I have a video on YouTube of me speaking to an audience about today's bigotry and what we need to do about it. Take a look. I'm planning other videos, too, some of which might not be what you expect. This is fun! I'll keep you posted.
As a former copywriter at ad agencies, I sat up and took notice at this CNN news item:
Microsoft apologizes for gaffe in online ad
SEATTLE, Washington (CNN) -- Software giant Microsoft apologized Wednesday for the apparent bad judgment that led to the head of a black model being swapped for that of a white model in an online advertisement.
A black man in an online Microsoft ad was replaced with a white man on the company's Polish Web site.
The ad -- which showed three business people, one Asian, one white and one black -- was altered on Microsoft's Web site for Poland to place the head of a white man on a black man's body.
"We apologized, fixed the error and we are looking into how it happened," said Lou Gellos, a Microsoft spokesman.
He said that because the company was still reviewing how the swap occurred he could not comment further.
On Microsoft's official page on the social network site Twitter, a posting calls the swap "a marketing mistake" and offers "sincere apologies."
The episode drew widespread criticism on the Internet after Engadget, an influential tech blog, published news of the gaffe Tuesday.
It's a targeted-marketing-meets-bias scenario. It happens all the time. Advertisers want to appeal to the probable audience for a particular advertisement (say, in Iceland.) But they also need to represent the breadth and diversity of life in a world where everybody does business with everybody. And they need to stay free of outdated and unrealistic white-centered sales pitches that diss and piss off audiences of color -- and that miss out on the potential revenues of a diverse marketplace.
The main element in the Microsoft debacle appears to be raw stupidity. You're Microsoft and you're too cheap to use different sets of models for different locales? For an ad in Eastern Europe that's supposed to reflect the local population, use three Eastern European models. Done. For an ad in West Africa, use three West African models. But to Photoshop out the head of a black model in favor of an alleged Polish demographic -- while leaving the Asian model intact to boot -- shows a severe need for, uh, racial re-education somewhere within Microsoft. Not to mention the fact that in a global market no ethnic group is invisible. For a global behemoth like Microsoft, why doesn't it make business sense to run an ad in Poland with a black businessperson in it?
Somehow, in a supposedly forward-looking industry, someone at Microsoft has taken a couple of racial steps backward.
We lost one of the last of the true public-spirited warriors on Tuesday.
Senator Edward Kennedy was, without doubt, one of the very last of the towering political reformers of the past 40 years. He had principles, passion, and political savvy. He called for universal health coverage decades ago during the Nixon Administration. He lambasted cowards and hypocrites, including our previous president. He was a firebrand in the best sense of the word -- because his searing oratory carried actual meaning for action. The last senator I can think of who carried anything even remotely approaching Kennedy's brand of honest and fearless commitment to the public interest was the late Paul Wellstone. (Sorry, former senator Obama; you have many of the tools and good intentions but I'm still waiting to see the heart and guts.)
Ted Kennedy's personal faults and failings were a mess, sometimes horrifically so. His family's political and personal fates were tragic. But he did more for the country than an army of men with more pleasant personal histories.
Health care was the one issue he cared about most. If you want to be reminded of what it looks like when a politician really cares, watch this video of remarks Kennedy made about health care in a 2008 visit to Pennsylvania.
At this moment, we can take it any way we choose to that Ted Kennedy died at the apex of an historic battle over his signature issue. The country, including we citizens and President Obama and those politicians whose spines remain potentially functional, can take Kennedy's death as a resounding reminder of our need to stand and fight, now, for what is right in caring for the health of Americans. Or the nation can take his death as an excuse to give up the ghost and lie down whimpering about the opposition.
Ted Kennedy died. But he did not lie down. Let's hope that his lesson is not lost with his departure.
ITEM: In an August 19 post, anti-racism advocate Tim Wise mentioned that racial incidents sometimes go beyond the legal principle of mens rea, or "guilty mind," in the sense that an act can carry meaning and consequences not dependent on its intent. Wise's point: an act can be racist even without explicitly racist intent if its perpetrator is sufficiently ignorant of the causes and effects of his or her actions. In a comment responding to Wise's remarks, a reader wrote the following, which is one of the best and most succinct explanations of the workings of everyday racism I've seen:
Frederic Christie says: Mens Rea...
Doesn't always apply in a court of law either, Tim. (As I'm sure you know). In fact, I think the way that the criminal justice system handles it is an EXCELLENT analog to race and racist actions.
Take drunk driving. No one seriously argues that drunk drivers mean to run over someone or crash into other cars, thereby threatening their own lives. But they're responsible because they did not behave PRUDENTLY by making sure that they would not be in a car while drunk.
Similarly, manslaughter convictions in general take it for granted that someone has to pay for a death, even taking into account many ameliorating factors.
Just like drunk driving, whites are operating under the influence of something that arrests the reason: Racism. And just like accidentally killing or harming someone, someone who behaves in such a way as to lead to a racist impact better have a damn good reason why they did so. Ignorance, as in the type of ignorance that most whites have, is no excuse. Wed, 08/19/2009 - 3:03pm
ITEM: Meanwhile, in the conscious intent department, this appeared in the August 20 Baltimore Sun:
Two teenagers have been arrested and charged as adults in connection with what police describe as a racially motivated beating of a 76-year-old black man.
Zachary Watson, 17, of the 900 block of Jack St. and Emmanuel Miller, 16, of the 1600 block of Spruce St. were arrested late Wednesday and have been charged with 18 counts of attempted murder and other offenses, along with Calvin E. Lockner, 28, who police arrested Tuesday.
Lockner, a self-professed white supremacist who is a registered sex offender and has a tattoo of Adolf Hitler, told detectives that the victim was targeted because he was black.
According to charging documents, the teens said Lockner instigated and carried out the beating and car theft, which left retired state employee and Baltimore County resident James A. Privott hospitalized with a fractured eye socket and two missing teeth. Lockner said it was Watson who beat the victim.
Miller said the three had watched Privott and his wife fish at Fort Armistead Park in South Baltimore and approached them to ask if they had water or cigarettes, according to charging documents. Lockner became angry when Privott said no. As the group walked away, Lockner shouted a racial epithet at Privott, Miller said.
They waited for Privott's wife to leave, then Lockner struck Privott at least 10 times while yelling slurs, according to records. Watson described the weapon as a sledgehammer, Miller as a baseball bat, records show. Lockner picked up Privott's wallet and keys and the three left in his 2008 Chevy Tahoe.
I wish Mr. Privott a strong body and a stalwart soul. I suspect he has both.
Many a nonwhite fisherperson who plies remote streams, rivers, and lakes thinks (and sometimes plans) about the possibility of this kind of thing happening. It would be unwise not to. As I told a relative recently when we discussed this very subject, even in the back country of Alaska and other wild places, the creatures I have always regarded as the most dangerous are humans. No contest, really. Grizzlies? They have manners, smarts, and no desire for trouble unless you do something really dumb or have the very bad luck to run across an ursine psycho case. Wolves? Like Dick Cheney during the VietNam War, they have Other Priorities. Moose? Avoid putting antlers on your head during rutting season and you'll be fine. But people? As a poet friend of mine once dryly observed, they will "say anything, do anything."
I remember wading a remote Northeastern trout stream one day years ago, in pretty serious Angry White Unemployed country, when I encountered one of the rare black fishermen I have met in such places. As it happened, he was dragging behind him on a stringer in the water a monster of a trout, a good four-pounder at least, one of the big hybrid brook trout that some states have begun stocking. We got to talking, and he warned me to watch out for some of the hostile white locals upstream. We talked about what drives some miserable creatures to behave in this way. As if to sum it all up, he shrugged philosophically and said, "It will solve itself." I can still see him wading off, moving downstream, dragging his huge trout.
I think he was right. It will eventually, and agonizingly, solve itself. The only question is how long it will take.
The AP has a very good, if very depressing, news story today about the devastation wreaked by global warming upon huge sections of Alaska, northern Canada, Siberia, far northern Europe, and other regions: millions upon millions of acres of northern forest lost to warming-abetted surges in tree-killing insect populations and resulting deadwood wildfires sparked by increased lightning from rising temperatures; a projected 50 percent increase in the area burned by wildfires in the Western United States by the 2050s under even the best-case scenario; a rise in average temperature over the past century of nearly 4 degrees Fahrenheit in some parts of the world.
But what is really depressing is the online reader comments that follow the story. At the point at which I checked in to read the story, the comments led off with this stream of knuckle-dragging grunts and belches:
From: Rockola1458 TrekkinBob................It is liberal bullshit as yourself, So get off the pipe and wise up clown.
From: Luckfibs Global warming is an Astroturf dieology.
From: LandonEx Four words: "RAID. Kills bugs dead."
From: MDTerrapin04 Hmm, Glacier retreat is a bad thing? No, I'd rather have to migrate because of approaching glaciers myself! Unbelievable. Yep, Liberals run amuck. Get out the DDT and start spraying. DDT saved millions of lives by stopping the spread of malaria and other diseases and it isn't toxic like Liberals made everyone believe.
From: hemipwr54 I am a conservative poilitically but ANYONE that thinks human activity is not speeding up natural processes is just deluding themselves.Fact is by our actions we are increasing the severity of global warming.======== I would believe that statement if Gullible Warning was true .Computer Models are flawed , the data is incomplete and the programs are riddled with errors , so in 50 to 100 years when they get them sorted out and we are just going into the next Ice Age , maybe you will see the truth !Keep your Stick on the Ice !
From: BJTitsengolfJr Has one of those smart scientist calculated the size of an umbrella needed to shade the Earth from the Sun's light/heat to overcome this man made heat problem? I didn't think so; they are not smart enough to do the KISS principle.
From: GING SIMS IT'S SOOOOO much better to follow the LIBERAL plan's and let the forest's get Overgrown & Congested which makes thm much more pronr to Disease, Infestation and Massive Wild Fire's! Yes, rather than Harvesting and Tending to the forest's bounty it's much better to let them just burn to the ground in Massive, Huge Conflagration's! I 'FEEL' so much better when I see Nature's Course set loose and everything is destroyed rather than taken care of!
Okay. I know that many such sneer-hungry automouths are bombarded with tempting incentives to leave their brains curbside at the drive-thru. I understand how a certain maggot-eaten state of mind is furthered by some of our national media compost machinery. And I try to tell myself that it is neither nice nor productive to label any of our suffering right-wing potential allies as dim-witted dupes who can neither think nor spell nor punctuate.
But there is just no excuse for this kind of spittle-spewing stupidity. Neither we nor the planet have time for it. If your jaw drops at the moronic response to a compelling, well-sourced AP news story by so many of its intended readers, imagine the bottomless feeling in the stomach of the journalist himself when he scans the comments (if he even bothers to any more). It's no wonder the ranks of dedicated journalists in corporate media are shrinking faster than the speed of thought.
When readers and viewers grunt like imbeciles and slurp from toilets like imbeciles and lap up lies like imbeciles, it is time to treat them as imbeciles. That is, it is time to stop waiting for a reversal of their flatline EEGs, and it is time we took the initiative to, among other things, save our planet. Whether they like it or not.
Law professor and civil liberties advocate Sherrilyn Ifill has an excellent piece at TheRoot.com about the subtext of race in the town hall protests. As Ifill points out, it's time reporters and analysts stopped tiptoeing around this. Many, including me, have suspected for a while now that the strangely over-the-top hysterics (against giving struggling families a Medicare-like option?!) of the virtually-all-white Birther and Anti-Obamacare mobs at town meetings are in reality a replay, for some, of racist rage at the outcome of the presidential election. Notice I said "for some." Ifill, a careful thinker and writer, makes a clear case that race is only one element, and that those who have flooded the halls with jeers and crude behavior do include red-eyed racists but also people with a wide range of motivations, including honest anger and ignorant, propaganda-stoked fear about health reform. But make no mistake, she warns: the trumpeting elephant in the room that commentators don't want to talk about is race. It is no coincidence, Ifill notes, that civil rights movement veterans watching town hall meetings have said they haven't seen blind white fury like this since the race wars of the 1950s and 1960s. To sharpen your picture of what's going on here, read Ifill's piece.
Meanwhile, at The Nation, William Greider takes a frank look at Obama's failure of will on health care, how this calamity happened in the first place (Greider makes the case that Obama did it to himself), and the cruelly ironic test it now creates for Democrats and Obama backers generally: will they let themselves be misled by the president they had hoped would be their leader, or will they rebel against him in favor of change they can believe in?
How sad to see President Barack Obama's knees begin to buckle on the issue at the very heart of health care reform: providing a public alternative to a collusive corporate health care dictatorship -- a corporate health care regime that has made a deadly joke of the capitalist mantras of "markets" and "choice."
You tell me: how many true "choices" and "market options" do (non-wealthy) Americans have for affordable, comprehensive health care in a system where virtually every private insurer in the "market" has embraced the same draconian pursuits of claim denial and premium extortion? (Yes, "extortion" is the correct word; it's the act of unfairly threatening someone in order to get them to hand over something. As in, "Sure, you can turn down our 30% rate increase. Heh, heh. Just try and find coverage elsewhere with your health history.")
So let us not pretend that anything short of a public option will constitute "health reform worthy of the name," as I heard Howard Dean phrase it the other night when he discussed health care with Tavis Smiley (and also flacked his new book about health policy). "Reform" without a viable, practical alternative to compete with the corporate health care lockdown is a sham, a shell game. Health insurance co-ops -- despite being put forth as a quisling contender for Today's Health Care Cure while frightened politicians try to nudge the Public Option offstage -- miserably fail the viability and practicality test as a national solution. Yes, in limited regions such as parts of the Pacific Northwest, co-ops have seen some success as alternative insurers. But the overwhelming bulk of the nation doesn't know a co-op from a capybara. Dump responsibility for running and managing fledgling co-ops on already-financially-overwhelmed and -fritzed-out working Americans and call it, with a straight face, a fair way of forcing robust competition into the corporate health care fiefdom? I don't think so. Rant and rave about the risks of "unproven" publicly-supported programs (let's see: Medicare, Social Security, Canada, Great Britain, Germany, Japan, France, Holland, Australia, Sweden...) while trying to pawn off co-ops as a known and effective national solution? Give me a break.
This is what makes Obama's currently apparent preparations for assuming the position so galling. From the beginning, this issue has called for leadership. Not please-kick-me-again bipartisanship, not you-guys-go-talk-and-get-back-to-me spectatorship, but leadership capable of seizing a mandate (in June, 72% of Americans favored a public option) and passionately championing it as a must-do, not only in steadfast public campaigning for true reform but also in relentless political insistence that it be done. Talk is not enough. Obama's erudite passivity on vital issues is becoming hypnotically robotic. He is an action figure without the action. I know, I've said this before. But I write so often about Obama's failing to lead because he so often fails at it.
Yes, there is cause to blame Obama's current shakiness on the Republican Misinformation Militia coup that turned town meetings into screamfests that many honestly pro-reform or open-minded citizens studiously avoided. And there is plenty of blame to be heaped upon supine Democratic legislators who have undermined Obama's position. But the illegitimacy of so many of the town meetings -- at which constant shout-downs of speakers and wild disruptions were tolerated by authorities responsible for maintaining a public forum -- posed a big, fat target ready to be publicly skewered by the Democratic leadership and reform advocacy groups. In fact, I have felt and still feel that making a conspicuously public issue of boycotting these Swift Boat Attack Parties, and calling upon government to safeguard the right to speak without being shouted down at a town meeting just as they safeguard it in the U.S. Capitol (when was the last time you saw a yelling protester interrupt a senator at a Capitol hearing and not be dragged from the chamber?), might be the tactically smartest position for pro-reform forces.
And yes, it's true that on the issue of health care reform, many of Obama's fellow Democrats have proved as rock-ribbed as a roomful of tribbles. But this makes Obama's leadership even more critically necessary, not less. Is it any wonder, then, that a political party in the majority is now getting mauled by a minority that knows the smell of blood?
To their credit, some in Congress, particularly members of the Progressive Caucus, are threatening to hold Obama's bill hostage if he folds on the public option. After all, they argue, without a public option there is no meaningful bill anyway.
I don't know if the Caucus is bluffing or not, or what influence they will wield. But I think they are correct in their observation: Kill the public option, and you kill health care reform, at least for now. Without a public option, we are stuck with the same outrageously unjust and wasteful system, the same protected corporate players with their inflated premiums, and the same colossal imbalance of power in who sets health care policy. We get, at best, a health co-op band-aid slapped atop our national hemorrhage, and perhaps a few cosmetic regulatory changes to slow the patient's loss of blood.
If ever there were a time to write or call your congressperson or senator -- and to start talking about a Million Patient March -- it is now.
And we haven't even talked about Single Payer.
By the way, if you haven't seen one, this is a capybara:
One definition of the word "uninspiring:" hearing President Obama make tight-lipped clinical statements about how he thinks the facts will quiet the manufactured hysteria over health care reform -- while a right-wing mentality immune to facts runs wild in its disruption of public forums across the land.
No, it is not Obama's fault that the RNC/Fox/FearFactory machinery is so adept at scaring certain voters silly, nor is it Obama's fault that said voters are sufficiently weak-minded to climb aboard the clattering "protect your freedom of choice" bus when the runaway train of our corporate health care dictatorship hijacked their power of choice decades ago. (Actually, the bus thing is more than a metaphor, according to reports that fake "local" protesters from outside of the jurisdictions in question are being bused to health care town meetings for the expressed purpose of dynamiting real discourse.) Moreover, as Denise Dennis points out, for some this is less about health care than it is about Obama-busting, period: "They see defeating health care legislation as their opportunity to re-visit the Presidential election." And make no mistake, this Obamaphobia has a racial element to it, just as the "Who elected her?" wave of Hillary-hatred during her ill-fated try at health care reform had a misogynistic undercurrent. It is no more Obama's problem that some whites cannot handle an erudite black male president than it was Hillary Clinton's that some men could not handle a strong female political player as First Lady.
But it is sure as hell disappointing for it to start to sink in that maybe President Obama is not up to facing the brownshirt tendency in a small but vicious segment of scared white America, nor to leading the more enlightened majority to feel and use its own power.
For a closer look at the appeal of the authoritarian impulse during times of anxiety, watch Princeton professor Melissa Harris-Lacewell's conversation with Keith Olbermann. She discusses research showing that social change and insecurity can lead to a surge in "racial, moral, and political intolerance," which has pretty much become the RNC and PaleoPravda M.O. in this era of change and insecurity. Not that this was breaking news -- racism has been the drug of choice for insecure American whites for centuries; Nazism was based on a national inferiority complex; homophobia is the chosen intoxicant for the hetero-right as the consumer family dissolves in a pool of Pepsi; etc., etc.) -- but I still found Harris-Lacewell's observations to be interesting.
While you're at MSNBC, check out Rachel Maddow's rundown of numerous corporate and high-powered lobbying interests who are backing the allegedly "spontaneous" circuses of theatrical right-wing anger at town hall meetings on health care reform. She also interviews Michael Snider, owner of the Syzzlyn Skillet restaurant in Ralston, Nebraska, who starred in a much-noticed TV ad slamming Nebraska Senator Ben Nelson (D) for caving in on health care reform.
But back to Obama and leadership. What a painful irony that after a masterfully orchestrated campaign for the presidency in which he actually touched Americans' desires, Obama now seems to have gone completely tone-deaf about what it is that Americans need to hear. At a time of teetering catastrophe with the earth shifting and the winds howling, Obama seems to have defaulted to a clinical Dr. Factual mode, heavy with its intent of objective gravitas. It's a logical approach on the whiteboard, maybe, but wrong. What the nation needs now in the Oval Office is not a national surgeon or national engineer or national lawyer, but a national leader: a man capable of inspiring confidence and passionate hope. This is not too much to ask. Imagine Obama, say, making a concerted and determined stand on why a public health plan is indispensable to any reform worthy of the name. Obama leading his fellow Democrats in Congress and the Senate as a champion of the cause instead of following them as a seeker of approval and presumed "realism." Obama doing all of this with more passion and less professorship than we have seen from him to date. Imagine Obama, in other words, acting like a man who fiercely cares, instead of like a man who is showing us the math.
Believe me, I am all for presidential gravitas and intellect after eight years without either. And none of us can ultimately blame Obama for an electorate that is too ignorant or too passive to act in its own interests. I'm not much for we non-righties taking our cues from tar-pit reactionaries, whether at town hall meetings or online. But there is a point at which an electorate is responsible for making itself heard -- through avalanches of emails, phone calls, and human bodies filling streets in front of government buildings -- when politicians forget how to listen and how to lead.
Still, Obama's apparent feet of clay on health care are a sad spectacle to behold. As I wrote in my previous post, if anything kills Obama's presidency -- and kills health care reform with it -- it will be not his overdoing things, but his Herbert-Hoover-like mishmash of calculated underdoing, which inspires no one, angers everyone, and solves nothing.
If you have been trying to put your finger on exactly what it is that seems to be fundamentally missing in the makeup of our intelligent, eloquent, well-intentioned president, Kevin Baker's "Barack Hoover Obama" piece in the July issue of Harper's is a must-read.
I think Baker absolutely nails the gnawing feeling many of us have that, despite his gifts and gravitas and his infinite superiority to the previous White House occupant, Obama so far appears to lack the essential stuff that the current presidency demands. Baker illuminates this via a compelling historical comparison between Obama and another gifted, promising president who ultimately failed to deliver at the nation's great moment of need: Herbert Hoover.
Baker argues, fascinatingly, with much evidence to support his case, that Obama, like Hoover, will fail not because he lacks an intellectual or political understanding of what must be done to avoid national disaster, but because he lacks the personal capacity to do it. To quote Baker:
"Obama’s failure would be unthinkable. And yet the best indications now are that he will fail, because he will be unable—indeed he will refuse—to seize the radical moment at hand.
"Every instinct the president has honed, every voice he hears in Washington, every inclination of our political culture urges incrementalism, urges deliberation, if any significant change is to be brought about. The trouble is that we are at one of those rare moments in history when the radical becomes pragmatic, when deliberation and compromise foster disaster. The question is not what can be done but what must be done."
To fully take in Baker's case for why this is so and how it parallels the experience of Hoover -- a towering figure in his day who was believed to be the nation's best chance for resuscitation and who yet fumbled and shuffled his way into the Great Depression -- read Baker's entire piece. I think you will find that it brings your worst anxieties about Obama into sharp focus.
The awful irony about Obama is that, despite the ravings of the far right about his "extremism," if anything brings down his presidency it will be his steely political cautiousness, his insistence on working within the broken machinery of "bipartisanship" and entrenched corporate authority, his refusal to stand up and fight -- despite his fiery campaign and his presidential rhetoric -- for the equivalent of a New New Deal that truly puts authority and policy in new hands. Instead, Obama's tentativeness earns him the contempt and rage of those on all sides of any given issue. His health care reform initiative, for instance, is in trouble because his unwieldy attempted compromise with insurance companies and hospitals has inflated his program's price tag and enraged the private sector and conservatives, while his administration's careful backing away from core reforms such as public health care has infuriated liberals and workers' constituencies. The result: the right detests him; the left views him with increasing anger and dismay; and the center increasingly shrugs at him, seeing him as just another disappointing politician. On all sides, Obama's potential to inspire his base, and to earn grudging respect from his opponents for his grit, is dissolving.
I still believe, maybe naively, maybe not, that Obama, with his
reserves of character and political skill, is capable of learning from
all of this and that he may at some point rear up and show the kind of
leadership of which he is capable. But so far, he has not.
FDR famously proclaimed that he welcomed the hatred of those in the business classes who reviled the reforms that he saw to be necessary. We hear no such declaration of bedrock determination from Obama. The point here is not that such hatred from opponents should be romanticized by a leader. The point is that presidential conviction in the face of such obstructionist hatred is a virtue at a time of dire national necessity. Timid half-stepping at such a time gains only one thing: jeers from all sides for proposals that fail to solve problems.
Obama's biggest danger, then, is that he may prove to be nobody's president.
And, like Hoover's, that would be a tragic legacy.
Harry Alford's claim of racism against Senator Barbara Boxer is ridiculous.
It reminds me, actually, of Clarence Thomas's accusation that his Supreme Court confirmation hearing was a new variety of lynching. In both cases, men on the hot seat cast about for whatever weapon they could find, and then flung it with abandon.
In case you were lucky enough to miss these six minutes of parody-like nonsense, Alford, who is CEO of the National Black Chamber of Commerce, was being questioned at a senate committee hearing yesterday by Boxer about the NBCC's position on climate change policy -- a position which, like that of many industry groups, is chilly toward the idea of businesses having to make major concessions and adjustments in the interests of the planet. In the course of her questioning, Boxer placed into the record the position taken by the NAACP, which poses climate change as an urgent issue for its constituency. (Green issues are a growing priority for many progressive organizations of color, partly because of the disproportionate toll of pollution and environmental contamination in poor communities and partly because of the many job creation opportunities in green industries.) Alford took vociferous offense at what he considered Boxer's gratuitous and irrelevant raising of the NAACP's position, and he told her he was personally insulted as a black man by her condescension. What's race got to do with any of this, he angrily demanded. Why wasn't Boxer citing the position of, say, an Asian group, he asked.
Well, here is why: Alford's organization is the National Black Chamber of Commerce. Boxer did not so christen the organization; the NBCC did. Alford, in fact, came to the hearing specifically to argue, as an ostensible representative of black economic interests, against potential green arguments that his organization sees as not being helpful to black economic growth. If Alford were representing the plain old Chamber of Commerce, the situation would be different. But he isn't. He claims to represent a set of black interests. So of course it was fair for Boxer to raise -- among other groups including the Pew Charitable Trust -- the contrasting position of the NAACP. And it was not only wrong but silly for Alford to whip around and yell "racism."
This is a case of what some older black folks used to call, in so many words, Ruining It for the Rest of Us: in other words, a black person's doing or saying trivial or embarrassingly dumb stuff that, as a result, gives whites ammunition for dismissing truly serious and meaningful black claims and grievances. We will surely hear simpering comparisons between Alford's Outburst and GatesGate -- "See? Another black guy making totally lame accusations of racism" -- from folks who do not want to hear about racism, period.
So let's be clear: A black man's being (I repeat: stupidly) arrested at his home because a trained policeman doesn't want or know how to walk away bears direct relation to the past and present experience of racial profiling. Professor Henry Louis Gates was pissed because he, like most of we black American men, has had a lifetime of being treated as someone he is not. To be sure, Gates violated at least two of Chris Rock's rules for How Not to Get Your Ass Kicked by the Police -- those being "Be polite" and "Shut the fuck up." But in a situation in which there was clearly no guilt of the suspected offense and no physical threat, in a city notorious for racially-biased policing, there was simply no excuse for Sergeant James Crowley's allowing himself to snap into up-against-the-wall mode.
And let's be just as clear: When a black man representing a black organization comes to a senate hearing to argue a case on behalf of alleged black interests, there is nothing -- not a thing -- racist about a white senator's mentioning, as part of her response, that another black organization took an opposing point of view.
Personally, after watching the video, I suspect that Boxer's tone alone angered Alford even before she brought up the NAACP issue. Her personal affect, to me, seemed condescending: the way she spoke very slowly to him, her belittling his knowledge of California, her almost teacher-like air of inflated patience, all of which, had I been in Alford's chair, I might have taken as patronizing. If Boxer had simply behaved differently, Alford might not have gone off in the first place at Boxer's mention of the NAACP.
But that's speculation. What is clear is that Alford's complaint is not worth more than a moment's thought -- and that its emptiness does nothing to invalidate black complaints of real substance.