Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Of Divides and Color: 2009 and Beyond

In a commentary piece for The Philadelphia Inquirer last week (Friday, November 6), columnist George Curry uses USA Today/Gallup poll data to paint a bleak picture of America's sense of "race relations." Noting that when Barack Obama was elected president at this time last year, as many as 70% of Americans were "convinced that race relations would improve..." a year later, writes Curry, only about 56% of the country feels hopeful -- the proportion of Americans who felt this way in 1963.

Curry then goes on to examine American opinion about race with respect to the Gates-Crowley "teachable moment" we witnessed this summer. He reports that 30% of African Americans blamed Sgt. Crowley for the incident and only 4% blamed Professor Gates, while 32% of whites blamed Gates and 7% blamed Crowley.

Leaving aside the fact that well over half the country still has hope that racial issues can settle down, and that more than two-thirds of the African and European citizens of this country are not opinionated enough to feel that they know what happened between the professor and the cop, it sure would be nice to see statistics on racial issues that come from bi-racial and mixed race respondents. Or how about American Indians, Pakistanis, Koreans, and Chinese or Vietnamese Americans?

I for one have little hope for journalism and the American media as long as they couch so-called "race related issues" in terms of black vs. white. It is simplistic, divisive, and misses the point completely. This is not a country of two cultural groups. The reality of our situation requires in-depth and thoughtful analysis, something truly lacking in mainstream journalism these days.

Mixed race Americans are not just part black and part white. Some of us are tri-racial; some part Asian and part Hispanic and European and African; some are Japanese and Chinese; some are part Vietnamese, adopted into European American households, and raised by Swedish and Italian nannies. And we have a president who is part African (not African American as the term is generally used) and part European in ancestry. There are also millions of Americans who don't have a clue about their DNA. They think they're "white," "black," "brown," whatever, but they have no proof where they came from.

Is there hope? Can so-called race relations improve in this country? Even with the race bating by Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh and others; even with the Obama-as-Joker posters, those of us who know how ridiculous the very idea of race is -- those of us who see the proof of the lunacy of skin color as a dividing line -- know that a person who has transcended race lives with his family in the White House. The question is no longer one about black vs. white. Evidence of improvement or failure cannot be found in single cases illuminated to the extreme by the media. And until Gallup learns to ask intelligent questions, opinion polls probably aren't going to tell us what we all know: things are changing -- fast. That's why all these right-wing whack jobs are out in the street. They're completely freaked out.

No, as long as you understand that "Yes We Can" applies to our cultural identities along with everything else, we're going to get there, we just don't know where that is yet.

Photo credit: Gary Roberts

Monday, October 19, 2009

Comments on Leonard Peltier

I am honored to find that John Trimbach, son of retired special agent in charge (SAC) of the Minnesota FBI offices, Joseph Trimbach, posted a letter to the editor regarding my commentary piece in The Philadelphia Inquirer on Leonard Peltier's denial of parole. Father and son are co-authors of American Indian Mafia. The letter was posted on Wednesday, September 30th, two weeks after my commentary piece. Go here to read Mr. Trimbach's letter and make sure to read the comments that follow.

Why am I honored? Because regardless of their position, it's important that all intelligent people pay attention to this issue. It's important too that we break up the silence about America's first original sin.

“We did not ask you white men to come here. The Great Spirit gave us this country as a home."
-Crazy Horse

See my Inquirer commentary here. And my latest extended version of that for Kotori Magazine here.

Leonard Peltier: a personal essay

My latest commentary was just published by KotoriMagazine.com, "Leonard Peltier and this Great, Funny Nation." It is really a personal essay, but full of good links and resources.

"To give Leonard Peltier the last decade or two of his life outside of prison, on parole in his home community, would require that this nation acknowledge a sickness that is its original sin."

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Something More

Something More (for Marion, October 13, 2009)

An older man with dark features
And an older woman – long brown hair,
Luminous eyes, blue like
A cloudless autumn sky –
Sit in an old wood bed together.
As the audience, we are tired.
They have been speaking to each other
For many days now.
We did not know
For the price of admission
The time spent would be weeks
Here in this theater
Where management has served us meals
And brought hot towels
Down the aisles
And given us breaks for showers
And toilet runs.

The older man looks at the woman,
Says, “This is amazing.”
Slowly she smiles.

The stage fades to black.

We hear sheets rustle.
The slow, sensual wet sound of lips
On skin, whisper kisses,
A quiet chuckle
From the older woman’s throat.
Then silence.

We know this is the silence
Of two lovers,
The embrace
Of what some call true love.
But we also know now
There is something more.
There are just no words to describe it.


© Copyright David Biddle, 2009

Sunday, September 13, 2009

David Mamet on Race

Today's New York Times contains an excellent essay by the playwright David Mamet called "We Can't Stop Talking About Race in America." The essay is part of The Times' super-sized Arts & Leisure section cataloging all the new cultural events coming this fall and winter. Mamet has a new play coming out this fall called Race.

If you know Mamet, you know that he provides some fearless insights on this subject. Let me offer a few choice quotes to get you to go read the piece:

"Race, like sex, is a subject on which it is near impossible to tell the truth."

"Most contemporary debate on race is nothing but sanctimony..."

"The question of the poor drama is 'What is the truth?' but of the better drama, and particularly of tragedy, 'What are the lies?'"

In light of all the moments we've had this year: with Barrack Obama's inauguration; the Valley Swim Club in Huntingdon Valley, PA; the Gates-Crowley face off; madding crowds wielding pictures of our president sporting a little Hitler moustache; and the troubling denial of parole for Leonard Peltier -- a man many feel embodies America's need to pretend its indigenous people do not exist --Mamet's essay says a lot. What is the truth? What are the lies?

Hopefully the answers to these questions will become clear soon. If not in Mamet's new play, then maybe in the drama and tragedy of the life we live moving into our future. We've got a little more than seven years to go...if you know what I mean.

Photo: David Shankbone, from http://www.broadway.tv

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Confessions of a FaceBook Commentor

On and off today, I took part in an interesting though distressing set of comments at a FaceBook site that were spurred by this weekend's bizarre confrontation and arrest of Louis Henry Gates by Cambridge police. Mark Cohen, an erudite Pennsylvania State Representative got the ball rolling by posting a link to his commentary on this issue at the Daily Kos. See Mark's piece here. It's an excellent drawing together of a number of the more bizarre race-related incidents that we've seen 'round here over the past several weeks.

The kurfuffle coming out of this Gates incident is the question of whether it is a blatant example of racial profiling. I usually try not to get involved in commenting on people's posts to their FaceBook sites, but I really liked what Mark wrote and so I paid attention to other people's comments on and off as their additions rolled into my email box. By the end of the day there are 40 comments and the entire discussion seemed to have turned into some folks claiming that racism is an evil that must be confronted wherever it is found in America, while others were arguing that perhaps acknowledging racism is a way of making it real.

Anyone who knows me or who has read this little blog of mine will know that I do not buy into racism on any level and that I choose to believe that life is about people living in the world as individuals. I strongly believe that folks cannot speak intelligently about race and prejudice because these issues are based on false premises, lies, and the funk of group hypnotism.

There is no question that there is a power system at play in America, and there is a case to be made that it is run by "whites," but trust me, there are no "whites" in power. This is the 21st century. Who the hell is white? Generally, those in power are the ones with educations, particularly law degrees, money, connections, and hustle. You're only as powerless as you feel. If you're going to argue with cops, they're going to more often than not take you in for a sit down visit and call to your parents or your lawyer.

Most important though, all of this points me towards music, comedy and intelligent poetics. Take Gil Scott-Heron's little ditty that I ran into this morning at Peter Rothberg's blog at The Nation Whitey On the Moon. I don't agree with the "Whitey" sentiment Mr. Scott-Heron so expertly wields, but it's important to pay attention to his message anyway: exactly what are we spending money on in this country?

My final word to Professor Gates, a man whose thoughts and persona we should all deeply love?

Dude, be pissed that the cops messed with you in your home! Don't let other people's stupidity work to manufacture and sustain the ugliness of racism.