As I often do on this blog, I'd like journey back to the Crack era--the late 80's and early 90's --when the general sense was that the black youth of America had lost their minds. All across our cities, young black men were bleeding in the streets. All of us had friends who were dead or jailed. All of our high school classes included at least one young woman who was a mother or about to be. All the brothers were out.
It was a good time to be young and angry, to retreat to into the audio chaos of Chuck D, retreat into the writings of Malcolm X, and fantasize about revolution. The verdict of the young held that our leadership was desolate--boycotting South Carolina for some expected slight, trying to secure entrance into a country club, picketing Denny's, or fighting over Affirmative Action at Harvard Law. We didn't know anyone at Harvard Law, and so we fumed. What we wanted was a great messenger who would talk to us, instead of talking to white people. You see, whatever our anger, we were American (though we would have said different) and believed in our talent to reinvent ourselves and compete with the world.
The need was real. And the man who best perceived that need -- Louis Farrakhan -- preached bigotry, and headed a church with a history of violence, and patriarchal and homophobic views. We knew this. Some of us even endorsed it. A few of us debated about it. But, ultimately we didn't care. Farrakhan--and his cadre of clean disciplined black men and modest, chaste black women--spoke to our deep, and inward, sense that we were committing a kind of slow suicide, that--as the rappers put it--we were self-destructing.
Throughout the late 80s and early 90s, Farrakhan's beguiled young African-Americans. At the height of his powers, Farrakhan convened a national meeting of black men on the Mall. (Forgive my vagueness. The number is beside the point. It was a group of dudes.) The expectation, among some media, was for violence. What they got instead was a love-in. I was there. I don't know how to describe the feeling of walking from my apartment at 14th and Euclid, down 16th street, and seeing black women, of all ages, come out on the street and cheer. I can't explain the historical and personal force of that. It defied everything they said we were, and, during the Crack Era, so much of what we had come to believe.
I think about that moment and I get warm -- and then I think about Farrakhan and I go cold. The limitations of the man who'd orchestrated one of the great moments of my life were evident as soon as he took the stage and offered a bizarre treatise on numerology. The limitations became even more apparent in the coming months, as Farrakhan used the prominence he'd gained to launch a world tour in which he was feted by Sani Abacha and the slave-traders of the Sudan.
During Farrakhan's heights in the 80's and 90's, national commenters generally looked on in horror. They simply could not understand how an obvious bigot could capture the imagination of so many people. Surely there were "good" Civil Rights leaders out there, waging the good fight against discrimination. But what the pundits never got was that Farrakhan promised something more--improvement, minus the need to beg from white people. Farrakhan promised improvement through self-reliance--an old tradition stretching back to our very dawn. To our minds, the political leaders of black America had fled the field.
I've thought a lot about Farrakhan, recently, watching Ron Paul's backers twist themselves in knots to defend what they have now euphemistically label as "baggage." I don't think it makes much sense to try to rebut the charges here. No minds will be changed.
Still let us remember that we are faced with a candidate who published racism under his name, defended that publication when it was convenient, and blamed it on ghost-writers when it wasn't, whose take on the Civil War is at home with Lost-Causers, and whose take on the Civil Rights Act is at home with segregationists. Ostensibly this is all coincidence, or if it isn't, it should be excused because Ron Paul is a lone voice speaking on the important issues that plague our nation.
I have heard this reasoning before.
As surely as Ron Paul speaks to a real issue--the state's broad use of violence and surveillance--which the America's political leadership has failed to address, Farrakhan spoke to something real, something unsullied, which black America's political leadership failed to address, Both Paul and Farrakhan, in their glamour, inspired the young, the disaffected, the disillusioned.
To those who dimly perceived something wrong, something that could not be put on a placard, or could not move the party machine, men such as this become something more than political operators, they become symbols. Substantive charges against them, no matter the reasons, are dismissed. The movement they represent means more. But as sure as the followers of Farrakhan deserved more than UFOs, anti-Semitism and conspiracy theories, those of us who oppose the drug-war, who oppose the Patriot Act deserve better than Ron Paul
It is not enough to simply proffer Paul as a protest candidate.One must fully imagine the import of a Paul presidency. How, precisely, would Paul end the drug war? What, exactly, would he do about the Middle East? How, specifically,would the world look for women under a Ron Paul presidency?
Let us stipulate that all politicians compromise. But the mayhem and death which attended the talents of Thomas Watson and George Wallace renders their design into a school of sorcery all its own. In that light, it is fair to ask if Ron Paul was willing to sacrifice black people to garner the support of the bigoted mob, who, and what, else might he sacrifice?
"We quadrupled the TSA, you know, and hired more people who look more suspicious to me than most Americans who are getting checked," Paul says. "Most of them are, well, you know, they just don't look very American to me. If I'd have been looking, they look suspicious ... I mean, a lot of them can't even speak English, hardly. Not that I'm accusing them of anything, but it's sort of ironic."
Presumably, this too, is just another unfortunate slip. Surely it says nothing about Paul's actual views.
I do not mean to be unsympathetic here. It is regrettable to find ourselves in this untenable space, where all our politicians cower and we are bereft of suitable standard-bearers. I would like nothing more than to join my friends in support of Paul and exhilarate in a morality unweighted by the ugly facts of governance and democracy. But the drug war is not magic. It is legislation passed by actual politicians, themselves elected by actual by Americans. Unbinding that war demands the same.
The fervency for Ron Paul is rooted in the longing for a reedemer, for one who will rise up and cut through the dishonest pablum of horse-races and sloganeering and speak directly to Americans. It is a species of saviorism which hopes to deliver a prophet onto the people, who will be better than the people themselves.
But every man is a prophet, until he faces a Congress.
Black poverty is fundamentally distinct from white poverty—and so cannot be addressed without grappling with racism.
There have been a number of useful entries in the weeks since Senator Bernie Sanders declared himself against reparations. Perhaps the most clarifying comes from Cedric Johnson in a piece entitled, “An Open Letter To Ta-Nehisi Coates And The Liberals Who Love Him.” Johnson’s essay offers those of us interested in the problem of white supremacy and the question of economic class the chance to tease out how, and where, these two problems intersect. In Johnson’s rendition, racism, in and of itself, holds limited explanatory power when looking at the socio-economic problems which beset African Americans. “We continue to reach for old modes of analysis in the face of a changed world,” writes Johnson. “One where blackness is still derogated but anti-black racism is not the principal determinant of material conditions and economic mobility for many African Americans.”
As Coldplay blandly strained for the universal, she and Bruno Mars pulled off something more specific and more daring.
What a perfect Beyoncésong name: “Formation.” All great pop involves people acting in formation. So does all great change. And while fans scream that Beyoncé’s a “queen” and “goddess,” her core appeal really is as a drill sergeant. With Beyoncé in command, greatness is scalable, achievable, for the collective. Everyone waves their hands to the same beat. Everyone walks around like they have hot sauce in their bag.
But in pop and in politics, “everyone” is a loaded term. Stars as ubiquitous as Beyoncé have haters, the “albino alligators” who “Formation” informs us she twirls upon. And in a more general historical sense, “everyone” can be a dangerous illusion that elevates one point of view as universal while minimizing others. Beyoncé gets all of this, it seems. As a pop star, she surely wants to have as broad a reach as possible. But as an artist, she has a specific message, born of a specific experience, meaningful to specific people. Rather than pretend otherwise, she’s going to make art about the tension implied by this dynamic. She’s going to show up to Super Bowl with a phalanx of women dressed as Black Panthers.
Most people in the U.S. believe their country is going to hell. But they’re wrong. What a three-year journey by single-engine plane reveals about reinvention and renewal.
When news broke late last year of a mass shooting in San Bernardino, California, most people in the rest of the country, and even the state, probably had to search a map to figure out where the city was. I knew exactly, having grown up in the next-door town of Redlands (where the two killers lived) and having, by chance, spent a long period earlier in the year meeting and interviewing people in the unglamorous “Inland Empire” of Southern California as part of an ongoing project of reporting across America.
Some of what my wife, Deb, and I heard in San Bernardino before the shootings closely matched the picture that the nonstop news coverage presented afterward: San Bernardino as a poor, troubled town that sadly managed to combine nearly every destructive economic, political, and social trend of the country as a whole. San Bernardino went into bankruptcy in 2012 and was only beginning to emerge at the time of the shootings. Crime is high, household income is low, the downtown is nearly abandoned in the daytime and dangerous at night, and unemployment and welfare rates are persistently the worst in the state.
For decades the Man of Steel has failed to find his groove, thanks to a continual misunderstanding of his strengths.
Superman should be invincible. Since his car-smashing debut in 1938, he’s starred in at least one regular monthly comic, three blockbuster films, and four television shows. His crest is recognized across the globe, his supporting cast is legendary, and anybody even vaguely familiar with comics can recount the broad strokes of his origin. (The writer Grant Morrison accomplished it in eight words: “Doomed Planet. Desperate Scientists. Last Hope. Kindly Couple.”) He’s the first of the superheroes, a genre that’s grown into a modern mass-media juggernaut.
And yet, for a character who gains his power from the light of the sun, Superman is curiously eclipsed by other heroes. According to numbers provided by Diamond Distributors, the long-running Superman comic sold only 55,000 copies a month in 2015, down from around 70,000 in 2010—a mediocre showing even for the famously anemic comic-book market. That’s significantly less than his colleague Batman, who last year moved issues at a comparatively brisk 150,000 a month. Mass media hasn’t been much kinder: The longest-running Superman television show, 2001’s Smallville, kept him out of his iconic suit for a decade. Superman Returns recouped its budget at the box office, but proved mostly forgettable.2013’s Man of Steel drew sharp criticism from critics and audiences alike for its bleak tone and rampaging finale. Trailers for the sequel, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, have shifted the focus (and top billing) to the Dark Knight. Worst of all, conventional wisdom puts the blame on Superman himself. He’s boring, people say; he’s unrelatable, nothing like the Marvel characters dominating the sales charts and the box office. More than anything, he seems embarrassing. Look at him. Truth? Justice? He wears his underwear on the outside.
Will the Democratic Party nominate a candidate who hasn’t been a member of their party, and who has long denounced it?
When a party chooses its presidential candidate, it also chooses its party leader in the election. This year the Democrats face an unusual situation. Bernie Sanders isn’t just an outsider to the party establishment; he’s not even been a member of the party, and has long excoriated it in unsparing language. Although the media haven’t much focused on this history, the early signs suggest it could become a problem for Sanders in getting the nomination—and a problem for the party if he does get it.
According to the entrance polls at the Iowa caucuses, there was a 30-percentage-point split between self-identified Democrats and independents in their support for Sanders. Hillary Clinton won 56 percent of self-identified Democrats but only 26 percent of independents, while Sanders won only 39 percent of Democrats but 69 percent of independents.
Humbled by his struggling presidential campaign, can the once-mighty New Jersey governor vault back into contention after Saturday’s debate?
SALEM, New Hampshire—Chris Christie was accustomed to being a big man: a man of stature, a man of power, a man who demands and gets his way.
But recently, the big man (this is a description of his personality, not his size) was seeming awfully small.
On Friday evening here, the governor of New Jersey was desperately trying to talk some sense into the people of New Hampshire, a couple hundred of whom had come out to see him on a snowy night. The night before, Christie’s rival Marco Rubio had played the same venue, filling a larger room of the elementary school beyond its capacity. Christie was begging the crowd not to pile on the bandwagon of the apparent winner, but instead, to show some courage.
The number of American teens who excel at advanced math has surged. Why?
On a sultry evening last July, a tall, soft-spoken 17-year-old named David Stoner and nearly 600 other math whizzes from all over the world sat huddled in small groups around wicker bistro tables, talking in low voices and obsessively refreshing the browsers on their laptops. The air in the cavernous lobby of the Lotus Hotel Pang Suan Kaew in Chiang Mai, Thailand, was humid, recalls Stoner, whose light South Carolina accent warms his carefully chosen words. The tension in the room made it seem especially heavy, like the atmosphere at a high-stakes poker tournament.
Stoner and five teammates were representing the United States in the 56th International Mathematical Olympiad. They figured they’d done pretty well over the two days of competition. God knows, they’d trained hard. Stoner, like his teammates, had endured a grueling regime for more than a year—practicing tricky problems over breakfast before school and taking on more problems late into the evening after he completed the homework for his college-level math classes. Sometimes, he sketched out proofs on the large dry-erase board his dad had installed in his bedroom. Most nights, he put himself to sleep reading books like New Problems in Euclidean Geometry and An Introduction to Diophantine Equations.
In Homs, Syria, where entire city blocks have been reduced to rubble by years of civil war, a Syrian wedding photographer thought of using the destruction of the city as a backdrop for pictures of newlywed couples “to show that life is stronger than death.”
In Homs, Syria, where entire city blocks have been reduced to rubble by years of civil war, a Syrian wedding photographer thought of using the destruction of the city as a backdrop for pictures of newlywed couples “to show that life is stronger than death,” according to AFP photographer Joseph Eid. Here, Nada Merhi, 18, and her husband, Syrian army soldier Hassan Youssef, 27, pose for a series of wedding pictures amid heavily damaged buildings in Homs on February 5, 2016.
The Islamic State is no mere collection of psychopaths. It is a religious group with carefully considered beliefs, among them that it is a key agent of the coming apocalypse. Here’s what that means for its strategy—and for how to stop it.
What is the Islamic State?
Where did it come from, and what are its intentions? The simplicity of these questions can be deceiving, and few Western leaders seem to know the answers. In December, The New York Times published confidential comments by Major General Michael K. Nagata, the Special Operations commander for the United States in the Middle East, admitting that he had hardly begun figuring out the Islamic State’s appeal. “We have not defeated the idea,” he said. “We do not even understand the idea.” In the past year, President Obama has referred to the Islamic State, variously, as “not Islamic” and as al-Qaeda’s “jayvee team,” statements that reflected confusion about the group, and may have contributed to significant strategic errors.