Saturday, June 14, 2008

Momentous Occasions

Tomorrow is the 4th birthday of this blog. But I likely will be distracted from celebrating. I began blogging the summer before I entered Carleton College. Which means today is a new chapter in the blog, but more importantly, in my life. For I have, as of 11:30 this morning, officially graduated from Carleton College, magna cum laude and with distinction in Political Science.

But for once, I don't want to talk about myself, but about my friends. The number of wonderful people I've met at Carleton is to great to count, much less to recount. But in a special category are those folks who resided with me on my Freshman floor -- 4th Burton.

Though friendships at Carleton are easy to make and even easier to keep, the kids on 4th Burton my year were legends around campus as an unbelievably close group (also as the "sub-free floor that wasn't", but that's a separate story). We all had different interests and different strengths, but we never drifted away or stopped seeing each other. Each term after Freshman year, when we had scattered to various other locations around campus, we hosted a "reunion" -- a moving party stopping at our various new rooms to make sure we stayed in touch.

The 4th Burton crew were extraordinary friends, and they also were extraordinary people. I hope they'll forgive me if I recount to you all what their respective post-graduate plans are, as a testament to their incredible talent as well as our incredible friendship.

Like any group of seniors, a few don't have firm plans yet. Richard is thinking of moving back home to Mississippi to work as a computer programmer, or possibly Silicon Valley for the same. Mo hasn't even gotten that far, but given that she was the only one of us to get distinction in not one but two majors, I'm sure she'll be doing just fine whatever she decides.

Brandy is working for Goldman Sachs in New York -- a long way from her home in South Dakota. Our floor's other South Dakotan, Adam, is staying right in Northfield to teach high school English. Peter, too, is becoming a teacher in his native Chicago. He'll be living with my Freshman year roommate, Brian, who is preparing to apply to Vet school -- just like he said he would four years ago.

A few folks are going abroad to teach. George will be spending a year teaching English in Japan, followed by another year teaching in Taiwan. Mandi is skipping step one of that path, going straight back to Taiwan to teach English on a Fulbright Scholarship.

Gabe is the only one besides myself to immediately head off to grad school -- he's going to UNC to study Computer Science. But Lauren is preparing to apply to Medical School next year, and her roommate Wendy is deferring one year after being accepted to Med School at the University of Minnesota. She's come a long way since she microwaved her pet fish to death because she "thought it looked cold."

Seth is moving to Boston, but won't be spending much time there as he travels the globe as a healthcare consultant. Carrie is moving to St. Louis with her fiance -- her middle-school sweetheart (they got engaged this year), and is thinking about applying to graduate school in Chemistry. And finally, Kace tranferred out of Carleton before her Senior year to UVA, realized she made a huge mistake in doing so, and transferred right back the next term. Unfortunately, that meant she needed one more term to graduate, so she's headed back in the Fall. But that's just another reason for us to visit!

To them, and to all my other many graduating friends, thank you. You've already done amazing things, and we will I'm sure continue to do them throughout the rest of our lives.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Malik Obama's Message for the Jews

I'm not sure why, but I found this message from Malik Obama -- Barack's Kenyan half-brother -- really touching:
The half-brother of U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, Malik Obama, told Army Radio on Thursday that Obama would make a good president for Jews.

Malik Obama, a Muslim who resides in a small village in western Kenya, also requested to send a special blessing to the Jewish people around the world from the Obama family in Kenya.

It's not really politically relevant -- there's a reason why it's being printed in Ha'aretz rather than an American paper -- but again, it was nice.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Expect Nothing More

Conservatives are always talking about the need to keep high expectations for inner-city youth. "High expectations" is a talisman that gets waved so that poor school districts don't get funds for desperately needed infrastructural improvements, to ignore the gaping funding disparities (made all the worse that -- by any measure -- poor students require more public funding to have an equal educational opportunity compared to wealthy students), to excuse the huge gaps in academic and extra-curricular offerings compared to what's available in suburban districts, and to side-step the horrifying obstacles that stand between these students and the American dream.

There is something to be said for high expectations, in tandem with creating an "enabling environment" so that the reasonable student has a reasonable chance at success. It's when "high expectations" gets deployed as a replacement for reform -- so that failure becomes the fault of the student no matter what odds they were up against -- that it begins to get twisted.

But the worst part about the "high expectations" mantra is that it's hard to believe there is any there behind it. When Bill O'Reilly is astounded by an episode of suburban schoolkids misbehaving, and remarks "this isn't ... the inner city; you would think that these kids would have some kind of a values system," he is betraying what he really thinks: Bad behavior is expected in the inner-city, because those kids lack "values" (value?).

If conservatives are going to offer naught but high expectations for the inner-city, the least they could do is actually hold those expectations. But they don't. Because it's just rhetoric designed to stymie the urgent reforms every educational expert agrees are necessary for inner city kids to succeed.

Private Action

Following up on the story of the kid who immigrated with his family from Armenia at age two, became valedictorian of his high school, and is now facing deportation -- Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) has introduced a private bill to allow him and his family to stay in the United States. It's apparently a long-shot, but we can only hope that 50 60 Senators, a majority of the House, and President Bush decide that sending away really smart kids from the country they've lived in nearly their entire lives is not particularly bright on our part.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Boren Won't Endorse Obama

Rep. Dan Boren (D-OK), one of the more conservative members of the House Democratic caucus, has announced he will not be endorsing Barack Obama for President, claiming that he needs to represent the views of his conservative Oklahoma district. In doing so, he repeated the silliness that Obama is "the most liberal senator" -- then immediately waffled on his own position by saying he'd vote for Obama at the convention because "this is an important time for our country."

Look, I can understand certain Congressfolk withholding their endorsement due to political pressures (though for advice on how to do without feeding GOP talking points, see how Rep. Tim Mahoney (D-FL) did it in the same article). But I frankly think Rep. Boren is miscalculating his own district. Obama has over-performed in plains states. It'd be one thing if this was in Appalachia, which has shown itself to be uniquely hostile to the Illinois Senator. But there is little indication that middle America will be particularly ill-disposed to Obama this year. If anything, Obama is supposed to help us down-ticket in that region.

Pound It, Part II

Obama's fist poundng ways are taking the political world by storm. Now North Carolina Gov. Mike Easley (D) is getting in on the action.

I suppose there is no way for an older White guy not to look awkward doing that, so once again, my vote is for cute.

Bad Behavior

The Jerusalem Post: How Reform Jews almost got Kicked Out of the UN.
It all started predictably enough. At a UN Human Rights Council session on January 24 called solely to excoriate Israel for "human rights abuses" while ignoring the seven-year-long shelling of Israeli civilians, the Reform movement's representative at the meeting, David Littman, chose to focus on Hamas's outright philosophical commitment to human rights violations - in this case their promotion of genocide.

Hamas's intentions were the "context of Israel's conduct," according to the WUPJ [World Union of Progressive Judaism, an umbrella group for Reform and Liberal Jewish movements], and so fell "within the scope of the discussion."

Stopped three times during his speech by the Romanian president of the HRC (the second time for quoting article 2 of the Hamas charter: "Israel will exist and continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it, just as it obliterated others before it"), the Reform representative signed off with the Shakespearean lament that "there is a general malaise in the air, a feeling that something is rotten in the state of this council."

Five months later, at the next meeting of the UN's NGO Committee, a coalition of Cuba, Qatar, Sudan, Egypt and others sought to have the Reform movement booted out of the UN (where it has been an observer NGO for 36 years) for seeking "to undermine the United Nations system and [making] unfounded allegations against its Member States," in the words of the complaint letter sent by Cuba in May in the name of the entire 118-country Non-Aligned Movement.

After an apology(!) by the WUPJ, the eventual outcome was "merely" a reprimand for "bad behavior."

Ugh. I hate this body.

The Lash, Part II

In discussing whether Barack Obama should come out in support of class-based affirmative action (an idea forwarded by Jon Chait), Ta-Nehisi Coates makes a point I hadn't thought of before:
I have a radical theory: If you never address white paranoia, class-based Affirmative Action is doomed. What Chait isn't seeing (and I submit this with much respect, because I am a fan) is that racism poisons everything. The War on Poverty programs were also class-based, but that didn't stop white racists from demonizing these programs a handouts to Negroes. Welfare supported more white people than black, but that didn't stop people from turning poor black women into welfare queens. The theory of class-based Affirmative Action as "great politics" rest on a foundation which black folks have always found wanting--the ability of crucial swaths of white people to not cut off their nose to spite their face. But, in regards to race, this country entire history is based on white people cutting off their nose to spite their face.

In my previous "lash" post, I noted that the term "backlash" is somewhat of a misnomer -- it acts as if the racist White response was a reaction to a particularly policy, differentiable from previous White behavior that was...well, every bit as hostile and racist. The default setting in America -- regardless of what policies we choose or how much or little the White power structure agrees to bend to Black demands -- is for racism to be produced, albeit at varying levels. The trick is figuring out how to produce anti-racism -- and that's something that we've yet to bottle.

I support class-based affirmative action, but only in tandem with race-based AA, because I think they are separate sources of disadvantage that need to be remedied separately. Nonetheless, I have to admit I figured that replacing racial affirmative action with a class-based system would have at least diffused White anger on the issue, and would still accomplish some good given the disproportionate placement of people of color in the ranks of the economic underclass. Hell, that was even an argument the replacement advocates made themselves: class-based affirmative action would still primarily help people of color, so what's the fuss?

But as Coates reminds us, even programs which primarily help Whites (such as welfare) will engender White opposition and "backlash" if they are perceived to be aiding Black people. And perhaps no program has more indelibly been associated with "aiding undeserving Blacks while stomping on the dreams of hardworking Whites" than affirmative action.

I've noted before how racist ideology in America has proven itself to be incredibly mutable -- it can adapt itself to nearly any change in environment, changing its justifications and rationalizations without a hitch. If affirmative action switches from a race to class basis, and it still results in any meaningful assistance being given to Black students, expect the educational equivalent of "welfare queens" to pop up. It's a prediction that's never failed in the past.

Arrivals and Departures

First, the good news: I'm adding Ta-Nehisi Coates to my blogroll. I first saw him when he was guest-blogging at Matt Yglesias' place, and since then he's started popping up all over -- always with good stuff to say. So welcome aboard.

The sad news: dNa of Too Sense is calling it quits. This is particularly sad for me, as I only recently started reading his blog, but it was rapidly becoming a favorite. I'm not deleting it from the 'roll yet, because the site may stay active via a co-blogger, but it's still a sore loss for the blogosphere.

Monday, June 09, 2008

The Lash

The violent, hostile, reaction of Whites to the Civil Rights is often referred to as a "backlash." I'm dropping the "back", because that implies that Whites were rather passive and quiescent until Negro rabble-rousers arrived and started making trouble, and that's just not what happened.

Rick Perlstein, author of Nixonland, has a great post up detailing some of the letters received by Illinois Senator Paul Douglas (D), a great liberal champion and supporter of federal legislation to end housing discrimination. They are, to say the least, revealing -- both in how rawly they demonstrate the White hatred that flowed through Chicago at that time, and how the arguments his constituents made echo eerily of those put forward today.

It also helps expand my previous post's notation of Black mistrust of Whites -- how being too trusting could be lethal of you were Black. I used the classic archetype of the racist southern father, organizing a lynch mob against the Black man with the temerity to want to marry his daughter. But this example from Perlstein works just as well: "a teenager answering a job ad walked over the border from Chicago into the all-white city of Cicero, and for that sin and no other was beaten to death."

He trusted. And he died for that trust.

On Trusting White People

I've written on several occasions about my favorite quote by W.E.B. Du Bois, responding to a student who asked: "Do you trust White people?"
You do not and you know that you do not, much as you want to; yet you rise and lie and say you do; you must say it for her salvation and the world’s you repeat that she must trust them, that most white folks are honest, and all the while you are lying and every level, silent eye there knows you are lying, and miserably you sit and lie on, to the greater glory of God. [W.E.B. Du Bois, Darkwater: Voices from Within the Veil 102 (1920) (Humanity Books, 2003)]

Many times, I've been told that Du Bois' expressed sentiment here was racist. Even if Du Bois would have allowed individual Whites to prove their trustworthiness (which he did -- Du Bois worked with Whites all his life), his "default" stance of mistrust towards Whites-as-a-class is mere racial prejudice. To which I respond: at what point in American history would it had have been justifiable for a Black person to say that their default position is to be untrustworthy of Whites? I would have thought 1920 would be well within the range, but apparently not. So -- 1896? 1856? When?

Some have strongly implied that there is no such time -- Blacks are always obligated to have a default stance of trust for Whites, until Whites specifically show themselves to be incontrovertibly racist. What these writers do not understand is that, for much of American history, a default stance of "trust" in Whites was not just a matter of having friendly, egalitarian sentiment towards all of humankind. It was, quite literally, a risk to Black lives. Black people who were too "trusting" of Whites -- too trusting that they would treat them fairly, that they wouldn't mind breaching Jim Crow racial "etiquette", that they were the "good kind" of White folks -- these were Blacks destined to get lynched. A Black person in 1920 who -- trusting the fairness of the typical White -- asks a White man if he can marry his daughter runs a serious risk of death. In positions of such power asymmetry, mistrust is a survival skill. There were German rescuers, but the Jew attempting to hide from Nazis in 1942 would be forgiven for defaulting to mistrust towards the average German.

Macon D, a White blogger, has a post up on the persistence of this mistrust as the default setting amongst many people of color:
Unlike a lot of non-white people, most white folks think that the world sees them as trustworthy, reliable, and honest, unless they do something to prove themselves otherwise. White people can dress in a variety of ways or wear a variety of adornments or tattoos that will lower the level of trust other people are likely to place in them. What they rarely realize, though, is that their whiteness itself often provokes mistrust. And that it does so for some good reasons.

Macon put up a picture of a White person at the top of his post -- specifically, one with bleary eyes, a shaved head, a goatee, bruises, and tattoos (including one of a Nazi swastika). He uses it to illustrate an important point: while many people would be fine admitting lack of trust for this White guy, it would not be because he is White. It'd be because of his grim demeanor, or his Nazi tattoo. There are many symbols people can wear that might legitimately provoke mistrust. If I'm walking in my new Chicago neighborhood and I spot a Black man wearing gang colors, I think I am quite justified in not asking him for the time. I would not be so justified in avoiding a Black man in a suit, though. But across American history, Whiteness itself has been a social marker of something to be approached with caution and prudence as a Black person. The only (or at least, a sufficient) signifier for a Black man in 1920 that a person might lynch you for asking to marry his daughter is his Whiteness. No tattoos, no grim visage, no spouting of Klan doctrine. Just his Whiteness.

Whites can, through their deeds, show themselves to be trustworthy (or ratify the original suspicion of mistrust). No mainstream minority writer holds that there is an ontological bar preventing Whites from being trustworthy. But many many would say that it is still wiser for people of color to adopt a default of mistrust. For -- though there are fewer cases of racially motivated violence in America today -- the risks of assuming trustworthiness remain for many people of color. People of color still must be quite guarded around Whites (particularly empowered Whites, such as the police, but also nominal social equals, such as coworkers). Mention that you were stopped by the police and your suspicion that it was racial profiling, and you have to worry about whether your White peers -- who don't believe racial profiling really exists -- will assume you're at best someone who refuses to take responsibility for your own mistakes, and at worst that you're a drug runner. Send your kid to a largely-White school under the presumption that she will be welcomed, and then have to deal with what happens when her "friends" send her a note saying "go back to Africa" (this happened to a family from East St. Louis who managed to get her daughter into a largely White suburban school. She returned to the failing system in East St. Louis -- a system with nearly no funding, crumbling buildings, and rampant crime -- because she was essentially chased out of the White school by racism). And, having experimented with integration, with trusting Whites, watch as you get blamed for its failures. It was that girls fault that she's stuck in a failing school: "she couldn't cut it" with the Whites.

I'm not saying Blacks should (or should not) trust White people. I'm saying that -- as a political matter -- it is unavoidable for Blacks to ask that question. Politically, Blacks again and again are forced to ask themselves the degree to which they want to put their faith in Whites as part of their own uplift. When they decide whether integrated schools are best for their children, they are in part deciding whether they want their children's education to be (in part) in the hands of Whites. When deciding where to move, there are in part deciding whether their White neighbors will interfere with their simple desire to live happy, flourishing lives. When they decide how they want their political strength to be organized, they have to determine whether their interests will be protected in political systems dominated by White people. These are all questions of trust, and moreover in most cases they cannot be determined in the idealized, individualistic, "judge everyone on their own merits" framework. It is about trusting Whites-as-a-class. When deciding what school your daughter goes to, you don't have the luxury of meeting all the students at the nearly all White suburban school and determining whether they as individuals are welcoming, egalitarian, anti-racist folks. You have to determine for yourself whether you trust them to be good people -- and there is nothing that says Blacks have to answer affirmatively. This is, in other words, a legitimate question for deliberation within the Black community.

Many Blacks -- many more than Whites have had any right to expect -- have decided to operate within this framework of trust (even if they do so, as did Du Bois, with strong private misgivings). They have worked under the presumption that if they work hard, play by the rules, stay clean, and make the right moral arguments, Whites will accept them and transcend the racism that permeates our society. The fact that the Back to Africa movement -- which coalesced in the nadir of American race relations -- failed to achieve much momentum is testament to just how much Blacks have been willing to trust the ability and potential of Whites even in the heart of darkness. But at the end of the day, it's their choice, not ours. They decide whether it is better, worthwhile, or even safe to trust us. This is not hate. There is nothing hateful in surviving.

Professional Responsibility

Jack Balkin via the VC: "Legal ethics is to actual ethics as Madison, Wisconsin is to James Madison: the former is vaguely inspired by the idea of the latter."

Ladies and gentleman, my new profession!


Anyone who had a pet growing up eventually learns about death. I, however, never had a pet, so I remain rather unaware. Don't get me wrong: I can understand why things die after serious injury, or illness. Even dying simply from old age makes sense. But I'm confused: why do young, seemingly healthy computers die?

My laptop, may it rest in peace, was not old (two years and two months -- meaning it was two months out of warranty, obviously). It was not dropped. Indeed, the first time it died, it did so while sitting quietly at my desk. Nothing was happening. I was not even in the room. It briefly resurrected itself, only to die again three days later while I was doing nothing more than typing.

What could cause a computer to suddenly experience a massive hardware failure just from sitting there?

Oh, cruel and capricious God....