D. Rice, and representations of rioters in the 1834 anti-black riot.  With “Jim Crow,” Rice developed a representation of blackness that embraced the white male bodily vulnerability that had gained prominence in the Workingmen’s writing of the late 1820’s. However, Clay’s 1828 “Life in Philadelphia” lithographs had already represented black men and women as a “comic substance” of extended feet and heels, absurd fashion choices, and ape-like features. The paper addresses the extent of Clay’s influence on both Rice and subsequent blackface performers. There is a similar question about the extent to which Clay’s representation of blacks overlapped with the racial discourses of white rioters in the 1834 anti-black riot. White men responded to attacks on a fire company by young black men by attacking a black neighborhood and then attacked black churches while attempting to drive the whole black population away. Where Clay portrayed black people as absurdly sub-human, the rioters were antagonistic toward black accomplishment and attempted a complete removal of black people from the city rather than accept black men as competing with whites or creating their own institutions. All three discourses on blackness remained influential as new versions of Clay’s Life in Philadelphia came out into the early 1840’s, blackface minstrelsy became even more popular with the advent of blackface bands, and anti-black riots continued to proliferate. Part of the durability of racist representation in white popular culture derives from the multiplicity and flexibility of white racist discourses. This paper provides an example of how distinct racist discourses in Philadelphia reinforced and strengthened each other.

NMGiovannucci –

Sacrificing for the “Normal”

St. Claire Regional Medical Center overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients

Last night, CNN did another story on the Covid situation in Morehead, KY focusing on the struggles of St. Claire Regional Medical Center to cope with the Omicron wave that’s now really digging in to Kentucky.

Dr. Aaron Parker Banks gets emotional when talking about the toll Covid-19 has taken on his tightknit rural community in northeastern Kentucky, where he works as the only physician at a clinic… [T]he state’s health care workers are once again bearing the brunt of the brutal surge.In rural areas such as Owingsville, Kentucky, where Parker Banks works, resources are stretched, with health care workers out sick themselves.”It definitely puts a strain on the system, on an already-strained system,” Parker Banks said. “Right now, we have probably a 40% reduction in staff currently, today, due to Covid or Covid exposure. With that, everybody else here has to pick up a significant amount.

I live 20 miles away from Owingsville in Morehead, KY and my wife is a family practice NP working for St. Claire Hospital in a Morehead clinic. The situation is surreal. There were 100 more cases in this county yesterday, yet over 50% of the population remains unvaccinated and hardly anyone is masked in the local stores and restaurants. Life is relatively normal “except” for the hospital where the intensity is peaking the same way it was during the height of the delta wave last September.

St. Claire Hospital is a big part of the community here in Morehead but the disconnect between hospital and community has been palpable and frankly disorienting. At the height of the delta wave, people were having outdoor neighborhood gatherings and would greet me as I walked by. My wife was working the Covid unit then and I remember a friend at a gathering calling out and being very surprised when I told him things were worse rather than better. In fact, people were still dying of Covid from the Delta wave in December two months after the wave crested. Anyway, I remember my friend moving back to the party and disengaging by thanking my wife for “her service.” The surface motivation might have been to express gratitude, but thanking my wife for her service was also a profoundly distancing gesture.

There are many possible layers for that kind of distancing–American optimism thwarted, avoidance, cooties, whatever. What I think about is the way “getting back to normal life” has been such a standard reference during the pandemic. In this case, it was like my wife and the hospital were sacrificing so other people could be “normal” while “normality” has not only required sacrifice from the hospital but from all the people who have been killed or seriously ill as a result of Covid. People themselves weren’t willing to sacrifice much to combat the pandemic, but were quite prepared for other people to sacrifice so they could “get back to normal” after each wave, thousands locally (12,000+ in Kentucky) and hundreds of thousands nationally. Few things have become more evident than the unsatisfactory character of the “normal” in the overwhelmingly white parts of rural America. Narrowing economic prospects, declining life spans for men and women, pervasive alcoholism, increasing rates of suicide, and the epidemics of meth, heroin, and opioid addiction all testify to the difficulty of staying afloat in areas like rural Kentucky. Yet people are still desperate to have it.

MLK and Representing the Nation

Among other things, celebrating Martin Luther King Jr’s Birthday involves a recognition of the monumental stature of King and the Civil Rights Movement in U.S. history and national identity. Because of the signal accomplishments of the Civil Rights campaigns of the 1950’s and 1960’s, Martin Luther King has the same historical stature that the Revolution gave George Washington and the Civil War gave Lincoln. Here at the “I Have a Dream Speech,” King is pictured across from the Washington Monument and near the Lincoln Memorial as he was about to embark on his own most memorialized moment.

+Toward the end of “Letter From Birmingham Jail,” Dr. King wrote that black people “will reach the goal of freedom in Birmingham and all over the nation, because the goal of America is freedom. Abused and scorned though we may be, our destiny is tied up with the destiny of America.” King emphasized the extent to which black people were part of American history and the American people. Although “abused and scorned,” black people were included in the “destiny of America” and had been since the first slaves were brought ashore in 1619. With Martin Luther King’s Birthday as a federal holiday celebrating King and the Civil Rights Movement, the black Civil Rights activists of the 1950’s and 1960’s were not just viewed as “included” in the American story but seen as actors in a crucial part of American history and also representing exemplary representatives of the courage, fortitude, and passion for justice that would make people proud to be Americans. People both at home and abroad could look at the history of the Civil Rights movement and think “this is who Americans are.” In other words, the people and actions of the Civil Rights Movement have become crucial elements in American national identity.

Check Your Privilege

Many of my students at Morehead State in KY were in situations as dire or almost as dire as those recounted by “Birgit Umaigha RN MEd”–students struggling to find computers or internet hook ups for online work, working two or three jobs to pay for school, caring for siblings because of addicted parents, going through one death in the family after another, fighting off crushing anxieties. Everything became worse after 2014, but most students continued to do very good to excellent work even as my basic mantra was reduced to “do your best.”

I’m thinking about “check your privilege” as part of the intersectional perspectives that became prominent in the late 80’s and early 90’s. “Intersectionality” was coined by Kimberle Crenshaw to express the way that black women were subject to both racism and sexism. Neither Crenshaw, Angela Davis, bell hooks, or Patricia Hill Collins believed that black women were the only group suffering from multiple, intersecting oppressions and ideas of intersectionality were quickly applied to economic class, immigrant status, disability, sexual orientation, and other hierarchies as well. Within intersectional perspectives, there developed a sense of being obligated to recognize both the fullness of the many ways in which a sector of the population could be oppressed and also the ways in which people could be “privileged” by advantageous positions in the social hierarchy. In this sense, intersectionality has always been associated with an obligation to recognize the full humanity of others.

At the same time, intersectionality has become associated with an ethics of self-recognition that is summed up with “check your privilege.” One element of checking your privilege is to be aware of one’s privilege which with intersectionality means being aware of the full range of social locations that give a person advantageous positions in the hierarchy. In my case, I would have race, gender, cis, educational, class, and ability privilege but would soon be coming up against the disadvantages of extreme age now that I’m almost 68. Within intersectional thinking, all of these privileged locations are identities in the sense of being social facts of my existence and also in defining my ways of perceiving the world, modes of action, etc. The idea of “checking your privilege” undermines the hegemonic white ideology of individualism which views individual attributes (“will,” “hard work,” “intelligence,” “talent,” etc.) as the only relevant source of one’s advantages and disadvantages in life. Consistent with the intersectional obligation to recognize the fullness of other persons, “check your privilege” pushes people, especially people in privileged locations, to engage in a full self-reflection on the nature of their own social locations.

“Check your privilege” also obligates those who are privileged to think, act, and speak on the combination of their reflections on the advantages conferred by various kinds of privilege and how their privileges oppressively affect other people. To “check your privilege” means that people in positions of privilege stop interacting with the world in terms of the social instincts, modes of perception, and cultural norms associated with their advantageous positions. In the case of many wealthy white persons for example, that would mean refraining from acting on their views of themselves as “well off” instead of rich, distinctions between their cultivated taste and middle-brow taste, and assumptions of various kinds of racial hierarchies. In this sense, “check their privilege” involves a critical self-reflection that puts a person outside the culture into which they have been socialized but does not put them into an alternative web of cultural assumptions. There is what Victor Turner called a “liminality” to the obligations involved in checking your privilege. For Turner, “liminality” was primarily a matter of cultural transition in which a person would leave one status prescribed within a culture without having yet adapted another status. “Liminality, in terms of social structure and time, is an intermediate state of being “in between” in which individuals are stripped from their usual identity and their constituting social differences while being on the verge of personal or social transformation.” In the case of “check your privilege,” the obligation is to suspend the cultural modes associated with privileged locations without having another set of cultural modes to adapt. The obligation of people to check their privilege entails a long-term state of liminality.

Conference Proposal: Intersectionality and the Ethics of Recognition

bell hooks Institute
bell hooks, http://www.bellhooksinstitute.com

I’ve copied my recent and conference proposal for the meeting of the Kentucky Political Science Association in early March, 2022. My long-term goal is to develop a chapter on intersectionality for a book project on “Multicultural Democracy in America.” Over the next six weeks, I want to lay out the intersectional concept of identity as primarily defining complex kinds of “social position” and the black feminism of authors like the late bell hooks as obliging readers to recognize to recognize and account for the full humanity of black women. As I indicate, the imperative to recognition can be juxtaposed in interesting ways to the prototypical 17th century liberalism of English philosopher John Locke. However, intersectional concepts like privilege also contain imperatives for self-recognition that are already part of multicultural culture in the United State but go well beyond what is contemplated by Locke.

Originally developed within black feminism, the concept of intersectionality addressed the issue of black women being discriminated against for both being black and being women. Intersectional ideas begin appearing in black feminism as early as the 19th century, but a black feminist literature featuring concepts of intersectionality coalesced in the 1980’s and 1990’s with the writing of Angela Davis, the late bell hooks, Kimberle Crenshaw (who coined the term), and Patricia Hill Collins. The concept of intersectionality currently occupies a curious position in the U.S. cultural and ideological firmament. Intersectionality has become an important enough element of popular culture, corporate ideology, and Democratic Party policy agendas that intersectional ideas have in some ways become hegemonic. However, intersectionality has rarely been a topic of national public discourse and has gone largely unexamined in relation to political theory traditions outside Black American Thought. This paper examines intersectionality in relation to the political philosophy of John Locke in the Second Treatise of Government. In Locke, the creation of men as free and equal in the state of nature creates an imperative to recognize others as similarly free and equal and an obligation to refrain from harming or tyrannizing over them. Black writers have engaged with Lockeian-style ideas on natural rights since at least the 18th century narrative of Olaudah Equiano and Ta-Nehisi Coates quotes Locke on the punishment of those who enslave others at the beginning of “The Case for Reparations.” My paper will examine the ways in which the original black feminist literature entailed an imperative to recognize the full humanity of traditionally disadvantaged populations, how the imperative for recognition was universalized as the intersectionality literature expanded to address sexual orientation, disability, immigrants, and transnational perspectives, and finally the ways in which intersectional concepts of privilege have come to obligate various forms of self-recognition.

Moving on the Filibuster

In a surprise development, Chuck Schumer announced today that he would force a vote on the filibuster before Martin Luther King’s Birthday on January 17. The letter from the Democratic and Senate Majority Leader allows some wiggle room on whether the filibuster should be modified or eliminated, but the options are an illusion.

Eliminating the filibuster is now the official position of the Democratic Party.

Success in eliminating the filibuster is another issue entirely. Given that Manchin and Sinema are adamantly opposed, I don’t see where the votes are for filibuster reform.

However (and it’s a big however), coming out for such a fundamental reform is a Big F’ing Deal.

Page 1 of the letter from Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to the Senate Democratic Caucus outlining the next steps in the Senate on voting rights legislation, January 3, 2022.

Hating Most of America, Marjorie Taylor Greene Wants a Divorce

Living In Phoenix, AZ: 15 Things To Know
Phoenix, AZ Skyline, pod.com

Right-wing celebrity and Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene recently made a newsworthy contribution to the persistent discussion over white conservative secession from the United States. Secession themes emerged in conservative discourse first with the re-election of Barack Obama in 2012 and then once again with the civil war chatter that followed the inauguration of Joe Biden after the Jan. 6 insurrection. Even when they’re in charge, white conservatives can barely stand living in multicultural, socially liberal and heavily urbanized America, and secession talk starts as soon as the Democrats get control of the government.

With Greene, it’s worth remembering her background as a sleaze sleeping with the guys at the Alpharetta gym where she worked, supporting the execution of Nancy Pelosi, and https://www.cnn.com/2021/01/27/politics/marjorie-taylor-greene-david-hogg-video/index.htmlstalking Parkland High survivors. All of which is consistent with her white evangelical faith. If Greene had come from billionaire money, she’s depraved enough that she could have been another Donald Trump or Ghislaine Maxwell. As it was, Greene had to work her way up to local celebrity and election to Congress from the lower reaches of the internet.

In this case, Greene takes an argument about limiting the voting rights of Northern snowbirds and California climate refugees to promote a “National Divorce Scenario” as a base framework for discussing the issue. There’s a bit of rhetorical cleverness in simply assuming that the break-up of the United States is a completely normal topic of discussion and that limiting the voting rights of those who move across political lines can be reasonably framed in those terms. Marjorie Taylor Greene isn’t stupid and, as Eric Swalwell stresses, “she’s not kidding” about splitting up the country and denying Democrats the right to vote.

But the rhetorical riff from Greene is pathetically thin compared to the enormous weight of breaking up the United States as a nation, and Rep. Reuben Gallego of Arizona (likely to mount a primary challenge to Kyrsten Sinema in 2024) isn’t having any of it, tweeting that “[t]here is no “National Divorce” either you are for civil war or not. Just say it if you want a civil war and officially declare yourself a traitor.” Like many white conservatives, Greene throws the term “traitor” around a lot as an insult, most recently calling out the 13 GOP reps who voted for the Infrastructure Bill as “traitors.” In the Constitution, treason is defined in terms of “levying war” against the United States “or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort.” Once again, Greene’s rhetoric of treason against her version of the Republican Party is thin compared to Gallego calling out the civil war implications of “National Divorce.”

In fact, the whole idea of white conservative secession is misbegotten. Some of the main points:

  1. Arizona, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, and Texas (109 electoral votes) are all purple rather than red states. As a result of Trump, all of these states tightened up with Biden winning Arizona and Georgia (both of which now have two Dem senators), North Carolina having a Democratic governor, and Obama winning Florida twice. The only one of these states where the GOP has won every time is Texas but Texas AG Ken Paxton admitted that Trump would have lost the state because “if his office had not successfully blocked counties from mailing out applications for mail-in ballots to all registered voters.”
  2. All the big purple states have rapidly growing, super-majority blue metro areas. Phoenix in AZ, Atlanta in GA, the Charlotte to Raleigh belt in NC, and the Big Four in Florida and Texas are all just as diverse and liberal as major Democratic metros like Detroit, Denver, and Milwaukee and will grow more so as a result of anti-urban GOP policies. GOP politicians and consultants may be able to stave off Democratic futures but the trend is going the other way.
  3. That’s why Greene’s whole argument is from weakness. The whole purpose of “National Divorce” from Greene’s view is withdrawing the big purple states from the country before they become Democratic Party bastions.
  4. For Greene and white conservatives more generally, there are only two ways to deal with the development of a multicultural, socially liberal, and urbanized America–either Red State secession or the establishment of some sort of authoritarian conservative control over the rest of the country.

There’s a desperation under the surface of Green postulating a “National Divorce.” The rest of the country should remain steadfast and determined but there’s no reason to think conservatives are acting from a position of strength.