The history teacher in our family recently completed a tour of the Martin Luther King Jr. complex on Auburn Avenue.
Throughout the King memorial site, she noticed, a pantheon of civil rights greats throughout U.S. history are lauded -- with one glaring omission.
Booker T. Washington, the first great leader of African-Americans in the post-slavery era, who emphasized economic self-reliance above all else -- including the immediate pursuit of social equality -- is a nonperson at the King Center. He is an invisible man.
Some might consider the historical slight to be inconsequential. But it goes some distance toward explaining the hurdle that still faces Herman Cain and his -- so far -- surprisingly successful quest for the GOP presidential nomination.
Jim Galloway, the author of the column, doesn't really bother to explain what, specifically, Washington can tell us about Cain. It's implied that Cain has no black following because African-Americans have turned away from the self-help model of leadership, and more toward a protest model.
I can't speak for the King Center, but in the black pantheon, Booker T. Washington is anything but an invisible man. There are scores of schools named after him across the country, and parks stretching from Charlottesville to Harlem. There are statues of him in Cleveland, Franklin, Virginia and Tuskegee, Alabama where he founded an HBCU.
The black poet Dudley Randall, wrote a really bad poem about his debate with W.E.B. Du Bois which black kids, like me, were forced to recite at the point of the bayonet. My middle school divided groups of classes into teams, each named after a black hero. Only Booker T Washington got two teams (The "Booker T" team and the "Washington" team.)
Moreover, the ideas advanced by Washington, surely contested in his time, weren't exactly heretical in the history of black education. No less than Frederick Douglass once argued against sending black freedman to learn "Greek and Latin" in favor of more practical vocations:
Accustomed as we have been to the rougher and harder modes of living, and of gaining a livelihood, we cannot and we ought not to hope that in a single leap from our low condition, we can reach that of Ministers, Lawyers, Doctors, Editors, Merchants, etc. These will doubtless be attained by us; but this will only be when we have patiently and laboriously, and I may add successfully, mastered and passed through the intermediate gradations of agriculture and the mechanic arts. Besides, there are (and perhaps this is a better reason for my view of the case) numerous institutions of learning in this country, already thrown open to colored youth...
We must become mechanics; we must build as well as live in houses; we must make as well as use furniture; we must construct bridges as well as pass over them, before we can properly live or be respected by our fellow men. We need mechanics as well as ministers. We need workers in iron, clay, and leather. We have orators, authors, and other professional men, but these reach only a certain class, and get respect for our race in certain select circles. To live here as we ought we must fasten ourselves to our countrymen through their every-day, cardinal wants. We must not only be able to black boots, but to make them. At present we are, in the northern States, unknown as mechanics. We give no proof of genius or skill at the county, State, or national fairs. We are unknown at any of the great exhibitions of the industry of our fellow-citizens, and being unknown, we are unconsidered.
Sound familiar? Douglass was, at that point, attempting to raise funds for a vocational school, a dream which Washington would fulfill.
Black Republicans like to reconcile the fact that they belong to the party of Obama Waffles and birtherism by citing Booker T. Washington as a model. But whereas these Republicans tend to draw their support almost entirely from whites, Booker T. Washington was the dominant black leader of his time. Washington, much like the dominant black leader of our time, was biracial. He built a black institution, that educated black people, and took his message to black audience. In short, Washington was a legitimate organic black conservative, rooted in the black community, propelled forth by his relationship to that community.
The actual roots of Herman Cain's "brainwashed" critique lay not in the words of Washington, but in another political tradition--the tradition of telling white populists what they like to hear:
I am firmly rooted in the conviction that negroism, as exemplified in the American type, is an attitude of mental density, a kind of spiritual sensuousness...
The negro not only lacks a fair degree of intuitive knowledge, but so dense is his understanding that he blindly follows weird fantasies and hideous phantoms. So great is his predilection in this direction, that he appears incapable of understanding the difference between evidence and assertion, proof and surmise. These facts warrant the conclusion that negro intelligence is both superficial and delusive, because, though such people excel in recollections of a concrete object, their retentive memories do not enable them to make any valuable deductions, either from the object itself, or from their familiar experience with it.
That's William Hannibal Thomas a black man, who in his time, had seen his share of racism and sacrifice. But Smith ultimately decided to side with the white populists of his time, as opposed to against them. Smith enjoyed about as much black support then, as Herman Cain enjoys now. He found no quarter in the black community--least of all from one Booker T, Washington-- "It is sad to think of a man without a country," Washington wrote of Smith. "It is even sadder to think of a man without a race."
Within black leadership, the span of Washington's political progeny is rather stunning. It includes black nationalists like Marcus Garvey (who cited Washington as influence) and Malcolm X (whose parents were Garveyites.) It includes Bill Cosby and Barack Obama (as I argued here.) And it includes my Black Panther father, who used to force-feed us doses of Up From Slavery. There is, as there always has been, a large number of black conservatives. That they largely happen to vote Democratic says more about the GOP then it does about "brainwashing."
The notion of self-help and economic power is deeply seductive and has always had strong appeal in the black community. It's comforting to think that black people abandoned it because they were seduced by wild-eyed activists. In fact no one did more to discredit Washington's ideas than the white populists who answered his call for conciliation with the worst wave of home-grown terror in American history, and the government officials who, at every level, either looked away or joined in.
And yet when you look at the debates over how Obama addresses black audiences, it's clear that Washington endures.
Carrie Bradshaw, Hugh Hefner, and Barbie have all helped construct a new generation's ideal woman, who is athletic, alluring, ... and waxed.
Meet Sophia Pinto: the 21st century's standard-issue, all-American perfect 10.
The 5-foot-5 Minnesota native -- a sly, funny, 22-year-old natural blonde who spends every summer bikini-clad on the shores of Lake Minnetonka -- works out five days a week. Her slim waist and megawatt smile hearken back to the polyvinyl glamour of the original Barbie doll.
In fact, if Mattel were to redesign Barbie based on the new millennium's ideal woman, she would likely resemble Pinto. Healthy, athletic, alluring, and smart (Pinto will graduate early this month from Northwestern University), she's both a role model and a sex symbol.
And if you were to undress Pinto, you'd find she embodies yet another trademark characteristic of the plastic glamour girl-turned-careerwoman: Like Barbie, Pinto has no pubic hair.
The legend of the Confederate leader’s heroism and decency is based in the fiction of a person who never existed.
The strangest part about the continued personality cult of Robert E. Lee is how few of the qualities his admirers profess to see in him he actually possessed.
Memorial Day has the tendency to conjure up old arguments about the Civil War. That’s understandable; it was created to mourn the dead of a war in which the Union was nearly destroyed, when half the country rose up in rebellion in defense of slavery. This year, the removal of Lee’s statue in New Orleans has inspired a new round of commentary about Lee, not to mention protests on his behalf by white supremacists.
The myth of Lee goes something like this: He was a brilliant strategist and devoted Christian man who abhorred slavery and labored tirelessly after the war to bring the country back together.
The scientists are all talking like it’s a sure thing.
On August 21, the “moon” will pass between the Earth and the sun, obscuring the light of the latter. The government agency NASA says this will result in “one of nature’s most awe-inspiring sights.” The astronomers there claim to have calculated down to the minute exactly when and where this will happen, and for how long. They have reportedly known about this eclipse for years, just by virtue of some sort of complex math.
This seems extremely unlikely. I can’t even find these eclipse calculations on their website to check them for myself.
Meanwhile the scientists tell us we can’t look at it without special glasses because “looking directly at the sun is unsafe.”
Just seven months into his presidency, Trump appears to have achieved a status usually reserved for the final months of a term.
In many ways, the Trump presidency never got off the ground: The president’s legislative agenda is going nowhere, his relations with foreign leaders are frayed, and his approval rating with the American people never enjoyed the honeymoon period most newly elected presidents do. Pundits who are sympathetic toward, or even neutral on, the president keep hoping that the next personnel move—the appointment of White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, say, or the long-rumored-but-never-delivered departure of Steve Bannon—will finally get the White House in gear.
But what if they, and many other people, are thinking about it wrong? Maybe the reality is not that the Trump presidency has never gotten started. It’s that he’s already reached his lame-duck period. For most presidents, that comes in the last few months of a term. For Trump, it appears to have arrived early, just a few months into his term. The president did always brag that he was a fast learner.
An analysis of Stormfront forums shows a sometimes sophisticated understanding of the limits of ancestry tests.
The white-nationalist forum Stormfront hosts discussions on a wide range of topics, from politics to guns to The Lord of the Rings. And of particular and enduring interest: genetic ancestry tests. For white nationalists, DNA tests are a way to prove their racial purity. Of course, their results don’t always come back that way. And how white nationalists try to explain away non-European ancestry is rather illuminating of their beliefs.
Two years ago—before Donald Trump was elected president, before white nationalism had become central to the political conversation—Aaron Panofsky and Joan Donovan, sociologists then at the University of California, Los Angeles, set out to study Stormfront forum posts about genetic ancestry tests. They presented their study at the American Sociological Association meeting this Monday. (A preprint of the paper is now online.) After the events in Charlottesville this week, their research struck a particular chord with the audience.
More comfortable online than out partying, post-Millennials are safer, physically, than adolescents have ever been. But they’re on the brink of a mental-health crisis.
One day last summer, around noon, I called Athena, a 13-year-old who lives in Houston, Texas. She answered her phone—she’s had an iPhone since she was 11—sounding as if she’d just woken up. We chatted about her favorite songs and TV shows, and I asked her what she likes to do with her friends. “We go to the mall,” she said. “Do your parents drop you off?,” I asked, recalling my own middle-school days, in the 1980s, when I’d enjoy a few parent-free hours shopping with my friends. “No—I go with my family,” she replied. “We’ll go with my mom and brothers and walk a little behind them. I just have to tell my mom where we’re going. I have to check in every hour or every 30 minutes.”
Those mall trips are infrequent—about once a month. More often, Athena and her friends spend time together on their phones, unchaperoned. Unlike the teens of my generation, who might have spent an evening tying up the family landline with gossip, they talk on Snapchat, the smartphone app that allows users to send pictures and videos that quickly disappear. They make sure to keep up their Snapstreaks, which show how many days in a row they have Snapchatted with each other. Sometimes they save screenshots of particularly ridiculous pictures of friends. “It’s good blackmail,” Athena said. (Because she’s a minor, I’m not using her real name.) She told me she’d spent most of the summer hanging out alone in her room with her phone. That’s just the way her generation is, she said. “We didn’t have a choice to know any life without iPads or iPhones. I think we like our phones more than we like actual people.”
Antifa’s activists say they’re battling burgeoning authoritarianism on the American right. Are they fueling it instead?
Since 1907, Portland, Oregon, has hosted an annual Rose Festival. Since 2007, the festival had included a parade down 82nd Avenue. Since 2013, the Republican Party of Multnomah County, which includes Portland, had taken part. This April, all of that changed.
In the days leading up to the planned parade, a group called the Direct Action Alliance declared, “Fascists plan to march through the streets,” and warned, “Nazis will not march through Portland unopposed.” The alliance said it didn’t object to the Multnomah GOP itself, but to “fascists” who planned to infiltrate its ranks. Yet it also denounced marchers with “Trump flags” and “red maga hats” who could “normalize support for an orange man who bragged about sexually harassing women and who is waging a war of hate, racism and prejudice.” A second group, Oregon Students Empowered, created a Facebook page called “Shut down fascism! No nazis in Portland!”
The nation’s current post-truth moment is the ultimate expression of mind-sets that have made America exceptional throughout its history.
When did America become untethered from reality?
I first noticed our national lurch toward fantasy in 2004, after President George W. Bush’s political mastermind, Karl Rove, came up with the remarkable phrase reality-based community. People in “the reality-based community,” he told a reporter, “believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality … That’s not the way the world really works anymore.” A year later, The Colbert Report went on the air. In the first few minutes of the first episode, Stephen Colbert, playing his right-wing-populist commentator character, performed a feature called “The Word.” His first selection: truthiness. “Now, I’m sure some of the ‘word police,’ the ‘wordinistas’ over at Webster’s, are gonna say, ‘Hey, that’s not a word!’ Well, anybody who knows me knows that I’m no fan of dictionaries or reference books.
Spreading fear and worry about issues you care about on social media can lead to burnout rather than action.
When New York Magazinepublished a story about the apocalyptic dangers of climate change last month, it was shared widely, and with alarm. People tweeted things like “Read this and get very, very scared,” or otherwise prescribed fear and worry as the appropriate reaction to the piece. They were mimicking the tone of the story itself, which starts by saying “It is, I promise, worse than you think,” and goes on to avowthat “no matter how well-informed you are, you are surely not alarmed enough.”
This weirdly suggests that there is a level of alarmed that would be “enough.” Enough for what? Even if the goal is to alarm people into action, there’s a disconnect here: Anxiety is not a necessary prerequisite for action.