The homie Ashton Lattimore–NewsOne editor, Harvard grad, thug–has a little take on the phraseology of War herself. Peep game.
Reading Jon’s rumination on the newly capitalized Afghan War, I was naturally reminded of the larger fight that got us into this in the first place: The War on Terror.
Here in the good old US of A, we can have a “war on” just about anything (except widespread lack of health insurance, apparently). There was Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty, the Reagan era War on Drugs (also known as the War on Un-incarcerated Black People) and today, the burgeoning War on Obesity.
In each such “war,” the name evokes the image of the American people valiantly and metaphorically fighting against social ills with the most powerful metaphorical weapons in our metaphorical arsenal: government policy, TV ad campaigns, and personal responsibility. There is no particular front or battlefield—we will simply find the coke, the cookies, and the poverty wherever they exist, and stamp them out. These “wars” are entirely bloodless, with the phrasing chosen to engender warm and fuzzy pride about the nobility in standing tall against uncomplicated forms of evil.
So how did the global fight against terrorism score an invite to the “War On X” party? There is nothing bloodless or warm and fuzzy about the War on Terror. Its entire premise is that we systematically hunt down and kill people who hate our country so that they can’t hunt us down and kill us first. The weapons are not metaphorical—they are guns, bombs, and torture. And these weapons aren’t mowing down, blowing up, and psychologically breaking down “concepts” like getting high or getting chubby; they’re doing all that to actual people in specific places: Iraq, Afghanistan, and likely Pakistan any minute now.
But thanks to the power of language, the “War on Terror” sounds as nebulous and non-threatening as its social policy brethren. Since we’re so accustomed to the sound of it (“We have wars on things all the time! No big deal.”) people are much more easily lulled into uncritical complacency. War on Terror? Who could argue with that? What killjoy wants to start asking needling questions like “where are the WMDs?”, “are we attacking the correct people?”, or “what’s the strategy and end date on this little escapade?”
Instead of perpetuating the use of the name “War on Terror,” and acting as though we’re fighting against a free-floating idea, let’s call a spade a spade. The United States is currently embroiled in the Afghan War and the Iraq War. And until people start speaking with some clarity, I’m officially fighting one of my own. It’s called “The War on Phrases That Obscure What’s Actually Going On.”
Morehouse College is instituting a new dress code and, for the most part, it seems reasonable–although the inability to wear womens’ clothes or carry a purse is already screaming to be a good leftist ‘sex and gender’ argument.
What’s wrong with wanting to instill a bit of professionalism on a campus? If you don’t want to comply, you are free to explore alternate institutes of higher learning that may suit your wardrobe needs.
So I say bravo!
Bravo to president Benjamin Michael Franklin Jr for having the courage to set an agenda at Morehouse. The way we dress affects the way we see the world and vice versa.
Dress codes are important.
Just one question: Why are you letting people who shot other students graduate?
Another installment of the Get-Right Gang.
This week’s gang goonie: MELISSA HARRIS-LACEWELL
I had the pleasure to meet this Princeton professor, commentator and all-around G via twitter (@harrislacewell). She’s quite, quite official. Below is an article she wrote yesterday regarding Skip Gates for THE NATION.
Skip Gate and the Post-Racial Project
Over the past several days a strange characterization of Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. has emerged. Many are portraying him as a radical who easily and inappropriately appeals to race as an excuse and explanation. This image of Gates is inaccurate. In fact, more than any other black intellectual in the country Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. was an apolitical figure. This is neither a criticism nor an accolade, simply an observation.
Gates is the director of the nation’s preeminent institute for African American studies, but he is no race warrior seeking to right the racial injustices of the world. He is more a collector of black talent, intellect, art, and achievement. In this sense Gates embodies a kind of post-racialism: he celebrates and studies blackness, but does not attach a specific political agenda to race. For those who yearn for a post-racial America where all groups are equal recognized for their achievements, but where all people are free to be distinct individuals, there are few better models than Professor Gates.
Gates is largely responsible for the institutional investment in African American studies made by premier universities over the past two decades. Student activists and faculty advocates led the massive black studies movement of the 1960s; a movement that created substantial changes in course offerings, faculty recruitment, administrative structures, and student retention at many state universities. But the country’s most privileged institutions remained largely untouched by this populist era of race and ethnic studies.
Rather than relying on techniques that mimicked the Civil Rights Movement, Gates helped innovate and perfected a market strategy for African American studies.
Gates used the inherent competitiveness of Ivy League institutions to create a hyper-elite niche for the very best black academics. His strategy improved the market value of black intellectuals throughout the academy and the public sphere. At one point Gates assembled a “dream team” at Harvard that included professors Cornel West, K. Anthony Appiah, Michael Dawson, Lawrence Bobo, Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, Lani Guinier and William Julius Wilson.
For a fleeting moment Gates was the curator of the world’s best living museum of black intellectual life. His Harvard cohort sent other prestigious schools into a competitive scramble to assemble their own collection, initiating a gilded age of black academia.
Some individuals would have approached this task as a racial mission; a chance to influence public policy and discourse toward progressive racial ends. This was not how Gates approached it. His style is more deliberate and more detached. By my reading, Gates is tremendously proud of his racial identity, history, and legacy, but he has no particular political agenda beyond the collection and display of black greatness, regardless of its political valence. For example, although their ideologies are profoundly oppositional, Gates finds both Colin Powell and Louis Farrakhan emblematic of black manhood and greatness.
Gates frequently compares himself to W.E.B. Du Bois for whom his institute is named. Aspects of the comparison are apt, but Du Bois, unlike Gates, was first and foremost, a race man with a political agenda. In the course of his long, prolific, academic and activist life Du Bois pursued every imaginable strategy to address America’s racial inequality. He advocated education, research, patriotic military service, interracial coalitions, direct advocacy, legal strategies and journalism. He was first a staunch integrationist and later a socialist. His self-exile to Ghana was a final expression of his disillusionment with the American project.
Professor Gates is not disillusioned with the American project. He is enamored of it. His home casually mixes classic Americana with protest art of the black Diaspora. His dinner table is rarely segregated and his Rolodex certainly isn’t. Even his more recent commitment to genealogy and fascination with the human genome project is prompted by his delight in uncovering the messy, unexpected, deeply American stories embedded in black life.
Du Bois was a product of the American racial nadir. He lived at the hardest moment in our history for black citizens. He was deeply suspicious of white America and constantly vigilant in his interactions with white Americans. Gates is possible only in our present moment.
Du Bois deplored the double consciousness the ripped at the black soul. Gates is remarkable, in part, because he doesn’t wear a mask during interracial interactions. Gates is precisely the same man with an all-black crowd as with a predominately white one. Though he certainly perceives color he does not make the subtle rhetorical, political, or self-presentation adjustments that most African Americans consider both necessary and ordinary.
Gates is invested in black life, black history, black art, and black literature, but he has managed to achieve a largely post-political and even substantially post-racial existence.
Then he was arrested in his own home.
The Cambridge police and Professor Gates tell somewhat different versions of the story. But both sides agree that Gates came home to find his front door jammed. He used his key to enter by the back door. He and his driver then pushed at the front door until it opened. Witnessing this, someone called the police and indicated there may be a breaking-and-entering in progress. While Gates was on the phone with a property management company a police officer arrived. The officer requested identification. Gates produced it. Even after ascertaining that Gates had not illegally entered the property, the officer arrested him for disorderly conduct. The police report asserts Gates yelled and behaved aggressively. Gates denies this. The charges have been dropped. In short, Gates was arrested even though the police officer was fully aware that Gates lived in the home.
In a moment of overzealous policing a young officer in Cambridge managed to handcuff and detain the living embodiment of post-racial possibility.
And although Gates maintains “I thought the whole idea that America was post-racial and post-black was laughable from the beginning,” as if in a testament to his apolitical sensibilities Gates said in an interview to TheRoot.com “I would sooner have believed the sky was going to fall from the heavens than I would have believed this could happen to me.”
It is hard to imagine many other African American men who would indicate such surprise. Even President Obama has spoken of the difficulty in hailing a cab and First Lady Michelle Obama has expressed her understanding of black men’s vulnerability to random violence. But Gates seems genuinely surprised and deeply hurt. His sense of violation and humiliation evokes great empathy, but also some incredulity about his astonishment with racial bias in the criminal justice system.
I like and respect Henry Louis Gates, Jr. Although we have had intellectual and political disagreements he has always welcomed dissent and encouraged individuality. Our personal connection is not why I was so devastated to see his mug shot or images of him handcuffed on his front porch. I was not even distressed because of class implications that reasoned, “If this can happen to a Harvard professor then no one is safe.”
My distress is squarely rooted in feeling that I watched the police handcuff American possibility.
So this one time, a Harvard professor had a hard time getting into his house…
In the American nomenclature, ‘Black’ and ‘African’ aren’t the same.
But the Ivy League doesn’t know that. Or, at least, they’re acting brand new in that regard.
A recent article in the HUFFINGTON POST outlines the “overrepresentation” of African immigrant students in the Ivy League . In the article, some attributed this disparity between immigrant Africans and West Indians and the Black students whose families had been in the United States for generations to differences in acculturation. It was argued that the immigrants’ commitment to academic excellence was stressed more in the home and the culture overall. On Twitter, some opined that often, these African students are from the more well-heeled classes of their varying nationalities.
My years as a son of Eli cause me to add a wrinkle to the first argument that is often overlooked in the discussion of the Black immigrant and (archetypal) African-American achievement gap.
I call it the Bottom of the Best Barrel theory. Think of each country as a barrel in which people live–some at the top, some at the bottom. The United States is, for the time being, still the best barrel to be in, top to bottom. It’s bottom is better than the bottom of any other barrel. Those who leave other barrels to come into the US’, even if they have to start at the bottom, are, more often than not, improving their situation and that of their families. More importantly, they have the perspective of life in their previous barrel to aid them along the way.
But what if you’re at the bottom of the best barrel? Is there not some disadvantage to having no other barrel to jump to? Is it not reasonably more difficult to appreciate the possibilities within the barrel if you’ve only known its depth?
Is the above meant to explain away the gap? Hardly. Besides, there are far more elements not taken into account regarding the problem’s complexity. Still, the question must be raised: How powerful is perspective with regard to acculturation?