MSNBC & The Controversy of Truth

To echo the sentiment of Frank Rich and Joan Walsh, you would think that liberals would know better by now than to feed into the Right’s feigned sense of victimhood.

After all, this is a continuous, pathetic game of gotcha played by the Right every time they are called out for their heinous, bigoted stances on social issues and matters of policy: an MSNBC staff member says something that exposes the Right as the racist, morally bankrupt group of people they truly are. Almost immediately, some conservative group or icon shows outrage, and social media erupts into the scene of a riot. The network is then pressured into an apology and/or firing, and so is the equilibrium enforced until the next sacrificial lamb on MSNBC’s payroll dares speak out of turn.

The latest example of this perverted exercise came in the form of Reince Priebus, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, in which he sent a letter to MSNBC President Phil Griffin that declared his banning of all RNC staff from speaking to the network unless Griffin “personally and publicly apologized” for a staff member’s tweet that read, “Maybe the rightwing will hate it, but everyone else will go awww…”, referring to the new Cheerios ad that will run during the Super Bowl.

And in the manner that felled the careers of Joe Williams and Martin Bashir, and imperiled Melissa Harris-Perry’s reign as this nation’s “foremost public intellectual”, the offending tweet was taken down, the person who wrote the tweet fired, and the cycle begins anew as Priebus gloats about his placing MSNBC “on probation.”

Congratulations on yet another fine job of falling for it once again, MSNBC.

Frank Rich wrote this in New York magazine, explaining how this exercise was on display during Fox News’ official declaration that Santa Claus–yes, the fictional character parents around the country create to bullshit their children into being good every year–was white:

This seasonal stunt has long been old news, yet many in the liberal media still can’t resist the bait. You had to feel for the NBC News White House correspondent Kristen Welker, who was drafted into filing a Kelly-Santa story on the Today show for no ­discernible reason other than that she is not white.

When this supposed “national firestorm” (as Al Sharpton inflated it on his MSNBC show) finally died down, only two things had been accomplished beyond the waste of everyone’s time. Liberals had played right into Fox’s stereotype of them—as killjoy p.c. police. And Fox News could once again brag about its power to set an agenda for its adversaries even as it also played the woebegone ­victim.

The fact that conservatives have a documented history of infusing racism in their policies is well-known. From voter suppression in places like North Carolina and Texas to the coming fight over immigration reform (which even Republicans are admitting to now, according to BuzzFeed’s John Stanton), it would be disingenuous to not call their character into question. Fox News, the quintessential “safe space” for fact-less, angry Right-wing rhetoric, has played host to people that have said some of the most horrific and disrespectful bile against this President and others. Guess what? They’ll never apologize.

Enough of the games, liberals. Enough of the esoteric warring on issues that are generally agreed upon. Enough of trying to act as though we have to remain “above the fray” for the sake of civil political discourse. Take it from a former conservative: These people have absolutely no interest in maintaining anything remotely close to decorum, civil discourse, or a functioning democracy. These people are only about power and its accrual by any means necessary, while making regular people in search of basic human decency from these clowns feel guilty for declaring them the racist, anarchic, greed-positive political entity they truly are.

By apologizing for what we believe, we demonstrate once again how truly weak and ineffectual we truly are as a movement. It is beyond time for us as liberals to stop apologizing for the damage done by the bombs the Right throws at us, and start throwing some back.

Hey, we might actually win something for a change…

 

 

 

An Ode to The Conversation

Ah, The Conversation!

We direct it, move it, shift it–

Call it debate, call it Spirited

Give it nuance; make it balanced

Just make sure you call it

The Conversation.

 

We blog about it, write about it

Have them in groups!

The dialogue; the discussion; the Panel!

Establishment minds, the hottest new pundits–

Old Media, New Media

The Left and the Right

Forever destined, and perpetually deadlocked–

All paid to engage in

The Conversation.

 

Who’s ready to Meet the Press?

Will it help us Face the Nation?

How will it help us to prepare for The Daily Show

That’s Invented By Cable, and happens in Cycles?

Will it give us this day our Daily Rundown

In 60 Minutes

And expect it to happen before we have our Morning Joe?

Or will we need a Playbook for all that?

 

Joining me now; with us in studio

From our World News Mothership headquarters in New York

Come the best and the brightest

Bloggers and journalists; competing individual brands–

Presenting our problems, but never to solve

Delay another day

The Conversation.

 

Sense and Respectability

This year started off on a bit of a rough note for me, with the news of James Avery’s passing. The role he played so masterfully and would be known best for was that of Judge Phillip Banks, affectionately known by most as “Uncle Phil.” A powerful, authoritative figure that also showed great love to his family, Uncle Phil was the type of role model kids my age would come to respect.

The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, along with Family Matters, A Different World, and the greatest of these, The Cosby Show, created worlds of possibilities for people of color to be something much more than what their circumstances may have dictated to them. The Cosby Show alone was showered with endless awards and accolades from around the world. These programs showed how Black people could deal with everyday situations, while having a laugh along the way.

Shows like these, however, are now trashed as something almost insultingly false decades later, treated as if somehow the upper middle-class Black family was never something real. The aspirations a child may have had to be a doctor, a judge, a lawyer, a police officer, or even President of the United States, despite so many examples of success being possible even now, have been replaced by an air of malaise. Instead of rising past racism and coming together to solve the challenges set before us, Black Thought Leaders are now calling once normally accepted codes of conduct “respectability politics.”

Perhaps if this concept was not the creation of our ancestors, and meant as a way to instill pride and dignity in themselves while living in a country that was never intended to be theirs, I would probably feel differently about the whole concept of respectability. Maybe if I was the type to completely absolve my own people as completely incapacitated victims of systemic poverty and institutional racism without any capability in small ways to change our own circumstances, there is a good chance I would champion “the right to be mediocre”, as I heard someone say this weekend.

But we live in a country where, five decades after the worst of the Jim Crow era, three African American professors and a Black member of The Washington Post’s editorial board can sit at a table on the set of arguably the most socially aware cable news network in the country and discuss “respectability politics” on air, sans sagging pants or satin bonnets. This is an era in which three-time Emmy-winning Black producers cry about the plight of those they push out of neighborhoods through gentrification while copping to its guilt. We live at a moment in this nation’s history when the one who leads our nation and holds the power of the Executive is one of our own.

In other words, the excuses are starting to run out.

Within the past year, “respectability politics” has been reviled by many prominent Black Thought Leaders, particularly as the Right has co-opted newer definitions of non-respectability–sagging pants, hoodies, and littering–as examples of why the Black community is continually being left behind economically and politically. While taking a rare break from avoiding the task of solving racism, The Nation’s Mychal Denzel Smith wrote this on how he wishes to fight respectability:

This is the current state of discussion about racism: one that places the onus on those who are oppressed to comport themselves according to the rules that oppress them rather than eliminating the system. The problem is that there is no escape. You can do everything “right,” obey all of the rules, be exemplary in every way, and racism still does its work. Respectability politics are not rooted in fact or reality, only in a false notion of individualism that upholds structural oppression.

While sounding great for those looking to get behind the brand that Smith has created for himself, I doubt very strongly that young Black men in a business suit on their way to work are getting stopped in the streets and harassed by police. If I am the manager of a business in charge of hiring, why on earth would I give someone a job that looks as though they just rolled out of bed? Is it somehow elitist to simply demand that we as a people collectively carry ourselves better than what we have been?

What would our Black Thought Leaders think of men like Munir Bahar, the founder of the 300 Men March Movement here in Baltimore, whose organization has gone directly into some of the most crime-ridden neighborhoods, partnering with city council members to keep our own from killing each other in the streets? Is he somehow promoting some “false notion of individualism” by demanding that our young ones do better by staying alive?

Is YearUp, the company started by Wall Street alum Gerald Chertavian that trains underprivileged young minorities for a year to head to jobs with companies like American Express and JP Morgan, somehow spreading “respectability politics” by getting young men and women of color in places they would have never known about, helping them to finally overcome their circumstances and change the narrative of their lives?

An honest debate will never happen on this, I fear. Because as long as this topic remains hot for the People You Follow on Twitter to demonize, having dignity and basic manners will remain forever taboo to discuss. Pulled-up pants will not solve poverty, but hopefully will eradicate mediocrity and complacency.

Why I am Cynical on Matters of Race

The calm, dinner table scene in 1998’s American History X still haunts me to this day, even more than the scene in which Edward Norton’s character, the brutal skinhead Derek Vinyard, curb-stomps one of the Black men that tried to break into his truck. The calm, smooth manner in which Derek’s father, a cop bitter about how two new officers in his squad were put there due to what he derided as “affirmative Black-tion”, put down Derek’s teacher’s attempts to expand his mind as “bullshit. Nigger bullshit.”

This scene firmly encapsulated several of the complexities surrounding bigotry: the traditionalism of the family dinner table setting. The ease and seeming innocuous nature of how racial animus is introduced. The embrace of intellectual lack and the endearment of a intentionally limited conservative worldview, and how a traumatic episode can radicalize one’s deeply rooted hatred of the existence of otherness in the world around them.

Racism and bigotry most definitely exist. They are real. They are the twin sons of America’s original sin, raised in the brutality of Barbadian slave owners, codified into law by Roger B. Taney, and reincarnated in the forms of voter suppression, “emergency financial managers”, and by anyone that utters the words “states’ rights.” Work after work has been published about how institutional racism has given us the schools-to-prisons pipeline, redlining and block-busting in urban centers, “Stop-and-Frisk”, and other countless examples.

We are reminded all the time of the existence and prevalence of racism. Myriad voices have risen in acknowledgement of this country’s race problem, even building careers on its continued diagnosis. Americans watch as The Conversation on racism rolls on, in many ways appearing stronger than ever. But when will any of these “conversations” result in substantive change on a policy level?

Why does it seem that solutions are danced around with respect to solving racism, and that no one seems to be really serious about pursuing and ending its chronic grip around our country’s existence? Are we doomed to waste our time with think-pieces about how bad the streets that bear Martin Luther King’s name are, written by people who have made it plain they only want to “be curious” about racism, having declared it “not on me” to solve? Why in the world do we care so much about who gets an award for representing us in our entertainment, yet care little to nothing about how the democratic process of this nation works?

Racism is already a “solved” matter: There is no ending it, and there is no respite from it. As this country is full of the descendants of slave owners, there will always be bigots in this nation who will hate people of color for their very existence, especially since through Barack Obama we now wield the power of the Executive Branch. The collective conservative freakout over the existence of a Black President can be summed up to the fact that in their eyes, property was never supposed to be in charge of anything.

What matters now is how we make sure our interests are served by getting people of color elected in every branch of local, state and federal government. What matters is defeating conservatives, coming to understand that they are out for our destruction, are well-resourced, and only respect power in turn. Until this happens, we are resigning ourselves to the same issues for our children to deal with, when in fact we should be leaving them with new challenges to overcome.

We have not overcome yet. And while we complain about the lack of maturity or will for others to discuss race, I doubt very strongly that we have the same. Though ending racism be a fool’s hope, the pursuit of equality is not. It is one that we must become more serious about, and soon.

I Want My Thirty Minutes Back, Lena Dunham

Last night on Twitter I joked about who was going to write the first “think-piece” on the HBO pseudo-comedy, Girls. The first person I thought was going to do so was MSNBC’s Toure’, which I was completely wrong about. In searching for tweets and positive reviews of Girls I thought he had written, I instead found a very interesting story of a fight he had on Twitter back in 2012 with one of the show’s executive producers, Judd Apatow. I’ll explain why later in this piece.

The second person I thought was going to write a “think-piece” on Girls was Ta-Nehisi Coates, who has written pieces first casting faint praise on the show in 2012 and glowingly for the Chicago Tribune a year later. Having never watched a single episode of Girls, I always wondered if all the criticism was overblown, and that there might be something to the show after all, so I decided to break from the Golden Globes and watch Girls’ season premiere.

What ensued was the biggest waste of a half-hour I have ever subjected myself to, at any moment in my 31-and-a-half years on this plane of existence. The show’s vacuity and gross indulgence in the alleged wonder that is Lena Dunham is only eclipsed by the tiresome stages of hipster racist selfishness that emanates from its main characters. This show is over-the-top caricature in almost the exact vein of a Tyler Perry film, even down to the dark tones that pervade the scenes.

I tried to give this show the benefit of the doubt, understanding that a large part of what makes comedy what it is (and what renders most hyperventilating about the offense of what is said in comedy moot) is generalization, and its usage to get a laugh out of the audience. However, the huge secret beyond Girls is that it doesn’t even remotely try to be funny; the show is solely about the privileged bohemian angst of its creator, and if you dare criticize her or anyone else associated with her show, well, something’s wrong with you.

Consider what happened when Toure’ criticized Judd Apatow in the aforementioned Twitter fight. Apatow in receiving negative feedback on how bad This is 40 was went completely ballistic, attacking Toure’ ad hominem about how he was “hard to like” because he never pretended that Santa existed to his kids.

Or, if you like, consider this exchange when Tim Molloy dared ask about Dunham’s (and only Dunham’s) copious amounts of nudity on the show:

Why is Lena Dunham’s character on “Girls” naked so much?

That question made Dunham and her fellow “Girls” executive producers, Judd Apatow and Jenni Konner, mad at me Thursday during a Television Critics Association panel. Apatow later said my question was sexist, offensive and misogynistic. He asked me to transcribe what I asked and re-read what I asked Dunham, so here it is:

“I don’t get the purpose of all the nudity on the show. By you particularly. I feel like I’m walking into a trap where you say no one complains about the nudity on ‘Game of Thrones,’ but I get why they’re doing it. They’re doing it to be salacious. To titillate people. And your character is often naked at random times for no reason.”

Dunham’s response was classic narcissism: “Yeah. It’s because it’s a realistic expression of what it’s like to be alive, I think, and I totally get it. If you are not into me, that’s your problem.” However, Apatow continued to go in on Molloy, denouncing him as offensive and misogynistic, even daring him at one point to show his girlfriend the above question, daring him to “tell him how it goes” afterward. Molloy responded this way:

Actually, my girlfriend has wondered about this, too. Here’s why. “Girls” has more nudity by its lead character than any show, well, ever. But my girlfriend and I don’t understand the reason for it. We’re cool with nudity, and if Dunham wants to be naked, great. I’m not offended by it. I don’t like it or not like it. I just don’t get the artistic reason for it, and want to understand it, because I’m a TV critic.

Girls is atrocious. This show will be here for several weeks, and is guaranteed to be back next season, as HBO has renewed the show. As I write mostly about politics, perhaps the network sees Girls the way Politico views Playbook: a niche brand that serves a select few, but is great at “driving a conversation”, despite its chronic self-obsession.

Whatever. I still want my half-hour back…

So What Determines A “Foremost Public Intellectual”?

I have never been a huge fan of the weekend MSNBC show that bears Melissa Harris-Perry’s name. At times I have found the show to be frankly self-congratulatory, often indulging in the glow that comes with being given one of the strongest platforms on one of the biggest networks in the country. I’ve always believed Harris-Perry to be a bit reckless in her commentary, especially after she bashed the President for venting what she called his “daddy issues” as he talked about the need for answers to gun violence to begin at home.

That said, I joined in the chorus of people that stood with the Professor, defending her from the heckling of Right-wingers and conservatives that wanted her erased from the network, and watched Harris-Perry’s very heartfelt (and frankly unnecessary) apology. Seeing as though the Right has enjoyed success in getting people of color fired from MSNBC after laying out their bigotry in simple terms (ask Martin Bashir or Joseph Williams about that), Harris-Perry was in very real danger of losing her job over a joke, especially once Joe Scarborough sub-tweeted about Mitt Romney’s adopted Black grandson on his Twitter account.

In terms of platforms and places of ascent, Melissa Harris-Perry is arguably the most important public intellectual we people of color have. She is one of the first cable news network hosts to give regular spaces to conversations about race, social constructs, and women’s rights as they directly apply to minorities. Her devotion to the arts is impeccable, having introduced the world to a broad musical spectrum that includes Chicago’s McGill Brothers, New Orleans’ Big Freedia, and a personal favorite of mine, New York’s Jean Grae.

With all of this under her belt (as “just a weekend TV host”!), and with a very extensive list of academic credentials, is it fair to assume that Melissa Harris-Perry should be given the title of “America’s Most Foremost Public Intellectual”, as Ta-Nehisi Coates did earlier this week? Shall we now end all our searching and wondering at who would assume this role now that Coates, arguably this country’s greatest essayist on race, has deemed her thus?

No.

For starters, Coates contradicted his own declaration, with this statement:

There may well be intellectuals with more insight. And there are surely public figures with a greater audience. But there is no one who communicates the work of thinking to more people with more rigor and effect than Harris-Perry.

To be declared “foremost”–defined by Merriam-Webster’s dictionary as “first in a series or progression”–one must argue that the smarts of the one being declared chief intellectual are superior above all, regardless of the area of study and/or expertise. Harris-Perry, while indeed incredibly smart in matters of the social sciences and racial justice, would not be my first choice in understanding neuroscience, biochemistry or medicine; it’s just simply not what she does. In this, Coates does indeed betray his intellectual credibility, which Dylan Byers accused him of doing in a tweet that got him excoriated.

Secondly, without any clear guidelines set, anyone can be America’s Foremost Public Intellectual. The very term is subjective, open to anyone’s set of rules, biases and opinions. Do we count only academics? Do we leave out journalists? How about musicians, comedians and artists? Is the size of the figure’s Amen Corner (aka Twitter follower count) a contributing factor? Is said figure a head of state, in which case America’s Foremost Public Intellectual would be Barack Obama?

Finally, if there were anyone qualified to determine who America’s Foremost Public Intellectual is, it’s certainly not Dylan Byers, a hack that took part in conflating the idea that Barack Obama fabricated people that appeared in his autobiography, Dreams of My Father. Perhaps that qualification should instead go to Coates, who has written some of the greatest, most thought-inducing essays on racism and bigotry (even when they meander nearly endlessly about himself), yet proudly declares it not his job to “…help others with their racism.” See the problem here?

A blogger I know who goes by the Twitter handle @ReignOfApril wrote this last year, which sums up what happened here:

It is well known that certain events or words will trigger issues for people. It seems that happened here.  Once those triggers are activated, it is hard to keep listening to anything else that has been said or even stay in the moment. When you set your mind to what you expect to hear and bring along personal baggage that perhaps has not been resolved, misunderstandings and misinterpretations can occur.

While flattering to think of Melissa Harris-Perry in such a light, I cannot imagine that she would even want such a lofty title. This is neither the “machinery of racism” at work here, nor is there evidence of “inferior thinking” on anyone’s part; this episode in journalistic bravado is nothing more than typical “Who’s the Best?” talk overheard in barber shops and corporate water coolers around the country.

Which sounds like both Byers and Coates need to “grapple with the everywhere” and cover deeper issues than measuring intellects. I doubt their individual “brands” will let them do otherwise.

 

The Unfair Rejection of Michael Bloomberg

My wife Jessica, having lived in New York City longer than I have (she had been in the city about two years before I moved there), has always wondered at my immense love of the town we once called home, at times even more than my birthplace of Baltimore, Maryland. She often reminds me of the level of new success I have enjoyed here since moving back nearly four years ago: returning to school, spent a year and a half with the University of Baltimore’s student newspaper; growing in my writing ability, and developing some of the most amazing connections with people here in Baltimore and abroad.

When she asked me after our most recent trip to New York why I wanted to move back there, I told her that to me, New York City is in many respects the world as it should be; an interconnected metropolis full of people from nearly every corner of the world, with vigorous devotion to the arts, to music, and to architecture. Never before in my life had I lived in such a walkable, easily accessible city, or enjoyed food from as many places as I did than when I was there.

So as I watched the scene at the inauguration of the City of New York’s 109th mayor, I was awed at what was possibly the most colorful ceremony in recent memory; a beautiful, seemingly endless cadre of the new faces of the Five Boroughs: the Star-Spangled Banner sung by the Celia Cruz Bronx High School Choir. The swearing in of Leticia James, New York’s first Black woman to hold the office of Public Advocate (or any other citywide office) with Dasani Coates, the young lady whose life was profiled by the New York Times, at her side.

What also had me amazed at that inauguration was how the entire ceremony from top to bottom seemed like a complete repudiation of the work, the legacy, and the record of Michael R. Bloomberg’s twelve years as mayor. Although seemingly inevitable given the 40-point blowout Bill de Blasio won over Republican Joe Lhota, the airing of grievances by Harry Belafonte, Rev. Fred Lucas Jr. and Imam Askia Muhammad were prolific, as if a great weight created by three terms of Bloomberg suddenly dropped off, and prosperity for poor people and people of color could now begin with Bloomberg gone.

The palpability of the frustration is understandable; after all, income inequality in New York is wider than it has ever been. Homelessness has increased, and half of the city’s residents live at or below the poverty line. Hospitals and schools have closed at an alarming rate, and all these things have happened with major successes taking place at the same time. As I and other people have written before, cognitive dissonance will be the order of the day for a very long time when dissecting Bloomberg’s legacy.

However, to dismiss Michael Bloomberg as a completely out-of-touch oligarch with no caring toward the poor is a bit disingenuous. In his article for New York magazine, entitled “Autocrat for the People”, Chris Smith explained it this way:

As Bloomberg leaves office, he can accurately be labeled a visionary. He pursued ambitious, difficult objectives, many of which were unpopular and had short-term political consequences. He pushed New York ahead of the curve on issues, drastically reducing crime and the carbon footprint, making the city a canvas for giant artworks, paying kids for good grades. Bloomberg enlarged the notion of what a city can and should do—partly because he’s a citizen of the world, inspecting commuter trains in Hong Kong and discussing ­greenhouse gases in Rio, partly because innovators and potentates seek him out.

It is important to remember that for every person we choose by way of elections, no one is ever going to get everything they want, even with a potentially transformational mayor like Bill de Blasio, who has already rankled those who wanted Stop-and-Frisk incinerated by selecting Bill Bratton as his head of the NYPD. The New Yorker’s George Packer, author of the prolific book The Unwinding said this today:

Anyone who’s disgusted with the politics and economics of inequality should wish Bill de Blasio well. He made it his theme and rode it to an overwhelming victory, in the process surprising opinionmakers who live on the winning side of the divide with the news that large numbers of other New Yorkers feel left out and discarded. It’s unclear how much the Mayor of New York can do about entrenched economic unfairness, beyond bringing to bear the power of rhetoric. It’s also unclear whether de Blasio is the mayor to do it. New York’s mayors are managers more than policymakers—that’s where they succeed or fail. It’s risky for de Blasio’s tenure to symbolize so much when his power to realize the vision is so limited. I admire him for aiming so high, but it’s like watching a man set out on a tightrope strung between skyscrapers.

So as we put our hopes on a more affordable, more opportunity-laden New York City, let us also give credit where it is due. Bloomberg was great for the city, and there is no reason to believe de Blasio will not be as well. As I stated earlier, time will tell.