Saturday, September 29, 2007

Duke President Apologizes To Lacrosse Players

The right thing to do. Now, if only there were similar remorse for all the other wrongly accused people who didn't have the eye of the media cast on their case, and served time in prison for it. But a step in the right direction.

Post-LSAT Update

I finished. I'm alive, and cautiously optimistic. Logic games went surprisingly well.

Now, nap time.

Friday, September 28, 2007

AA Substitutes

This New York Times article on how public California Universities (in this case, UCLA) have tried to replicate the benefits of Affirmative Action in the wake of Proposition 209 is a good one. On the one hand, it notes that, not being able to rely on race-based procedures, universities tend to respond by pumping up class-based preferences, which have a broader base of support and help answer the classic "what about the poor White kid?" question. Since I think that both Blacks and poor Whites are disadvantaged in American society (albeit along different axes), I have no problem with this, and indeed am glad to see these students get a fairer admissions shake.

On the other hand, it notes that many of the AA surrogates are of questionable legality. I'm using "questionable" literally here -- not as in "they're blatant loopholes" but rather "there's a lot of murkiness." As one player notes, nobody seems to dispute that colleges can take into account an applicant's "disadvantageous" upbringing. Being Black is a disadvantage in America. So, in theory, can they take race into account that way (not race qua race, but race qua disadvantage)? Who knows. Moreover, often times faux-affirmative action programs, like Texas' 10% plans, greatly magnify AAs flaws while weakening its benefits. One scholar noted that, quests for it notwithstanding, there is no proxy for race -- nothing measures the particular impacts race has on performance, life chances, social position, etc., other than race. So the proxy programs will never achieve quite the same benefits that an explicit race-based affirmative action program would. There is an excellent case to be made that, insofar as colleges should be pursuing a diverse campus, they should be doing it in as forthright a fashion as possible. Colleges should proclaim their explicit desire for a more economically diverse community, a more racially diverse community, a more ideologically diverse community -- basically, a community full of different people with different outlooks who can contribute to each other's education in a variety of ways. Cloak-and-dagger AA really isn't the best way to go to get to that outcome.


They're tomorrow. I'm frightened. Wish me luck.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Points for Honesty

A little while ago, I chided Republican candidates for avoiding debates on Black issues. A few days later, Bob Herbert joined in the fun, saying it was time for the Black community to start calling out the GOP explicitly on its anti-Black agenda.

But BlackProf contributor Sherilynn Ifill decides to go in the other direction. Slated to live-blog the upcoming GOP candidates forum on Black issues at Morgan State University-- the one which Romney, McCain, Giuliani, and Thompson are all skipping -- Ifill decided to simply give them props for their candor:
Well, I’m not angry at the Republican front-runners. In fact, I admire their refreshing honesty. They are not interested in black voters. They know that the Republican nominee, whoever he is, is unlikely to get more than 10% of the black vote. And with a short primary season, they don’t have the time to indulge in the empty gesture of debating about issues of primary importance to black voters. Moreover, most of them (Giuliani, I mean you) would be hypocrites if they stood up on the stage at Morgan and suggested that any part of their former or future policies would be aimed at addressing the particular concerns of African Americans. Why should we expect these candidates to continue the lame story peddled by the Republican Party during the past 10 years that the Party is really, really interested in courting black voters? What policies, advanced by the Republican Party in the last eight years could reasonably support the idea that Party leaders understand and are responsive to problems faced by so many blacks (e.g., over-incarceration based on draconian drug laws, predatory lending, lack of health insurance, hate crimes, property tax-funded education, voter intimidation, racial profiling, sky-high college costs, lack of meaningful public transportation, a living wage, gun violence)? I admit that the Dems have tried to make progressive change on only a few of these, but the Republicans have been resistant, even hostile, to addressing any of these issues.

She then announces that, following the leaders, she won't be attending the Morgan State debate either. "I don’t think we’ll learn much by talking with candidates who have no hope of even approaching the nomination. In fact, I think we’ve learned all we need to know about a future Republican presidency from the decision of the Party’s most viable and popular candidates that they have better things to do on Thursday night than focus on the interests of black voters."

Yak Yak Yak

Scott Johnson channels Bill O'Reilly:
I'm scheduled to appear on a short segment of Hannity & Colmes around 8:15 p.m. (EDT) this evening to discuss Lynne Stewart's placement on the faculty of Hofstra University Law School's "Lawyering at the Edge" legal ethics conference. My counterpart on the segment is Temple University hip-hop professor Marc Lamont Hill. As Jack Paar used to say, I kid you not. I will declare victory if I am able to get a word in edgewise.

Huh? Since the chance that Hannity & Colmes will work aggressively to shut down their conservative guest ranges from slim to none, I can only imagine that Scott thinks Hill will filibuster him all night. But why would one assume that? Is there something about "hip hop professors" that makes them presumptively incapable of serving on televised panels? In general, I'm not sure what's the motivating factor behind Scott's apparent shock that there is such thing as a "hip hop" professor (would you prefer nobody studies it at all?). In any event, Hill is a serious scholar, but he's showing up on a Fox talk show. So I doubt there's much risk he'll be able to even finish a sentence, much less talk Scott out of the room.

Incidentally, Hill is also a co-blogger on BlackProf. You can access an archive of his posts here.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Dem Debate Quick Thoughts

These are just a few quick hits -- I don't think anything happened in the debate that was so ground-breaking as to require a massive, sustained analysis. Also, we lost our signal in the middle of the debate, so I missed everything from the end of the Iran hypothetical to the "sanctuary cities" immigration questions.

- When Keith Olbermann was interviewing Chris Matthews before the debate began, my roommate asked of the latter: is he drunk?

- Nobody really distinguished themselves tonight, which I guess is a default win for Hillary. I wouldn't say she looked meaningfully better than any of the other candidates, but no movement is good movement for her.

- Prior to the debate, everyone was saying how Obama needed to get more aggressive on Hillary to change the dynamics of the campaign. He didn't do it. Edwards was the most aggressive of the major candidates, but even he wasn't really in pit bull mode.

- Also, if I had to pick a winner for the debate in isolation, I'd say Edwards was the most impressive. The loser was Richardson, who continues to strike me as unbelievably hackish. He's supposed to be a great negotiator, so I'm sure a liberal President could use him in a variety of foreign policy roles, but his campaign strategy appears to be pander-at-all-costs. It's ironic, given his statement that he's not a consultant-candidate (regarding his various gaffes on Justice White, homosexuality being a choice), but that's the impression I have.

- Obama struck me as surprisingly unversatile as a speaker. He never really broke out of his trademark high-sounding, airy, abstract bring-us-together style rhetoric. In some questions, it fit, like when he was asked about his lack of experience. But in others, it didn't work for him at all. It's frustrating because Obama is a substantive thinker, but it didn't show tonight. The only place he really shined was in the 30-second lightening round questions. Obama really has a knack for making clear, compelling, and concise answers that make sense. But as my girlfriend told me, the high style he puts on gets tiring to listen to when it goes for longer than that.

- Kucinich is a very compelling speaker. Crazy, but quite eloquent. The response he gave to the Cleveland bankruptcy questions was superb. Gravel, by contrast, is just crazy. The answer he gave to his bankruptcy question -- less than superb.

- The dumb questions of the debate were the Israel/Iran hypothetical, and the "ticking time bomb" question which is no more realistic than the last 40 college bull sessions it was raised in. Life is not a 24 episode. Kudos, by the way, to all the candidates for rejecting torture-as-policy wholeheartedly. The Israel/Iran question was particularly silly because, as Hillary pointed out, we had the real-life example of Israel bombing Syria occurring just this month, so we didn't even need to go the hypothetical route, which just makes things blurry.

- Biden was forgettable. Dodd was solid, but unfortunately, that's not enough for Dodd. Next to Gravel, Dodd got the most "who's that?" and "he's running?" remarks from my friends.

UPDATE: Since the folks at RightVoices were kind enough to throw a link my way, I'll give them a quick thought on the issue that concerned them: that none of the three top Democratic contenders was willing to pledge to have all troops out of Iraq by the end of their first term (2013). Instead, the made the actually reasonable statement that predicting events five years out is foolish, and that when 2013 rolls around, they'll see what the situation is and react accordingly.

I wish candidates would do this more often, albeit it doesn't make for the best sound bites. On complex issues of foreign policy, I don't want my President ideologically pre-committed to a course of action -- be it "withdraw from Iraq" or "blow up Iran" -- that he'll follow through hell or high water. And, while I think the netroots prefers the Richardson position of "withdraw everyone as fast as possible, leave nothing behind" (one of a few positions he took that buttressed the aforementioned "hack" label), so long as all the candidates commit to at least starting a withdrawal of some form, I think the base will be reasonably pleased (and they'll be in line with the vast majority of the country as well).

Democratic Debate Blogging

I won't be live-blogging the event tonight, but I will be taking notes and publish my thoughts upon completion.

Tragic Lack

When I first saw this photo up on Bitch Ph.D, I couldn't figure out what it was about.

I didn't think to try and recognize the faces, so it was confusing. What was the message? The tag line, "No education is complete until it includes us", reminded me of pro-affirmative action lines, so I thought maybe it was making some point about diversity, with four non-white faces (and four women) out of twelve.

But then I looked closer, and saw one of the folks is Ann Coulter. And then I realized that the twelve people were a who's-who of conservative pundits, though I only recognized three others (Michelle Malkin, Robert Novak, and Dineesh D'Souza).

And so I have to ask, what education is "incomplete" without Ann Coulter? Are they serious? I'm all for intellectual diversity in our nation's colleges and universities, but the presupposes the folks under discussion have intellects to speak of.

I Want My Year Fried. And French

2008 is the International Year of the Potato!

Via Garance.

Bible Beater

I'm taking a class this term that involves a close reading of a variety of famous stories in the Tanakh (Jewish Bible). A hint to religious people out there: if you want to stay religious, don't read the Bible -- or at least, for the love of God (heh) don't read it with anything close to a moral eye. The characters are not nice people. Just today we read three(!) stories where various patriarchs offered up their wives (posing them as their sisters) to certain powerful men in order to keep themselves physically safe (how noble). Then God threatened said powerful men for sleeping with another man's wife, and in penance the men then pay off the patriarchs with all sorts of neat parting gifts. It's a neat scam: if it works, massive amount of newly-gained wealth, and if doesn't, well, it's only a woman getting raped, so, no biggie. Meanwhile, one of Noah's sons accidentally sees him naked (after he got drunk and passed out in his tent), so Noah, displaying the sort of temperance and judgment that made him "the only righteous man of his generation," sentences the son and all of his progeny to be slaves forever. Nice. Elsewhere, God commands Joshua to commit vicious, merciless genocide against the people of Canaan. And in general, God kind of comes off as a jealous, fearful, hot-tempered, spoiled brat.

So, yeah. Message of the Bible: All the stories of your youth valorizing these characters are total and utter crock. Read at your own peril.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Philosophical Excerpt of the Day

This one is from Charles Taylor (the great philosopher, not the brutal Liberian dictator):
But through all the differences of interpretation, the principle of equal citizenship has come to be universally accepted. Every position, no matter how reactionary, is now defended under the colors of this principle. Its greatest, most recent victory was won by the civil rights movement of the 1960s in the United States. It is worth noting that even the adversaries of extending voting rights to blacks in the southern states found some pretext consistent with universalism, such as 'tests' to be administered to would-be voters at the time of registration.

Charles Taylor, "The Politics of Recognition," in Multiculturalism: Examining the Politics of Recogntion, Amy Gutmann, ed. (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1994) pp. 25-73, 38.

Voter ID Case to the Supreme Court

The US Supreme Court has agreed to hear a voter ID case out of Indiana, responding to allegations by Democrats and advocates for the poor, minorities, and seniors that it is unnecessary and discriminatory. The 7th Circuit, in a 2-1 decision I blogged on here, ruled that Indiana's voter ID requirement was justified as a tool to combat voter fraud. The dissent noted that this justification rang hollow given that nobody, in the entire history of Indiana, had ever been prosecuted for voter fraud.

On one level, I'm happy to hear the Supreme Court granted cert, for the simple reason that it offers another opportunity for the right side to win. But obviously, its early to read the tea leaves and with this Court particularly I never can feel too optimistic. Still, it's probably good news, all in all, and definitely something to keep an eye on in the run-up to the 2008 elections.

Obama Immigration Interview Posted

The Immigration Law Profs interview with Barack Obama on (natch) immigration issues is up. Less substantive than I would have hoped (especially on reforming immigration judges -- that's a serious issue!), but the broad strokes of it -- family unification and getting undocumented immigrants on the path to citizenship -- strike me as worthwhile. I would have liked to see a commitment to raising immigration quotas, though. Unless we feel like replaying this annoying political drama every decade or so, that's something that absolutely has to happen.

Motive and Consequence

Of importance to this post and this post is a great point by Scott Lemieux on the issue of "motives" in conduct with racially discriminatory effects:
As always when questions of motivations rather than actions come up, I think we have to return to George Wallace. Even politicians who make overtly racist appeals may be much more committed to winning elections than to racism. So I'm not sure it matters much what precise mixture of partisan advantage and racism motivates Republican efforts to suppress the African-American vote; the efforts are, in the end, racist even if wholly motivated by the former. Similarly, I don't know how much racism and how much partisan advantage led to, say, Reagan kicking off his campaign in Philadelphia, MS to deliver coded appeals to southern racists (as well, of course, as the 3 Americans consistently committed to "states' rights" principles), but it's indefensible either way. Attempts to figure out whether the tunes played on Nixon's Piano are authentic expressions of subjective racist beliefs or mere self-interested cynicism are both impossible and beside the point.

As I've argued elsewhere, if the key goal of anti-racism politics is to find and punish the evil-doers who are racist, then motive becomes very important in terms of assigning culpability. But that isn't the primary agenda of anti-racism activists. We're interested in protecting those vulnerable to racist politics, and providing restitution and remedy to those who have been victimized already. In that quest, it doesn't really matter whether the motivating factor behind, say, ridiculous and unnecessary "anti-voter fraud" laws is "Black people are inferior, this will stop them from voting" (as they were originally justified in Mississippi) or "diluting turn-out among the poor and minorities helps my Party." Perhaps the adherent of the former view is a worse person than one who believes the latter; but in either case, the person for whom it is more difficult to vote is harmed in roughly the same fashion.

Most of us are willing to make the trade here. In comments to this post, I noted that I'm willing to accept higher barriers on labeling a possible perpetrator of racist activities "a racist", in recognition of the fact that intention matters for such culpability and that such charges, when false, can have serious negative repercussions. However, that concession is only a fair one when paired with a concurrent commitment to work vigorously to protect and compensate the victims of the racist activity itself. So, in the voting law cases, I'm far less interested in labeling their sponsors "racist" as I am getting the laws repealed and working so that all franchised Americans can vote unhindered and without undue delay. To a large extent, this has been the position of progressive anti-racism critics since the late 1970s, when Alan Freeman wrote his path-breaking article, "Legitimizing Racial Discrimination Through Antidiscrimination Law," [Minnesota Law Review, Vol. 62 pp. 1049-1119 (1978)]. The "perpetrator perspective" ("let's punish the evil-doers") and the "victim perspective" ("let's aid those who have been wronged") that Freeman discusses require fundamentally different outlooks. Punishing wrongdoers absolutely requires they we set up adequate procedural protection for the accused. But if the only we aid the wronged is through punishing the wrongdoers, then we're resigned to the fact that many victims won't gain redress at all. Sometimes, there isn't enough evidence to convict even when we know someone has been wronged. Other times, a procedural technicality lets the known guilty go free. In racism cases, especially, it can be difficult if not impossible to identify a discrete "perpetrator" whose "responsible" for the harm at issue (who is responsible for the "Blacks as bestial savages" meme which infects so much of the White psyche on crime issues today?). Organizing anti-racism politics in this fashion is wildly one-sided against the victims.

The better alternative is to offer redress to victims independent of punishing perpetrators. Victims of robbery should be compensated regardless of whether we can criminally convict the robber. It would be morally shocking if, in absence of such a conviction, we then denied that the victim had undergone any colorable moral wrong. Victims of racism should be accorded the same treatment, compensated regardless of whether we can convict "the racist" to blame for it.

Is Our Chemistry Department Breeding Terrorists?

Mark Sageman takes a look at the bios of top al-Qaeda members:
Al Qaeda’s members are not the Palestinian fourteen-year- olds we see on the news, but join the jihad at the average age of 26. Three-quarters were professionals or semi- professionals. They are engineers, architects, and civil engineers, mostly scientists. Very few humanities are represented, and quite surprisingly very few had any background in religion. The natural sciences predominate. Bin Laden himself is a civil engineer, Zawahiri is a physician, Mohammed Atta was, of course, an architect; and a few members are military, such as Mohammed Ibrahim Makawi, who is supposedly the head of the military committee.

This isn't the only reason I support the violent overthrow of the natural sciences, but it's one of the saner ones.

And as for the lack of folks with humanities backgrounds, well, looks like all those crazy leftists with their anti-American "post-colonial studies" and whatever other departmental horror programs d'jour conservatives want to cry about don't become evil-doers after all. Liberal Arts education FTW!

H/T: Yglesias

Be Aggressive!

NYT columnist Bob Herbert wants the Black community to start calling out the national GOP on their "anti-black" agenda. While the march on Jena was great, he writes, "what I’d really like to see is a million angry protesters marching on the headquarters of the National Republican Party in Washington." Herbert cites Republican presidential candidates dodging debates on Black issues, and also brings up GOP operative Lee Atwater's summary of his Party's "southern strategy":
"You start out in 1954 by saying, Nigger, nigger, nigger,'" said Atwater. "By 1968, you can't say 'nigger' — that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states' rights, and all that stuff. You’re getting so abstract now [that] you're talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you're talking about are totally economic things, and a byproduct of them is [that] blacks get hurt worse than whites."

This is what passes for progress.

Also, Kevin Drum links to a fantastic Vanity Fair essay on one of the original members of the Little Rock Nine, Elizabeth Eckford, and her relationship with the White student whose hate-filled face is the focus of one of the most famous civil rights photos of all time. As he says, it's worth the read.


I wanted to write about Iranian President Ahmadinejad's much harped upon speech before Columbia University. But I was somewhat conflicted, and was having difficulty getting words to paper. But I think two posts, in conjunction, get most of my feelings straight.

First, from the Carpetbagger Report, the image of students simply laughing at the Iranian President when he started spouting off non-sense (in this case, saying that Iran didn't have any homosexuals).

And second, from the conservative blog The Nose on Your Face (happily linked to by Powerline), imagining the questions Columbia's liberal student body might ask Ahmadinejad -- questions that applaud his dictatorial policies, laud his hatred of Israel, and...condemn ethnic slurs? Because what really would reflect well on Columbia and America would be a sophisticated critique of Ahmadinejad's Holocaust denial, while having him "pelted with Slurpee cups and greeted with cries of 'Hey cabbie!'"

One of these responses showcases the best America has to offer when faced with a spokesman for evil and tyranny. One of these, less so.

Ahmadinejad is a crazy man, and even though is power in Iran is vastly overstated, he still has the power to real damage and violence that can effect American interests (not to mention moral interests) the world over. We would do well to take that capacity seriously. But one thing I do not fear about Ahmadinejad is his ideas. Put him in a room with America's brightest young minds -- people who do not need to worry about whether their dissent will cause them to be dragged off and shot -- and his ideas will rapidly receive the reception they deserve. I can think of no better way to combat his ideological poison than this: give him a mic, listen attentively, and then laugh him off the stage.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Blackwater Comparison

CNN: Blackwater staff face charges for role in firefight that killed Iraqi civilians. I want to say, briefly, that I have no idea what happened, but there is no way that the Blackwater employees can get a fair trial in Iraq. Nor in America for that matter--though for the opposite reason. Aside from the formal issues which became clear after this incident which demonstrated beyond a doubt that Blackwater is beyond the law (Iraq said "Blackwater is no longer welcome", America and Blackwater both sort of shrugged and kept going, Iraq backed down, nobody expects these "charges" to actually result in any sort of trial or even arrest), there is a more passive form of extra-legality for Blackwater -- operating between societies and jurisdictional boundaries, it has nobody to whom it can be held accountable for excesses. America won't do it because we'd be too embarrassed, and even if America let Iraq do it, it strikes me more than obvious that the men would be used as a sop to disaffected Iraqis who hate the occupation and all of its symbols. Either way, justice will not be done.

Meanwhile, DailyKos on the (separate) Blackwater scandal regarding arms smuggling. In short, they note that in most other contexts, the "investigation" would involve a long stint in Guantanamo, mixed with some extraordinary rendition to some lovely bloodthirsty nation. Of course, sometimes we do torture our own guys, but the point remains solid. And the point indicates that, yes, we can respond to folks supporting terrorism through the metrics of criminal law. We don't need to hold people indefinitely in camps, we don't need to torture them or send them off to be tortured by our more unsavory proxies, we don't need to do everything in our power to prevent even a whiff of judicial review. We can do it the right way.

Yet Another Limit of Law

Via Workplace Prof, an interesting bit on "diversity training" from Dean Dad, an administrator at a community college:
As the post on diversity training explains well, the point of diversity training isn't to sensitize employees to diversity. Anybody with any teaching experience at all can tell you that herding a hundred people into an auditorium for mandatory consciousness-raising for ninety minutes won't work. It's terrible pedagogy, and virtually designed to fail; it's also insulting. If the point of the workshops were to change attitudes and/or behavior, those would be valid objections. But that's not the point of the workshops. The point of the workshops is to be able to answer a legal complaint alleging bias with “we take these issues seriously. See, we run mandatory workshops on them for all employees!” It's about defusing potential liability.

(Admittedly, this implies a shockingly low opinion of the judicial system. But that's another post altogether.)

If deposed, a manager can say “we provide x number of hours of training.” As with credit hours, what gets measured is seat time. Changed behavior and/or attitudes are devilishly hard to quantify, but seat time is remarkably easy. If somebody alleges, say, racism, and can prove some kind of different treatment at something (which is sort of like proving that the sun rose in the East), the burden shifts to the college to show that it isn't racist. (The presumption of innocence is remarkably weak in this area of the law.) You can't prove a negative, so the college has to use proxy measures. (Quick – prove you're not thinking about a polar bear!) Seat time in diversity seminars counts as a proxy measure. If the discrimination laws were more intelligently written and enforced – say, dispense with the requirement to prove a negative -- we could dispense with these Potemkin rituals. But they aren't, so we can't. If we did, we'd lose every case, whether it had any merit or not.

This showcases the limits of making law our only interlocutor with discrimination. The sort of things we need to prove to the satisfaction of "law" are often not provable entities. How do you know what's in someone's mind? When is harassment "pervasive" enough to make a difference. What is harassment, and what is innocent banter? When is a look just a look, and when is it something more? When is a bad assignment given because someone has to do it, and when because the employee is incompetent, and when because the employer assumes the employee is incompetent because he's Black? These are not really questions the law is well-equipped to answer. And so, as the Dean says, we create a variety of proxies to measure the discriminatory climate, ones which we really know in our heart of hearts don't tell us all that much, and graft them onto a legal regime that is the only socially sanctioned response to discrimination.

This last part, I think, is the crux of the problem. In American society, there is a pervasive belief I've noticed on issues such as this, where if a particular individual claim of discrimination hasn't been ratified in a court of law, it hasn't happened. Because we don't have a mechanism for talking about discrimination outside of particular legal parameters, two serious negative impacts occur. The first is that the many legitimate discrimination claims that, for one reason or another, fall through the legal cracks, also fall through the social cracks. In a prior post I noted a variety of reasons why someone who had been the victim of discrimination might not sue at all -- legitimate reasons (though unfortunate ones), but ones that don't obviate the fact that discrimination occurred. These people should not be abandoned, but whatever material or psychic harms we associate with discrimination are being allowed to rage unchecked amongst this entire class. Second, on the legal side, the fact that law is only arena for these claims to be hashed out makes the battles over the rules of the game particular brutal. Both sides know that this is it -- if they lose here, they lose it all. This is unnecessarily polarizing and is not conducive to building the sort of long-term, constructive policies that might actually make a real dent in discrimination at the source, rather than just managing its effects. Were we to develop alternative arenas beyond the law to work on and air discrimination issues, a lot of the pressure on law to be all things for all people would diminish, and the temperature of the political debate could fall with it.

Non-Racist Imagery in a Racialized Society

Steve Benen noted a peculiar line of attack coming out of the Bush White House against Democratic Presidential contender Barack Obama, accusing him of "intellectually laziness." It is, as I said, an odd charge, given Obama's pedigree of a Harvard Law degree, President of the Harvard Law Review, professor of Constitutional Law at the University of Chicago, and author of two works of non-fiction. And of course, one shouldn't throw stones from glass houses, which is what immediately springs to mind when anybody from this administration decides to put down the intellectual acumen of others.

But Benen also approvingly quotes Brendan Nyhan, who writes:
I'm also troubled by the use of "laziness" as the grounds to attack the first serious black presidential contender. I assume it was unintentional, but can't we talk about Obama without language that echoes racist stereotypes?

And, in all seriousness, I have to ask, can we?

When one truly dives into it, the sheer breadth of the terms and stereotypes White America has used to categorize its Black denizens is really astounding. Nearly every negative stereotype in the book has, at one point or another, been associated with Black people in America, without regard to truth (obviously) or even internal consistency. We have a long-standing image of Black people as uncontrollable, violent, maniacal brutes, and alongside it we have another long-standing image of Black people as good-natured, happy-go-lucky, simple sambos. Blacks are portrayed as lazy and unable to learn difficult concepts, flashy and unsubstantive, sexual "players" always lusting after White women, untrustworthy (especially with money), and yellow-bellied cowards. Put simply, there are very few negative terms in the American political lexicon that have not been enlisted as part of the White supremacist project aimed at keeping Blacks in a perpetual state of subordination and degradation. The odds are that anyone critiquing a Black political candidate from any direction will stumble into one of them or another; racist discourse has so completely colonized this terrain that it's virtually unavoidable.

In a sense, then, this is a sop to the conservative victim class which loves to wail about how "it's impossible to criticize a Black man without being called a racist!" Of course, these critics fail to see how this is a product of the history of White supremacy whose tentacles remain enmeshed in the warp and woof of our political and social lives. Given the history of race relations in America, there is simply no reason for Blacks (or White allies) to give White critics of Black Americans the "benefit of the doubt" that this criticism is genuine, and not informed by the racist perceptions of the (")past("). What credit, exactly, do we have to cash in so that we deserve such a benefit? But that being said, the point still remains: there is this disjuncture in American political discourse, which cannot be easily healed. It is important that political candidates of all races be made available to the most exacting and incisive criticism. And it is also important that we work to jettison the racial baggage that helps propagate a system where some races are seen as inferior to others, and where some races are perpetually and predominately excluded from the ranks of the powerful and influential. Negotiating these twin desires is an exceedingly difficult task, and I don't fault Benen or Nyhan for not taking it on. But we should be clear about the magnitude of the challenge, one that makes even a facially simple request like Nyhan's -- "don't echo racist stereotypes when talking about Black candidates" -- a monumentally difficult endeavor.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Exclusive Obama Interview at ImmigrationProf

The good folks at ImmigrationProf (Kevin Johnson, Bill Hing, and Jennifer Chacon -- all professors of law at UC-Davis) have managed to score an exclusive interview with Democratic Presidential candidate Barack Obama, which they will post on Tuesday morning. The questions will be across a range of immigration issues, "including immigration reform, undocumented immigration, family immigration, deportation and immigration raids, local (anti-)immigration ordinances, integration of immigrants into U.S. society, the deaths along the U.S./Mexico border, and his vote in favor of the Secure Fence Act."

It looks to be very interesting and worth a read when it comes out. So thanks to the ImmigrationProf fellows (and congratulations, on scoring quite the blogosphere coup!).

Via Adrien Wing of BlackProf.

King Zog!

Whatever negative thoughts I may have previously held about Albania, they are washed away by the fact that they were once ruled by King Zog I.

Fall Out Boy

Neil links to a chart showing head-to-head Missouri polling numbers for a few Presidential candidates: Clinton, Edwards, and Obama for the D's, and Giuliani, Thompson, and Romney for the Elephant. Klein picks up on how Edwards beats all three by wider margins than either of the other two candidates.

But what intrigues me is how far behind Romney is compared to Thompson. Against Clinton and Obama, he's a eight points further behind compared to Thompson, against Edwards that jumps to 14.

I had always assumed that Romney's weakness compared to Giuliani (and perhaps McCain) in early head-to-head match-ups was name recognition: he was essentially "generic Republican," and generic Republicans are not doing so hot right now. But I can't think that Thompson has that much greater name ID (even with Law & Order), and yet he's got far better match-up numbers than Romney does. This would imply that there are some voters who do know Romney and are simply less likely to vote for him than they are other Republican candidates (rather than a simple name ID problem). This, to put it mildly, is not good news for either the Romney campaign or the Republican Party for whom he still strikes me as the most likely nominee.