Ebola has exposed America’s fear, and Barack Obama’s vulnerability

Posted in Articles, Barack Obama, Health/Medicine/Genetics, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, Social Science, United States on 2014-10-19 22:12Z by Steven

Ebola has exposed America’s fear, and Barack Obama’s vulnerability

The Guardian
2014-10-19

Gary Younge

The virus is a metaphor for all that conservatives loathe, and sees the president’s policies under renewed attack

In a column ostensibly explaining why moderates struggle in the Republican party, Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen last year wrote: “People with conventional views must repress a gag reflex when considering the mayor-elect of New York – a white man married to a black woman and with two biracial children. (Should I mention that Bill de Blasio’s wife, Chirlane McCray, used to be a lesbian?) This family represents the cultural changes that have enveloped parts – but not all – of America.”

If the thought of New York’s first family’s interracial marriage makes many Republicans (and apparently Cohen) gag, imagine how many sick bags they are filling over Ebola. The arrival of the virus in America has crystallised a range of Conservative anxieties: immigration, race, terrorism, science, big government, Barack Obama – you name it. For the right, Ebola is not just a disease, it is a metaphor for some of the things they don’t understand and many of the things they loathe…

…Finally, Ebola serves as a proxy for the many long-held Conservative prejudices about Obama – that he is an African-born interloper come to destroy America. A 2010 poll showed that just under a third of Republicans believed Obama was a “racist who hates white people”. Michael Savage, another rightwing radio host, calls him “Obola”. “Obama wants equality and he wants fairness, and it’s only fair that America have a nice epidemic or two … to really feel what it’s like to be in the third world. You have to look at it from the point of view of a leftist.”…

Read the entire article here.

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On race, the US is not as improved as some would have us believe

Posted in Articles, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, Social Science, United States on 2014-04-21 17:22Z by Steven

On race, the US is not as improved as some would have us believe

The Guardian
2014-04-20

Gary Younge

Despite the legacy of civil rights, some doors remain firmly closed. And across the US, schools are resegregating

At the march on Washington in August 1963, where Martin Luther King made his “I have a dream speech”, the United States Information Agency, the nation’s propaganda wing devoted to “public diplomacy”, made a documentary. It wanted to make sure that the largest demonstration in the history of the US capital, demanding jobs and freedom and denouncing racism, was not misconstrued by the nation’s enemies or potential allies. Their aim was to show the newly independent former colonies that the US embraced peaceful protest. “Smile,” they called to demonstrators as the camera rolled. “This is going to Africa.”

“So it happened,” Michael Thelwell, a grassroots activist, told the author Charles Euchner, “that Negro students from the south, some of whom still had unhealed bruises from the electric cattle prods which southern police used to break up demonstrations, were recorded for the screens of the world portraying ‘American democracy at work’.”

The US’s capacity to fold the stories of resistance to its historic inequities into the broader narrative of its unrelenting journey towards social progress is both brazen and remarkable. (Arguably, this is preferable to the European tradition of burying such histories and hoping no one will ever find them.) Tales of the barriers that come down are woven neatly into the fabric of a nation, where each year is better than the last; the obstacles that remain are discarded as immaterial. What is left is a mythology cut from whole cloth

…The freedoms this legacy bequeathed should be neither denied nor denigrated. The signs came down, space was created, opinions evolved. Recent years have shown a big increase in minorities moving to suburbs and all groups entering mixed-race relationships. It is a different and better country because of them. But nor should those freedoms be exaggerated. It is not as different or as improved a country as some would have us believe. For as some doors opened, others remained firmly closed – providing two main lessons that challenge the mainstream framing of this era’s legacy.

First, racial integration sits quite easily alongside inequality and discrimination. The legal right of people to mix does not inevitably change the power relationship between them. The former confederacy was, in many ways, the most racially integrated part of the US. There were high rates of miscegenation (forced and voluntary); slaves and servants raised white children and often lived in close quarters with their owners. Strom Thurmond, who ran for the presidency in 1948 as a segregationist, fathered a black daughter by a maid in 1924. The issue was never whether people mixed but on what basis and to what end.

“The issue for black people was never integration or segregation but white supremacy,” explains the University of Chicago professor Charles Payne. “The paradigm of integration and segregation was a white concern … That was how they posed the issue of civil rights, given their own interests, and that was how the entire issue then became understood. But the central concerns of black people were not whether they should integrate with white people or not but how to challenge white people’s hold on the power structure.”…

Read the entire article here.

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Langston Hughes showed me what it meant to be a black writer

Posted in Articles, Media Archive on 2013-08-02 04:31Z by Steven

Langston Hughes showed me what it meant to be a black writer

The Guardian
2013-07-31

Gary Younge, Feature Writer and Columnist

His 1926 essay, The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain made clear that a black writer must write the best work they can, while refusing to be defined by other people’s racial agendas

One of my first columns on these pages didn’t make it into the paper. I’d written about the NATO bombing of Bosnia and the comment editor at the time thought I should stick to subjects closer to home. “We have people who can write about Bosnia,” he said. “Can you add an ethnic sensibility to this.”

The whole point of having a black columnist, he thought, was to write about black issues. I had other ideas. I had no problem writing about race. It’s an important subject that deserves scrutiny to which I’ve given considerable thought and about which I’ve done a considerable amount of research. I have no problem being regarded as a black writer. It’s an adjective not an epithet. In the words of Toni Morrison, when asked if she found it limiting to be described as a black woman writer: “I’m already discredited. I’m already politicised, before I get out of the gate. I can accept the labels because being a black woman writer is not a shallow place but a rich place to write from. It doesn’t limit my imagination, it expands it.”…

Read the entire article here.

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So, why are we so loyal to a president who is not loyal to us?

Posted in Articles, Barack Obama, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, United States on 2013-05-06 15:28Z by Steven

So, why are we so loyal to a president who is not loyal to us?

The Guardian
2013-05-05

Gary Younge, Feature Writer and Columnist

Kevin Johnson was pilloried for suggesting Obama has not been good for African Americans. But his question was a good one

Back when affirmative action was white, educational institutions were created for African Americans who were barred from admission elsewhere. Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) became the breeding grounds for the “talented tenth” – the elite class groomed to lead black America. Towards the end of the last century HBCUs had produced 75% of black PhDs, 85% of black doctors and 80% of black federal judges. Among the most prestigious was Morehouse, in Atlanta, which counts Martin Luther King, Samuel Jackson and Spike Lee among its alumni.

Later this month, Barack Obama will deliver the keynote address at Morehouse’s graduation ceremony. Another invited speaker was Morehouse alumnus Kevin Johnson, a prominent Philadelphia pastor. Then Johnson, an ardent Obama supporter during both presidential runs, wrote an article criticising the president for failing to appoint enough black cabinet members and to address the needs of African Americans in general. “Obama has not moved African-American leadership forward but backwards,” he wrote. “We are not in the driver’s seat – or even in the car … Why are we so loyal to a president who is not loyal to us?”

Shortly afterwards his speaker’s slot was removed. Instead of addressing the students alone, the day before Obama, he will now be one of a three-person panel curated “to reflect a broader and more inclusive range of viewpoints”…

Read the entire article here.

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Obama’s inauguration carries symbolic resonance on Martin Luther King Day

Posted in Articles, Barack Obama, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, United States on 2013-01-21 00:08Z by Steven

Obama’s inauguration carries symbolic resonance on Martin Luther King Day

The Guardian
2013-01-20

Gary Younge, Feature Writer and Columnist

America’s first black president will be sworn in on the day devoted to its most famous civil rights leader

In April 1961, four months before Barack Obama was born, Bobby Kennedy told Voice of America: “There’s no question that in the next 30 or 40 years a negro can also achieve the same position that my brother has as president of the United States.” Less than a month later a group of black and white freedom riders were firebombed and beaten with baseball bats and lead piping as they tried to travel through the south. The interracial marriage of Obama’s parents was not recognised in more than 20 states. Black people’s right to vote, let alone stand for election, had not been secured in much of the south. The prospect of a black president never seemed further away.

Four years later the essayist and author James Baldwin mocked Kennedy’s prediction. “That sounded like a very emancipated statement to white people,” he wrote in The American Dream and the American Negro. “They were not in Harlem when this statement was first heard. They did not hear the laughter and bitterness and scorn with which this statement was greeted … We were here for 400 years and now he tells us that maybe in 40 years, if you are good, we may let you become president.”

The fact that Obama’s inauguration is taking place on Martin Luther King Day – a federal public holiday to celebrate the birth of the civil rights leader – carries great symbolic resonance. The notion that America might vote in a black president now seems little more than a banal fact of life…

Read the entire article here.

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Obama’s second victory is more low key, but in some ways more impressive

Posted in Articles, Barack Obama, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, United States on 2012-11-09 04:39Z by Steven

Obama’s second victory is more low key, but in some ways more impressive

The Guardian
London, England
2012-11-07

Gary Younge, Feature Writer and Columnist

The euphoria of 2008 has gone, but the US president’s second win is remarkable precisely because it is not as symbolic

Harold Davies didn’t cry this time. Four years ago when I accompanied him to the polls his eyes welled up as he described how it felt to vote for an African American candidate. This time he was in and out within 10 minutes and then off to his brother’s for his tea. You can only elect the first black president once. To use the euphoria of 2008 against the more toned-down celebrations of Tuesday night as a stick to beat Barack Obama misunderstands the significance of his trajectory.

Electing a black candidate on his promise, amid a massive economic crisis, is one thing. To re-elect him on his record, even as that crisis endures, is quite another. In more ways than one his victory on Tuesday night was more impressive than in 2008 precisely because it was not more symbolic.

It’s difficult to think of a more vulnerable president facing re-election and pulling it off so decisively. Having redrawn the electoral map and reshaped the electorate in 2008 he managed to give a plausible account of his efforts over the past four years even when they had fallen short. His fallibility as a candidate is now accepted; his timidity as a leader now beyond question.

On a flight to Denver last week an Obama supporter sitting next to me explained how his view of the president had evolved: “I thought he was a prophet. Now I realise he’s just a king.” Sooner or later he will have to get used to the fact that his president is just a human being…

…There are a few reasons to believe that this might change. The first is that the Republican party has reached a point where it will either have to change or die. This election effectively exposed it as a mono-racial party in an increasingly multi-racial state. At every rally you can see it. Regardless of the ethnic composition of the area in which they are held, the composition of rallies never changes. At the Republican convention one person threw peanuts and insults at a black camerawoman. The Grand Old Party is becoming the White People’s Party. And that is not only unbecoming, it is untenable.

Every month 50,000 new Latinos become eligible to vote. What Tuesday night showed was that the new coalition Obama cohered in 2008 that mobilised the young, the brown and the black in unprecedented numbers was not just a one-off. Soon, North Carolina, Arizona and ultimately Texas will be tough to hold if Republicans refuse to challenge the xenophobia of their base…

Read the entire article here.

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Studs Terkel’s study of race in the US: 20 years on

Posted in Articles, Barack Obama, New Media, Politics/Public Policy, Social Science, United States on 2012-03-14 01:27Z by Steven

Studs Terkel’s study of race in the US: 20 years on

The Guardian
2012-03-13

Gary Younge

What have we learned in the two decades since the oral historian Studs Terkel published his classic book Race? In the introduction to a new edition, Gary Younge weighs up what has changed – and what hasn’t

Cultures do not come by their obsessions lightly. They tend them over generations, feeding them with myths, truths, pain, resentment, collective generalisations and individual exceptions. They pick at them like scabs until they bleed, and then mistake the consequent infection for the original wound. And then, like a hardy virus, the obsessions survive all attempts at inoculation by mutating into new and more stubborn strains.

Race in America, as Studs Terkel points out in the subtitle to his book (“What Blacks and Whites Think and Feel About the American Obsession”), published 20 years ago this year, is one such obsession. “No African came in freedom to the shores of the New World,” wrote 19th-century French intellectual Alexis de Tocqueville in his landmark book Democracy in America. “The Negro transmits to his descendants at birth the external mark of his ignominy. The law can abolish servitude, but only God can obliterate its traces.”

By 1992, when Race was published, the laws had been abolished two generations prior, leaving the traces to engrave a deep and treacherous crevice between de jure and de facto. So there was never any risk that in the two decades since Terkel conducted most of these interviews, the book would be relegated to a period piece. True, numerous references to Louis Farrakhan, Harold Washington and Ronald Reagan certainly root the contributions in their time. Remarkable things have also happened to race in America since the book came out: black Americans have been eclipsed by Latinos as the largest minority; the black prison population has increased exponentially; a Republican right wing is on the ascendancy; and there is, of course, a black president…

Read the entire article here.

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Replacing History With Fiction in Arizona

Posted in Articles, History, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, United Kingdom on 2012-02-13 00:39Z by Steven

Replacing History With Fiction in Arizona

The Nation
2012-02-08

Gary Younge

In 1997 black America gained a new hero when Tiger Woods putted himself into history at the US Masters. Within a few weeks, it had lost him in an unlikely fashion—to a bespoke racial identity articulated on Oprah’s couch.
  
Does it bother you being termed “African-American”? Oprah asked him.

It does,” said Woods, whose father was of African-American, Chinese and Native American descent and whose mother was of Thai, Chinese and Dutch descent. At school he would tick “African-American” and “Asian.” “Growing up, I came up with this name: I’m Cablinasian [CAucasian, BLack, INdian and ASIAN]. I’m just who I am…whoever you see in front of you.” According to an editorial in the Chicago Sun-Times, Woods could not have been more praiseworthy if he’d scored a hole in one wearing a blindfold. “He justly rejects attempts to pigeonhole him in the past,” claimed the editorial. “Tiger Woods is the embodiment of our melting pot and our cultural diversity ideals and deserves to be called what he in fact is—an American.”
 
It is a peculiar fact of modern Western rhetoric, as prevalent among liberals as conservatives, that nationality is understood as a liberating identity, whereas ethnicity, race and other markers are regarded as confining. There are far more black and Asian people in the world than there are Americans. Racial identity is no less diverse than national identity. But somehow to describe Woods as black or Asian traps him in a pigeonhole, while to define him by his nationality sets him free.
 
Such was the ostensible motivation of the Arizona officials who banned Mexican-American studies from the Tucson schools. Tom Horne, the state attorney general who surfed into office on a wave of anti-immigrant bigotry, wrote the legislation, which claims the curriculum “advocates ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals.” By the end of January officials were going into schools and boxing up Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed, one of the books banned for “promoting ethnic resentment.”…

Read the entire article here.

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The Limits of the Choice of Identity

Posted in Excerpts/Quotes on 2011-04-09 01:43Z by Steven

“A tree, whatever the circumstances, does not become a legume, a vine, or a cow,” explains Kwame Anthony Appiah in The Ethics Of Identity. “The reasonable middle view is that constructing an identity is a good thing (if self-authorship is a good thing) but that the identity must make some kind of sense. And for it to make sense, it must be an identity constructed in response to facts outside oneself, things that are beyond one’s own choices.”

A society in which “Cablinasian” makes sense has yet to be created. Like a Rwanda full of Hutsis [Hutu/Tutsi], it exists only in the imagination. That does not necessarily mean that such a society could not or should not emerge. But “the facts beyond one’s own choice” do not yet allow it. Identities may be constructed and can be built differently. But we can only work with the materials available.

Gary Younge, “Tiger Woods: Black, white, other,” The Guardian. May 29, 2010.

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Tiger Woods: Black, white, other

Posted in Articles, Census/Demographics, Media Archive, Social Science, United States on 2010-06-20 04:45Z by Steven

Tiger Woods: Black, white, other

The Guardian
2010-05-29

Gary Younge, Feature Writer and Columnist

Before he was engulfed in a sex scandal Tiger Woods was a poster boy for a multiracial America. Gary Younge on the real legacy of golf’s fallen hero

On 13 April 1997 Tiger Woods putted his way to golfing history in Augusta, Georgia. The fact that he was the first black winner of the US Masters was not even half of it. At 21, he was the youngest; with a 12-stroke lead, he was the most emphatic; and finishing 18 under par, he was, quite simply, the best the world had ever seen.

…But within a fortnight of black America gaining a new sporting hero, it seemed as though they had lost him again. From the revered perch of Oprah Winfrey’s couch, Woods was asked whether it bothered him being termed “African-American”. “It does,” he said. “Growing up, I came up with this name: I’m a ‘Cablinasian’.”

Woods is indeed a rich mix of racial and ethnic heritage. His father, Earl, was of African-American, Chinese and Native American descent. His mother, Kutilda, is of Thai, Chinese and Dutch descent. “Cablinasian” was a composite of Caucasian, black, Indian and Asian. When he was asked to fill out forms in school, he would tick African-American and Asian. “Those are the two I was raised under and the only two I know,” he told Oprah. “I’m just who I am … whoever you see in front of you.”…

…In 1998, the American Anthropological Association declared, “Evidence from the analysis of genetics (eg DNA) indicates that most physical variation, about 94%, lies within so-called racial groups. Conventional geographic ‘racial’ groupings differ from one another only in about 6% of their genes. This means there is greater genetic variation within ‘racial’ groups than between them.” In short, we really are more alike than we are unalike. If race is an arbitrary fiction, then “race-mixing” is a conceptual absurdity. To the extent to which “mixed race” makes any sense at all, we are all mixed race…

…Economically and politically, all of this made perfect sense. Intellectually, it was and remains a nonsense. As Barbara J. Fields pointed out in her landmark essay Ideology And Race In American History, it meant that “a black woman cannot give birth to a white child” while “a white woman [is] capable of giving birth to a black child”…

…Similarly, those who insist that, because Barack Obama has a white mother and grandmother who raised him, he could just as easily be described as another white president as the first black president are in a losing battle with credibility. “Obama’s chosen to identify as an African-American male,” explains Jennifer Nobles, the campaigner for multiracialism. “It’s the same thing with Halle Berry. That’s their choice and it makes sense. But he could identify as white. The trouble is no one would receive it that way.”…

Read the entire article here.

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