Saturday, November 24, 2007

Credits and Debits

Latoya Peterson at Racialicious has a great post up on the term "Bougie" (as in "bourgeois"), often used as a derogatory term for middle-class Black folk who are seen as "inauthentic" or insufficiently connected to their Black roots. One of my classmates this term used the phrase "bougie Blacks" all the time (very much in quotations, however) -- but I didn't realize it was so widespread until now. Anyway, Peterson's post is really more of a series of stories than a cohesive unit, but they're all good. This excerpt in particular, however, struck me as particular poignant:
Once upon a time (read: four years ago) when I was waiting tables at a spot in Dupont I happened to serve an older African-American man who worked for the DC school system. I asked him for his order, told him the specials, and was perplexed by his ever widening smile.

“You speak so well,” he beamed, and I inwardly cringed. “What school did you go to?”

I explained that I went to school in Montgomery County, but he continued to smile.

“You,” he proudly pronounced, ” are a credit to the race!”

I smiled weakly, hoping that the other tables around him did not hear.

OMG Please tell me he didn’t just say that around white people!

My mind whipped around for a few frantic moments trying to purge some of the memories this man had involuntarily called forth.

Stop it. Stop it! I don’t want to be a credit to the race. I don’t want to be part of the Talented Tenth! I don’t want to be different! I don’t want to stand out! Because if I stand out, and I am the credit to the race, what does that make my cousins? What does that make my friends? Are they blight? Why do we have to be marked as better or worse? What do you want from me?

My mind swirled, but the rational part of me realized that I was on the clock. I smiled and moved on. He left me a 40% tip.

"Smiled and moved on." So it so often goes.

Dreading Southern Maryland

A private school in Waldorf, Maryland (Charles County -- southeast of D.C.) has suspended a three-year old boy for wearing dreadlocks. The family is suing, alleging racial discrimination. Hairstyles are a surprisingly robust area of anti-discrimination studies, but I'm not really interested in the legal aspects of the case right now. While I think that the law should presumptively cover expressive elements of one's racial identity (a presumption that can be overruled, obviously), my understanding is that the current precedent isn't there yet. Unfortunate, but so it goes.

Rather, what I want to focus on is the school's dress regulation which the boy was cited as violating. It prohibits boys from wearing "extreme faddish hairstyles, including the use of rubber bands or the 'twisting' of hair." This is rather puzzling -- not because it's an unreasonable rule, but because I do not know how dreadlocks can accurately be labeled either "extreme" or "faddish." Dreadlocks have a long and distinguished history as a hairstyle -- it being particularly amenable to the type of kinky hair Black men and women tend to possess. They are neither new, nor strange, nor exotic, nor fleeting. They might, however, seem that way to a White schoolmaster, unaccustomed to how Black people's hair actually behaves (let alone the history of Black hairstyling). Like most other hair regimes, I've seen dreadlocks look very stylish and professional, and I've seen them look ugly and sloppy. But there is nothing intrinsic to them that makes it a worthwhile goal to ban them.

And that's what annoys me about cases like this. Without fail, the school responds to the controversy merely by blithely asserting how it has a "right" to establish a dress code. Certainly, it does, but that says nothing about whether this particular code (or application thereof) is intelligent. This is a dumb requirement. It is silly to ban three-year old kids from wearing dreadlocks, anymore than banning them from wearing pony tails. It's ridiculous to assert that dreads are "extreme" or "faddish". It's mean-spirited to kick a three-year old out of class for having the wrong hair. Charles County's Black population has exploded in recent years, and not all the local residents are pleased about it. When a school digs in and tries to defend a foolish rule that overwhelmingly affects its Black students, I start to wonder whether there isn't some latent hostility as well.

Daddy Always Told Me: Never Become a Trial Judge

District Court judging is boring and frustrating. Appellate courts are where the action is. The Deseret Morning News has an interesting article on Paul Cassell, a 42 year old Bush appointee who just retired from his lifetime position as a federal judge for the District of Utah.
Cassell said he found himself questioning some laws at each turn. "I felt like it was proper judicial role to ask questions, even if we weren't necessarily charged with fixing the problem," he said. But he wanted to do more — he wanted to make a change. Being a federal judge, he couldn't do that.

"One of the frustrations about being a trial court judge is that you never set broad principles of law; of course, that's reserved for the appellate courts. ... When I was there for 5 1/2 years, I began to think that maybe I would have more effect in moving the law in a way that I think is desirable by doing appellate litigation."

Becoming a legal advocate is a better fit, he said. "I felt like for the rest of my life, I wasn't sure I could stay in one place doing one kind of thing. There were some issues I wanted to pursue, particularly working on crime victims' rights, which is an area that I felt very passionately about."

Another interesting part of the article is how Cassell's experience on the bench has motivated him specifically to speak out on certain parts of the legal system he considers broken -- areas not normally associated with a Bush appointee. For example, Cassell has blasted out of control mandatory minimum sentencing, and has written vigorously against the crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparity. I don't know if Cassell was involved in these issues prior to his appointment, but it appears that being on the bench side of these cases has definitely influenced his thoughts on the matter.

All via Orin Kerr, who notes that Cassell is one of five hot-shot young(ish) judges who have left the bench at a relatively early point in their careers.

PS: My dad really did, in fact, advise me never to become a Federal District Court judge. If that doesn't give you insight into what type of family I have, nothing will.

Friday, November 23, 2007

J. Harvie Whilikers!

The Harvard Law Review has a series of articles on the recently decided Parents United school desegregation decision (links to my extensive analysis of the opinions can be found here). One of the articles is by 4th Circuit Judge and Bush Supreme Court short-lister J. Harvie Wilkinson.

I wasn't expecting to agree with Wilkinson, an arch-conservative. But it was worse than I expected, and after a few pages, I found myself thinking "Man, I've lost so much respect for you from this." But that got me thinking about why, when I first picked up the article, I had respect for Wilkinson in the first place.

In a sense, it's an easy question -- Wilkinson is a very prominent judge, and while he is quite right-wing, he hasn't really developed a reputation as wildly extreme. But then again, my only real run-in with Wilkinson is the truly appalling opinion he wrote sanctioning (verging on outright applauding) discrimination against Wiccans in Virginia. I am not exaggerating when I say it is the worst Church/State opinion issued in my lifetime that I've ever read. I have no idea how he got rehabilitated in my head after that catastrophe.

But anyway. I'm not going to go and refute Wilkinson's article, point-by-point. I just don't have the energy. Suffice to say, while the article is really slipshod overall, Wilkinson also manages to specifically hit virtually every button on my "most frustrating elements of racial discourse" list. He describes the plurality opinions as "courageous" (over and over again, actually). He makes huge assertions, critical to his argument, and doesn't back them up with even a perfunctory citation. He doesn't engage with the relevant literature. He straw-mans, hardcore, and dodges his opponents' best arguments entirely. He compares the liberal position to that of Jim Crow southerners (while denying he's doing it in the same breath). I could go on.

It was a spectacularly annoying spectacle, and it made me want to put something through a wall. And while in retrospect, he already lost whatever respect I might have had after the Wicca case, hopefully this article will remind me not to let him sneak back into the good side of my subconscious. Ugh.

Beyond the Norris Ad

My last post on Mike Huckabee, praising him for his hilarious Chuck Norris campaign ad, was a bit of a backhanded compliment. For this statement on illegal immigration, however, I give him genuine props:
"We penalize law-breakers. We don't penalize their children for something they can't help.

"If a child is gasping for air, asthmatic, and he's on the hospital steps, what do the other candidates suggest we do, let him sit there and gasp until he doesn't have any air left and he dies? If a child comes to our school -- and our law, by the way, in most of our states, mine certainly says you've got to educate a child if he's of child age -- what do you, break your own law and say, `No, you can't come in the schoolhouse door'?

"No, you don't do that. What you do is you elect a president who will fix the problem where it needs to be fixed: At the border. But if your government at the federal government is so incompetent that it fails to secure the border, you don't then grind your heel into the face of a 6-year-old child over it. That's not what this country does. We're a better country than that."

I'm really starting to feel hopeful that the anti-immigration wave has crested (without, amazingly enough, doing any lasting damage). Hopefully, Huckabee's stance is a sign that even within the GOP, there will be a push back against the extremist Tancredo wing on this issue.

But even still, make no mistake. Huckabee's got the right position on this issue, but it's not an easy one to take in the Republican primary -- particularly when he's finally starting to show some life in the polls. I give him serious kudos for taking it.

I Love Maryland, Part 37

This time, it's E.J. Dionne who explains why.
Imagine a place where the leading politician pokes fun at those who "regard all taxes as a pestilence, a plague or a disease."

Imagine the same politician saying: "Not one of us wants to pay more in taxes. But you know what we want even less? What we want even less is to leave our country to our kids in a worsened condition."

And imagine a place where other politicians are grown-ups and decide that closing budget deficits requires a mix of tax increases and spending cuts.

The place in question is clearly not Washington. Facing a $1.7 billion budget deficit, Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley -- who offered the above observations in an interview -- led the legislature this week to approve $1.4 billion in taxes and $550 million in spending cuts. It's been a long time since we've seen that kind of balance from the federal government.

Maryland doesn't do everything perfectly, and its legal system, particularly, has disappointed me recently. But by and large, things work here. The schools are good. The economy hums. There isn't a massive amount of racial tension (probably the best racial climate in an ex-slave state). There are many truly talented public servants -- I'm far more likely to agonize over several excellent choices than I am to waffle between the lesser of however many evils. There is social cohesion, with the state's significant wealthy contingent recognizing its duty to the less fortunate.

The state works. And it's really something to be a part of that.

Rep. Davis Claims Racial Profiling

Illinois Representative Danny Davis (D) is claiming he was racially profiled by the Chicago Police after being pulled over early one morning while driving three Black colleagues (guests on his radio show) home.
Two white police officers pulled over the Democratic congressman early Monday morning, according to spokeswoman Tumia Romero.

"He thinks he was pulled over because of his race," Romero said Thursday. "He was not speeding, had a valid driver's license, wasn't swerving, but was pulled over anyway."

She said Davis had been working on his radio show until around midnight Sunday. He was driving home three of his guests -- all African-Americans -- when Chicago police officers pulled his vehicle over around 1 a.m. Monday.

The only reason the congressman can see for being stopped was that there were "four black men in the car," Romero said.

Certainly, this is not the first time the Chicago PD has stood accused of racial profiling. While I obviously don't wish this on anyone, part of me is gleeful that the police appeared to profile the wrong Black guy -- if it were anyone else this side of Barack Obama, they'd get away with it like they always do. Of course, they might anyway, but a U.S. Congressman might have a bit more heft than your average Black man would in this sort of situation.

Alternatively, of course, Davis might have been pulled over entirely legitimately. But while one might argue that he could claim racial profiling to cover his transgression, I find that very doubtful -- it's hardly worth the scrutiny over a minor traffic violation.

UPDATE: While I love comments as much as the next blogger, I'm getting real close to shutting them down on this post. Many of the comments are fine, and a few I find distasteful, but still well within acceptable bounds. A few, however, clearly have crossed the line into out-and-out racism. Please don't make generalized stereotypes about Black people -- what "they" always do or what type of cars "they" all drive. It's just ignorant. And remember that we're talking about a US Congressman here. Absent specific evidence about his behavior or attitude (like there was for ex-Rep. Cynthia McKinney), I think he's entitled to a presumption of respect.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Happy Turkey Day in Advance

While I'm not in support of genocide, I am in support of gouging myself on as much turkey as humanly possible (plus football).

I got back to Maryland last night, and I'm leaving for Rhode Island in a few hours. Since I'm not bringing my computer, this is probably it unless I raid the hotel business center.

See you all late Friday!

Monday, November 19, 2007

Tripping Out

I'm leaving for Maryland tomorrow afternoon -- then turning around and immediately going to Rhode Island for Thanksgiving. So until after that, I'm probably going to be effectively out of touch.

My graduate and law school stress level, incidentally, is climbing rapidly, and it is not making me happy.

Intelligence is for Suckers

Driving to the DMV, Michelle Cottle passed a church with the following sign:
Experts built the Titanic.

Amateurs Built the Ark.

She uses it to lament the "anti-expertise" mentality in American culture.

From what I've read (and I've seen that sign before), this is hardly a new occurrence: America has always apparently had a strong anti-elitist streak that manifested itself against the intelligentsia. It hit home for me observing the 2000 presidential election (the first in which I was really politically aware), in which Gore's intellectualism versus Bush's frat boy persona was scored as a point in W's favor. And from there on out, I realized every step forward I took in my education would be a step back in my political potential. I had hoped that eight years of experiencing a half-wit for a President would awaken an American desire for intelligence, but so far I'm not seeing it.

So in the mean time, I echo Cottle's wish that all the pro-amateur persons out there remember their commitment to the cause the next time they need surgery.

The Senate Cleric

CNN on the Senate's "pro forma" sessions, designed to prevent President Bush from issuing recess appointments:
The sessions are expected to last less than 30 seconds -- the cleric will announce who the presiding officer is, and then that senator will gavel the session closed.

I'm pretty sure they mean "clerk". But given the hold Christian conservatives still have over American politics, only pretty sure.

UPDATE: They fixed it. Oh well.


I'm not a huge Mike Huckabee fan (to me, he's Sam Brownback without the concern for human rights), but this is a fantastic ad (in every way Garance says it is):

Is it just me, or do Democrats need to start defining Huckabee in the minds of the general electorate? I mean, the guy is the Dennis Kucinich of the Republican field (Ron Paul, obviously, is Mike Gravel), and if it comes down to it, voters should know that when faced with a choice, the GOP decided on going as far to the right as was possible -- farther, in fact, that was assumed to be possible at the start of the primary season.

The terrain is good for Democrats in 2008, and Huckabee is no centrist. But he's a savvy campaigner, and I'd rather not let him come into the election as a blank slate against someone as politically loaded as Hillary Clinton (or even as socially loaded as Barack Obama). There's no need for attack ads -- just start dropping Huckabee's name in the conversation, in the context of him being the far-right winger that he is.