Friday, April 30, 2010

#11 Blacks and Wheels

Whatever the trip is with Blacks and big rims must be the analog to Whites and big tires. I have been watching White boys put big tires on trucks since 1975 (when I was a boy!). The big rim thing is relatively new, but deserves its look, with history in mind. In fact, as the picture shows, the mechanics of these urban rigs do not look much different than their 4x4 backwoods cousins.

I believe fat tires came into being to give stability to tall set-ups looking for greater clearance over rural obstacles, stumps, log, swamps, alligators, lawn furniture, abandoned refrigerators, and such. Big rims are an equal testosterone injection for the urban dweller. And just like the cowgirls, the hooptie-girls heat up around this bigness.

So I guess it’s all about sex. I have a friend who even calls the Dodge Ram Truck, the Dodge “Penis”. She claims that this is how the truck looks, so why not call it by the same? For the record, it’s not a Black-thing to have tires/rims that are worth more than the car itself, either. Guys have been upgrading wheels and tires ever since Mags and Ansons first came out to improve performance, a half-century ago.

No discussion would be complete without mention of the hydraulics that our Latino friends add to the mix. I have seen YouTube’s of cars hopping (here) many feet off the ground like an English boxer. When it comes to chest thumpin’ stupidity and automobiles, race don’t matter.

James C. Collier


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Thursday, April 29, 2010

Bullock’s Blind Side Black Baby

Truth follows fiction, follows truth? Or so it would seem. Sandra Bullock, who won an Oscar for portraying a White mother who takes in a homeless Black youth as her son, has recently announced that she is adopting a newborn male infant, who happens to be Black. So what’s going on here?

Is Bullock some kind of Angelina Jolie-wannabe, bringing the plight of the unfortunate into the public eye? Or is this another case of exotic-baby-as-pet to a Hollywood celebrity? Is the baby a hapless pawn, destined for a tortured life? How should Black people feel? Should her marital problems influence the situation?

Assuming she gets her pick of roles, I suspect that the same underlying emotional attraction that drew Bullock to Blind Side is showing itself in her adoption choice. Whatever one thinks, she gets high marks for consistency. Unlike Americans who go far and wide to adopt, I applaud her willingness to drop the gloves and buy (adopt) US, particularly a Black baby. She knows, intuitively, that she will have to share her son with the Black community and critical commentary is only a headline away.

As for the wellness of the baby, race is a social construct that means everything to some and nearly nothing to others. Bullock has the resources to mitigate the challenges. Whether she has the common sense remains an open question, but also one of nobody else’s business. The challenges of being a superstar celebrity parent will far outweigh race differences, and are much more likely to detract from her parenting - ask Michael Douglas.

I don’t expect a rush of adoptions of Black orphans because of Bullock's profile. More people might consider adopting outside of their race, and I think this is a okay, but adopting is too difficult and expensive to ever to become a fad of the masses. As for Black opinion, I think the Black Psychology Association finally shut-up about being against interracial adoption – not a minute too soon. The related cross-racial issues with an adopted family are preferred, in any sensible opinion, to the truckload of issues that Black orphans suffer at the hands of this country’s foster care system.

Lastly, Bullock announced her impending divorce. This is a non-issue. She committed to the adoption prior to her split, and has bonded with the baby. Those who don’t agree with single parenthood are ignoring that current wedlock and divorce rates are, in part, a significant function of enduring bad marriages and the resulting dysfunctional parenting that follows.

James C. Collier


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Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Black vs. White and Other Tales from the Toaster

If the planet’s age, at 4.5 billion years, were put into terms of a 24 hour clock, all of human (homo sapien) existence has occurred roughly in the last 2.88 seconds. In other words, figure that the earth’s ‘party’ started at 12:00:00 AM, we arrived late at 11:57:05 PM that same day, and in those nearly three seconds we have infested the joint and set the course, as I see it, for humanity’s natural exit. This makes us no better, or worse, than 99.99% of all other living creatures that have come and gone in 4.5 billion years.

Humans conflict by nature. Some might say that conflict is the essence of our advancement and to-be short-lived dominion. All the while, we search for leverage to dismantle our tendency to fight with each other. 'Do this, do that, shut your mouth, get out of my face!' But, we continue to lose the war for peace. North fights south, black fights white, Jew fights Muslim, male fights female, young fights old, and so on. Perhaps the fighting is inevitable.

The conflict goes farther than just with humanity. We conflict outside ourselves, with nature. We conflict inside ourselves, about who we are and why we are here. Finally, we conflict with the unseen, the God that we believe created us. We assert and immediately defy Godly rules. Challenging our natural tendency, or need, to conflict is our ultimate battle, and if we ever win, it just might be our unique undoing. But we won’t win, and our status quo undoing is our back-up plan.

To err is certainly human, and forgiveness may be divine, but conflict floats our boat. Without it we are toast. With it, we are also toast. So I guess what I’m saying is that the earth will live on, until the universe un-big-bang’s itself, but humanity is toast. Personally, I’m agnostic about toast. So, you live the moment in the toaster, with your favorite spreadable waiting, knowing that when it’s gone, it’s gone. And that will be OK.

Now, back to our regularly scheduled conflicts…

James C. Collier


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Monday, April 26, 2010

Arizona Secedes

The Fourteenth Amendment to the US Constitution directs, in part, that all US citizens are due equal protection, including that no state may abridge this protection. This amendment exists as the ‘teeth’ to the Jeffersonian declarative ideal of ‘all men being created equal’, in the eyes of the law. Yes, Jefferson owned slaves and was a hypocrite, but that’s a different conversation.

Arizona legislators and voters have seen fit to thumb their noses at the constitution, by instructing its authorities, via SB1070, to require residents of that state to prove, upon demand, that they are in this country legally. The selection criterion is as vague as the individual’s appearance, in the eyes of authorities. So, to look like you are from Mexico is cause for detention and questioning. SB1070 makes no distinction between legal residents who originated, by ancestry, in Mexico, and those in the US illegally.

Now everyone knows that a lesser number Blacks commit a disproportion of crime, but our laws protect the greater number of remaining law abiding Blacks from the suspicion of law breaking, except for evidence beyond simply being Black. Why Arizona would choose to deny their Latino citizens equal protection is beyond me, except that they want to secede, and rid themselves of the Constitution. If SB1070 is allowed to stand, then our laws are not worth the paper upon which they are written.

When the southern states, prior to 1963, refused equal protection for Blacks, the government ultimately sent in the troops to enforce laws. This situation in Arizona is no different, today. The first time SB1070 is enforced should be the last time. Federal funds? - see ya! Tee-up the Supremes, the troops, and let's party. States that knowingly defy the constitution and its process should be crushed, period.

This is not to say that Arizona does not have the right, or responsibility to make state laws, police its borders, or verify citizenship. Rather, they must carry out this responsibility in an objective manner that protects US citizens from assumed guilt, and unlawful detainment. Giving authorities the right to ‘eyeball’ the application of equal protection based on ethnicity is stupid, lazy, and unconstitutional. Bad Arizona.

James C. Collier


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Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Nigger Show

When racism masquerades as something else
Don't let the virulent hatred of Obama's presidency - veiled in "policy differences" - fool you. Just ask someone raised around bigotry.

'The nigger show."

I first heard this expression used to describe the Obama administration during a visit to my hometown in East Texas during the early summer of 2009. I understood what the epithet meant: Our minds are made up, the president lacks legitimacy, and there is nothing he can do that we will support. I was not surprised to hear such a phrase.

I grew up in the 1960s during the ragged end of the Jim Crow era, where many of the books in my school library were stamped Colored School, meaning they had been brought to the white school when the town was forced to integrate the public school system. I recall my parents had instructed me, before my first day of elementary school, not to sit in a chair where a black child had sat. And I remember my sister joked that her yearbook, when it appeared at the end of her first year of integrated high school, was in "black and white."

The outward signs of racism of my home state have now disappeared, but racial hatred remains. My father and his friends still use the word nigger to refer to all black people, and the people of my hometown don't hesitate to spout their racist rhetoric to my face, assuming I agree with them. I hold my tongue for the sake of having continued access to this kind of truth. I learned long ago how not to accept the hatred I was being taught and how to survive not having done so. More recently, I realized that I also learned another lesson: how to recognize racism when it masquerades as something else.

More than 40 years after my first experiences with racism, I am thousands of miles away in Rome, but surrounded by ghosts. Last year, I received a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts for a community program called the Big Read, which sponsors activities to encourage communities to come together to read and discuss a single book. I chose Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, in part because I thought that some of the most salient issues in the novel - racism, classism, xenophobia, the Jim Crow era - were perhaps relevant to an increasingly diverse, contemporary Italy.

That there is racism in Italy is obvious to anyone who pays attention to current affairs. In fact, during the first week of the Big Read Rome, a story in one of Italy's national newspapers detailed the experience of a Nigerian woman being called sporca nera (essentially, dirty nigger) by two women she asked to stop smoking on a Roman bus.

But I never imagined that consideration of the novel would prove so relevant to a country that had just elected its first black president.

Ironically, until the election of Barack Obama, my discussions of racism in the United States seemed historical. I felt that with the passage of the civil rights legislation of the mid-1960s, the country had turned a corner, that the slow evaporation of overt racism was perhaps inevitable. Now, my personal experience of Southern racism feels current and all too familiar. A news story about the Big Read that appeared in La Repubblica on Sept. 20 (unaware that my grant was awarded during the Bush administration), presciently brought Rome, Obama, To Kill a Mockingbird, and racism together in its headline: "Obama brings antiracist book to Rome."

Jimmy Carter was lambasted for having recently explained that the vehemence with which many Americans resist Obama's presidency is an expression of racism. Carter was accused of fanning the flames of racial misunderstanding by labeling as "racist" what on the surface could be perceived as legitimate policy differences. Like Carter, as a white Southern man, I can see beyond the seemingly legitimate rhetoric to discern what is festering behind much of the opposition to Obama and to his administration's policy initiatives. I also have access, via the racist world from which I came, direct confirmation of the racial hatred toward Obama.

The veiled racism I sense in the United States today is couched, in public discourse at least, in terms that allow for plausible deniability of racist intent. And those who resist any policy initiative from the Obama administration engage in a scorched-earth policy that reminds me of the self-centered white flight, the abandonment of public schools, and the proliferation of private schools, that followed the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision to desegregate public schools. The very people, like my own rural, working-class family back in East Texas, who stand to gain from the efforts of the Obama administration and the Democratic Congress are, because of their racism, willing to oppose policies that would benefit them the most. Their racism outweighs their own self-interest.

Unfortunately, racists in the United States have learned one valuable lesson since the 1960s: They cannot express their racism directly. In public, they must veil their racial hatred behind policy differences. This obfuscation makes direct confrontation difficult. Anyone pointing out their racist motivations runs the risk of unfairly playing "the race card." But I know what members of my family mean when they say - as so many said during the town hall meetings in August - that they "want their country back." They want it back, safely, in the hands of someone like them, a white person. They feel that a black man has no right to be the president of their country.

During a phone conversation a few weeks after Obama's election, my father lamented that he and my mother might have to stop visiting the casinos in Shreveport, La.: Given Obama's election, "the niggers are already walking around like they own the place. They won't even give up their seats for white women anymore. I don't know what we're going to do with 'em."

My students often ask me how I managed to avoid accepting the lesson in racism offered by my family. From the time I was 4 or 5 years old - roughly the same age as Scout Finch, the narrator of To Kill a Mockingbird - I recall knowing that I didn't agree with racism. More important, my paternal grandmother provided me with the encouragement that I could ignore what I was being taught. She provided me with the courage to resist.

My grandmother hoped that my father and his father represented the last generations of the type of Southern man that had shaped her life - virulently racist, prone to violence, proud of their ignorance, and self-defeatingly stubborn. It was a type of Southern man that she hoped and prayed I could avoid becoming.

However, my father and his father were not the last of their kind; their racial hatred has been passed on. My grandmother, if she were alive, would recognize the same tendencies among many of the people who shout down politicians and bring guns to public rallies. She would also see how the only change they have made is to replace overt racist epithets with more euphemistic language.

Rather than seeing my home state and its racist attitudes, slowly, over time, pulled in the direction of more acceptance, the country as a whole has become more like the South, the racial or cultural equivalent of what is called the Walmartization of American retail.

It might be easy to see literature as impotent in the face of the persistence and adaptability of racism. But I continue to believe in the transformative potential of literature and its ability to provide an alternative view of the world. And for children who are not lucky enough to have grandmothers like mine, I believe that books like To Kill a Mockingbird can provide inoculation against the virus that is racism.

by Carlos Dews, author, a professor of English literature, and chairman of the Department of English Language and Literature at John Cabot University in Rome.

This article originally appeared in the December 2009 issue of Aspenia, the Italian journal published by the Aspen Foundation Italy.

James C. Collier


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Friday, April 23, 2010

Monday, April 19, 2010

America’s Grand Failure: The College Track

The Bureau of Labor says that, in 2008, 68.9% of all HS graduates enrolled in a four-year college. Forty percent will eventually drop out, with even higher numbers for Blacks and Latinos. Reasons for dropping out include, financial, mismatched expectations, poor motivation, preparation, and study skills.

The idea that every child in America should go to college is flawed. This is different than the notion that young people, who are ready, willing, and able, should not get help. We need to acknowledge that we are failing all the kids who should have another choice. This isn’t just the kids who fail, but also those destined to under perform due to misplacement.

Also, the alternative which kids need is not to simply go to community college, on a remedial academic track, to make up for not being able to make the cut into a four-year college. They need real alternatives that develop them, accepting the need to serve/contribute to society, in a more manual/service orientation, and less intellectual manner.

Following this, America needs communities where people, who do not go to college, can live well, against a more elastic version of the American dream. That dream might not only include a suburban home with a 2-car garage, but also allow for more down-sized home ownership, not just ghetto squalor or fixer-uppers. Large complexes that wed tenants to extended renting, minus the pride and benefits of ownership, are not the answer.

School systems, across all economic levels, need to facilitate placing students in the most appropriate development scenario. At minimum we need service-tech and vocational-tech school tracks that capture kids, and their imaginations, at the end of middle school. This is the best opportunity for reducing first on-set high school drop-out rates, which only fuel unemployment, bad attitudes, and crime.

Pushing kids into college fuels higher-education bloat, and saddles these dropouts with large debts, no degree, and limited job prospects. So, good education is not about promoting more kids against a bad standard. Rather, it is our educators, and their system, that need to become responsive to real need – and more responsible to this country's future.

James C. Collier


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Saturday, April 17, 2010

Jackie Robinson: Before Baseball

April 15 is Jackie Robinson Day in major-league baseball, honoring this courageous and consummate competitor. Everybody wears his number and much is celebrated about this man who broke professional baseball’s color barrier, in 1947. But what most people don’t know is that Robinson was nearly court-martialed, in 1944, as a second lieutenant in the Army, for refusing to sit at the back of a military bus. This was eleven years prior to Rosa Parks.

After a standout college career at Pasadena and UCLA, Robinson was drafted in 1942 into a segregated Army for WWII. His set of events certainly helped set the stage for the Army to begin desegregating by 1948. He was stationed at Camp Hood, TX, at the time, and was near the front of the line of the beginning realization that segregation was not viable for the country’s long-term growth, prosperity, and safety.

The quiet lesson of Jackie Robinson is not the astute way he handled being the first Black in baseball, with all its humiliation in the public eye, but rather what courage he showed in his earlier years as a young man, when he simply stood up for what was right, regardless of the consequences. By the time the Dodgers signed him in ’47, the man had nearly ten years of sticking his neck out for Black progress. For the full story, go here.

James C. Collier


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Friday, April 16, 2010

Obama and Race: The Little Check Box that Could

President Obama, half-white, half-black, declared himself singly Black/African-American, on this most recent census inquiry. The form accommodates multi-racial declarations, so people on all sides are saying “why did he do that”. Arguably, there is meaning in what form of the past, present or future the current president lives - and leads.

By the historical ‘one-drop’ rule, Obama is a Black man. This country was formed and has existed under the notion that a single Black ancestor outweighs any and all White, or other race, ancestry. Of course, we now accurately know race to be a social construct, reflecting different paths, rather than worthy genetic distinction.

To declare that he is White would be silly, although the greatest parental influences in his life were his White mother and White grandparents. To say he is both Black and White would be accurate, but offers little to the issues, if any, of allegiance. So, how does he maintain the delicate balance of the ‘perfect storm’-support, in which he won election.

What the president is saying, with his choice, is that he is a Black man leading a whole nation, even for those who would not have him lead, due to his multi-racial background. His declaration is steeped in the past, and noble to the leap-forward that it represents. His famous first, and the full scope of the accomplishment, is lessened if he declares himself to be ‘sort-of’ not Black – the first big mistake of another partially Black celebrity - Tiger Woods.

Voters saw and heard what they wanted when they voted the presidential election. Obama can’t be blamed for the circumstance of appealing to so many at this time in the country’s history. Declaring full blackness on the census is most politically defensible and expedient. As the president defines behavior in the ‘race zone’ (here), he also needs to remind people that he is Black. Otherwise, his characterized inaction on issues of race might be mistaken as forsaking historical Black plight – a growing accusation of the political Black Caucus.

It is amazing how one little check box could hold so much.

James C. Collier


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Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Race Zone

Blacks are going to need some time to adjust to being in the ‘race zone’, that emerging place where the value of ignoring the bulk of racism approaches the value of fighting it. Whites are not going to make the transition easy, either. On one hand, they voted a Black man into the White House, all the while still able to toss the n-word around like a Sunday football. In some twisted way, this intersection might represent progress. In the race zone, one can be racist and not racist at the same time.

By example, Obama got elected, but in the recent health care debate Black Washington lawmakers were called nigger, and spit upon by Whites (here), reminding us rudely, of the old days. The nuance is that even in a post-up racial America, acting racist is a good way to draw attention and belittle your adversary, regardless of how you really feel. They would say just because someone calls you a nigger, it doesn’t mean they really ‘David Duke-hate’ your ass. Maybe they're simply trying to psyche you out.

Thirty years ago, in college, a very good friend and roommate, whom I had known since middle school, got bent out of shape when his cute blond cousin asked me out on a date. He hated her previous White boyfriend, who was abusive, but still preferred that dude to me. He easily reconciled me as his best friend, but not good enough for his cousin. I could strangely see his point.

On one side, my friend had my back, but he also carried a legacy that our friendship could not simply shrug off. When pushed to the mat, the idea that his cousin might try to jump me made race come out hard and ugly. The people who don’t like Obama can’t help but call him racial names during their mouth-foaming protests. Blacks are late to the stick-n-stones party, because slavery and Jim Crow were the real deal, not just words. Under the old rules, somebody could get hurt – still can.

Looking back, my best friendships are where race differences are explicit, including a lot of ‘you people’ this and that, designed to ‘keep it light, real, and up front’. But it's also about knowing who really has got your back, regardless of color. For better or worse, the race zone is where most of us are headed, ready or not.

James C. Collier


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Saturday, April 10, 2010

J. Bruce Llewellyn: 1927-2010

New York Times: (here)

James C. Collier


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Thursday, April 08, 2010

Earl to Tiger and Back

"I want to find out what your thinking was. I want to find out what your feelings are. Did you learn anything?" Earl asks.

Ten Answers Tiger Might Give Earl Woods:
1. I just wanted sex, just like everybody wants something from me.
2. I feel like dog sh*t.
3. I feel like a boy of twelve, whose mom just pulled him out of a whorehouse.
4. I feel like I’m standing in a toilet, pressing on the plunger.
5. I’m wondering if my kids will ever know me as more than a whore chaser.
6. I'm wondering how I can be so great and f**ked up at the same time.
7. Masturbating was a lot simpler, and safer.
8. How do I fix this?
9. I’m just a golfer.
10. Everybody suffers - no exceptions.

James C. Collier


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Wednesday, April 07, 2010

David Mills: P-Funkster

Just over a week ago a fellow blogger and friend of four years, David Mills, died suddenly (here). Since then, I have not cared to blog. While I looked up to this Emmy award-winning script writer in many ways, his death realized my worst fear – how we shorten our time here.

My father, a great man in my eyes, shortened his life by not taking care of himself – he smoked. Despite the warnings, he forgot himself. The years of high blood pressure, and lung/vascular issues, chaperoned him to an early grave. David’s abrupt passing was a reminder.

Just as our cars tell us when they need maintenance, so do our bodies, if we are listening. To listen is to not only live longer, but better. Dreading stairs, because you can’t breathe, or airplane seats, because you can’t fit, or the aches of old age itself – this is our body talking to us.

Last year David stopped blogging, after his 2,000th posting, to throw himself a lifeline. He wanted to quit smoking, lose weight, eat better, sleep better, and reconnect with friends/family. I applauded his move of looking after himself. But, in the comfort and excitement of new work (Treme'), the familiar demons remained. I wondered that he had back-burnered his plans, as he returned to blogging. Maybe it was just his time to go, but then again maybe it wasn’t.

Like my father, David was unforgettable to those he touched, but time erases it all. His touching stopped last week. He once bravado’d that even with his shortcomings, people would be talking about him after he was gone. Nailed it, David! His lasting gift, as I see it, is the very credible case his extraordinary life, and early death, makes for us to remember ourselves.

James C. Collier

H/T: Undercover Black Man


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Thursday, April 01, 2010