Friday, May 20, 2011

Cornel West & The Neoliberal Response to Race

(cross-posted on dagSeoul's Tumblr)

I just finished listening to Sam Seder's interview with Eddie Glaude, chair of the Center for African-American Studies and the William S. Tod Professor of Religion and African-American Studies at Princeton University. They spoke specifically about Cornel West's provocative criticism of President Obama in his recent interview with Chris Hedges. I think Seder and Glaude handle the controversy the way I've been thinking about it and succinctly discuss the issues I'd write about here. In fact, it's what I was planning to write about today.

I've been steaming mad ever since Ed Schultz tried to scold West after which he brought on Melissa Harris-Perry to list Obama's achievements as President and say that because 85% of black Americans support Obama maybe we should shut up and trust their judgement.

Some of you will understand the neoliberalism when you see it.  If not, you should spend an afternoon reading the ample literature on neoliberalism and race. Articles are very easy to find via a google search, though you have to watch out for weird right wing crap that litters the search.  Harris-Perry's response and call to support Obama is an entirely uncritical, unwarranted, populist, knee-jerk, pointless, and powerless response to power. (I'm really mad at her. Can you tell?) The US has catered to neoliberal discourse about race (ie, reverse racism) for many years now, maybe most vociferously since the early 90s. According to Harris-Perry, I gather we're suppose to continue to cater to that shallow understanding and manipulation of racialized politics. In her words, only black people can understand and sympathize Obama.

William Faulkner has a line that I think explains much of the racist culture in the US about mules and the way whites and blacks handle them. I can't find which novel it's in.  He developed the conceit in many stories and novels, though, so maybe you'll recognize it if you're familiar with his work. The image is based in the white gaze and involves white folks wondering why black folks are so talented at handling mules. The scene I'm thinking of involves white folks wondering why black folks talk to mules--they're struck that black men and mules can hold meaningful conversations. Only black folks can truly understand a mule. It's one of many moments of casual, Southern bigotry in his works that so accurately betray how racism is integral to the power structure in society. It's what we like to call crystal clear.

Harris-Perry's assertion to Schultz--maybe we should trust black people and their understanding and support of Obama--is the same sort of stupid bigotry. Not that Harris-Perry is a bigot. She casually uses the white power structure to illustrate Cornel West as the Obama workhorse who stubbornly stepped out of line with his criticism of the POTUS. West should know better because he's black. Schultz's scold is patronizing: don't you know what you're doing to Obama? Harris-Perry is used as his warrant.

I don't expect anything different from Ed Schultz. He's an ass. And he consistently implements neoliberal tropes in his populist rhetoric. I expect more from Harris-Perry. I think she took advantage of a situation where she was asked by Ed to offer a solid counterpoint to West's provocative opinions. Instead of discussing the subtlety of West's argument contra Obama, she took advantage of the stupid white framework of Ed Schultz's show and conflated West's personal opinion of Obama's snub (which exists) and his precise, accurate, powerful rebuke of Obama's failure to help poor and powerless brothers and sisters.

I don't think it's worthwhile to shame her because she knows what she did. I think it's important to point out that neoliberal responses to race permitted her response. A smart host would have asked her why she wasn't willing to take West's personal statements and political statements as two separate things. Why wasn't she willing to accept that the Obama administration has consistently taken the progressive left to task for not falling in line behind him, to support without criticisms his policies.  Moreover, why should we ignore that Obama has rejected his progressive agenda?

Harris-Perry's response is good for ratings because it wallows in good old American bigotry. If you want a nuanced discussion that is both honest and well-intended, check out Sam Seder's discussion with Eddie Glaude. You won't be let down. I promise. If I wasn't already a member of his show, this episode would have made me become one.

1. Neoliberalism and race. Research it; read about it. It's relevant. Basically, the problem with claims of reverse racism; how white power turns (versifies) discussions of itself on you (the person--any person--speaking to white power,) back to you, and then blames you for it.

2. My William Faulkner reference. On his use of the mule in his fiction. You have to have read Faulkners novels to get a good sense of my point, but I think I clearly made my point.

3. Ed Schultz and Melissa Harris-Perry. Ed Schultz is a moron. I think the longer his show continues, he becomes more clearly moronic. I imagine he has viewers because he follows Rachel Maddow. (Not that Maddow hasn't descended into performance over substance, but that Schultz is all blowhard.) First, he has the audacity to bring on West to scold him as if he's some uppity black man. That was demeaning, patronizing and, for me, almost impossible to watch. I don't know why West tolerated it. Schultz wasn't listening to a thing he said. (Schultz never listens to anybody.) Second, he used Harris-Perry as the black person who'd justify his white, neoliberal logic. Harris-Perry has an editorial out there that you can read, or you can watch her discussion with Schultz. It's awful stuff, in my opinion. I offer my critique of her opinion above.

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4. Sam Seder and Eddie Glaude discuss the controversy on The Majority Report. Please support The Majority Report. It's a great show in search of membership. We need to support good left wing media. Seder's program is independent and looking to stay that way.


Pree-oz said...

I can't wait to listen to it. After listening to Marc Maron's podcast with Steve Byrne's comments about race, I am looking forward to Sam Seder.

Good post.

Gary Norris said...

Steve Byrne is a douchebag.

Pree-oz said...

Why shouldn't Cornel West make this about race? Barack Obama had almost unanimous support from the larger black community in 2008. I know he's had a lot on his plate, but every decision he's made seems to cater to whom West calls the oligarchs and plutocrats, and not toward really helping the poor and working class. I mean, where's our New Deal?

Blackchild said...

Yeah I heard that Steve Byrne interview and the crazy thing about his ADT example is it was factually wrong. I sold ADT for years and the average house burglar is someone in your neighborhood between 12-16 years who will rob you during the day. So unless you live in a Black neighborhood your chances of being robbed by a Black person are slim.

Gary Norris said...

Guys like Byrne don't seem capable of understanding why we (culturally) insist certain people do certain things.

Though it may be the race traitor in me, I cringe when I hear somebody stand up for the white guys like Byrne was doing. I was annoyed that Marc didn't take him to task. But then Marc didn't take Joe Rogan and Adam Corola to task either. I think Marc isn't willing to shit where he eats. Joe and Adam are super popular podcasters and many of Marc's listeners listen to their podcasts as well. So, Marc gives the bigots a pass.