Dr. Ben Carson is a supremely talented and gifted surgeon. He is a credit to the medical profession.

He is also a black conservative darling who gave a rousing speech to the Right-wing faithful at the 2014 CPAC event.

These facts exist in tension with one another.

In some basic ways, Carson's role as a black human mascot and cheerleader for the White Right is a violation of the Hippocratic Oath he took as a doctor.

On a basic level, the Hippocratic Oath is a commitment to the truth. By comparison, Ben Carson's role in the Republican Party is based on lies and distortions.

Ben Carson’s fulfilling of the Republican Party’s fantasy that African-Americans are somehow hoodwinked and bamboozled in their decades of support for the Democratic Party is the first lie.

Here, Republicans, movement conservatives, and the White Right have reframed centuries of black citizenship and struggles for freedom into a narrative wherein African-Americans are dumb, stupid, and childlike.

Apparently, African-Americans are not reasoning and sophisticated citizens capable of making their own decisions in the service of collective self-interest. No. They are stuck on a “plantation” and need black conservatives such as Ben Carson and Herman Cain to rescue them.

Ben Carson is a happiness pill. In any other context, this would be an extremely troubling role for a medical professional.

As a happiness pill, Carson is a placebo, a fake drug and a high, a salve for Republicans. His purpose, like that of other black conservatives, is to be human chaff, an ointment, which relieves them from the mountain of evidence and charges that the Republican Party is a racist organization.

Carson is also a poison pill for the Republican Party.

His political vision is a failed one; he is playing the role of a black conservative political snake oil salesman to racially resentful white voters. More troubling, Ben Carson’s blackface version of white conservatism is a de facto embrace of white identity politics

The second poison pill is Ben Carson's claim that "Obamacare" is "the worst thing since slavery". His scare mongering Sarah Palin inspired death panel distortions of healthcare reform threaten to do real harm to the American people.

In fact, people of color in mass, young people, the elderly, as well as the poor and working classes, will all benefit from Obamacare.

A question: Where, and to whom, are Ben Carson's primary commitments as a medical professional?

Ben Carson is a doctor. His obligation to the truth, to do no harm, and the Hippocratic Oath, should demand that Carson not lie about the positive impact of Obama’s healthcare reforms in order to win support among his handlers in the Republican Party. Instead, Ben Carson has chosen the applause of white conservatives over his commitment to public health.

A second question: Is President Obama's expansion of the opportunity to buy health insurance really the worst thing to happen to American freedom since the enslavement of black Americans?

Although he has offered a facile clarification and more doublespeak on this issue, Ben Carson has repeatedly said that the answer is "yes".

What do the facts reveal?

After formal slavery ended, African-Americans suffered under almost 100 years of racial tyranny under a system called Jim and Jane Crow. They were robbed of citizenship and voting rights and subjected to a new type of bondage under debt peonage, convict leasing, and sharecropping laws. Thousands of black men, women, and children were also murdered by spectacular lynchings.

For Ben Carson, Jim and Jane Crow and its horrific racial violence are apparently not as bad as Obama’s healthcare reforms.

Carson is also invoking slavery in order to suggest that expanding healthcare opportunities is a type of “tyranny.”

What does the historical record tell us about white on black chattel slavery?

The enslavement of African-Americans was brutal: it was one of the greatest crimes in human history.

Millions of black people died during the Middle Passage; many millions more were killed by white on black chattel slavery across the Black Atlantic.

In all, white supremacy and racism were a total social system that involved religion, philosophy, science, economics, law, and ethics as it worked to legitimate a social hierarchy that judged "white" people superior to "non-whites".

White supremacy as a social and political system was prefaced on the dehumanization of people of color. Its logic extended to the medical and biological sciences.

"Medical Apartheid" was one of the systems of power that was born from centuries of white supremacy in America. Like slavery, it was cruel and inhumane.

For example, African-Americans were treated without anesthesia. Old, infirm, or "physically unusual" slaves were also sold to medical schools and private doctors for experimentation and study.

In addition, medical schools in the South tried to win students from the North and elsewhere with their promise of access to cadavers and other "subjects", i.e. black Americans, for examination and study.

How were these “subjects” treated?

Black women had their reproductive organs removed or otherwise manipulated by white doctors without the use of pain medication.

The backs of black human property would be cut open so that spinal cords could have boiling water poured on them to experiment with treatments for pneumonia.

African-Americans would be subjected to forced heat stroke in order to see if they could be cured of that affliction. One survivor recounted his experiences as:

...Ordered a hole to be dug in the ground, three feet and a half deep by three feet long, and two feet and a half wide. Into this pit a quantity of dried oak bark was cast, and fire set to it. It was allowed to burn until the pit became heated like an oven, when the embers were taken out. A plank was then put across the bottom of the pit, and on that a stool. Having tested, with a thermometer, the degree to which the pit was heated, the Doctor bade me strip, and get in; which I did, only my head being above the ground. He then gave me some medicine which he had prepared, and as soon as I was on the stool, a number of wet blankets were fastened over the hole, and scantlings laid across them. This was to keep in the heat. It soon began to tell upon me; but though I tried hard to keep up against its effects, in about half an hour I fainted. I was then lifted out and revived, the Doctor taking a note of the degree of heat when I left the pit.

Vivisection by "night doctors" remains alive in the lived memory and oral traditions of African-Americans, where stories have been passed down about the torture and experimentation conducted on black slaves (and others) by white doctors.

The legacies of Medical Apartheid remain today with racially disparate healthcare outcomes and quality of care across the colorline.

Carson's political blackface routine is even more tragic as it involves an African-American betraying his commitment to truth-telling in order to advance the interests of a political party and movement that has neither love nor respect for people of color.

Ben Carson's suggestion that an effort to extend access to healthcare is in any way remotely akin to the enslavement, rape, murder, stolen labor, exploitation, abuse, and cruelty suffered by millions of African-Americans is a scurrilous and abominable lie.

It flattens history.

Moreover, Ben Carson is disrespecting the legacy of his ancestors by legitimating one of the American Right-wing's most popular lies, that African-American slavery "wasn't really that bad".

For all of his medical expertise and genius, Ben Carson is an example of the potent power of Right-wing political excreta to work in a human centipede-like fashion, as disinformation is recycled back and forth among those who live in the closed loop that is the Right-wing echo chamber.

Ben Carson is also a black conservative. There are few more lucrative jobs in American public life. And it is an especially good job if one can secure it...even if said job involves betraying one's professional ethics while eagerly consuming and regurgitating the Republican Party’s political waste at an open trough such as the annual CPAC meeting.

The South is part of the United States; the South is a country within a country.

The Michael Dunn-Jordan Davis Stand Your Ground murder case has been the focus of a great deal of micro-level analysis. Dunn's racist letters and claims of "victim" status have been been highlighted as evidence of his racist intent towards Jordan Davis.

An interview with Dunn's neighbors exposed his sociopathic and rageful character. Jordan Davis's family has courageously shared how they have dealt with the horror of having their teenage son stolen from them by an impulse control lacking adult--and then how the same adult was found "not guilty" of committing murder.

What do we make of African-American young people, one of which who was on Dunn's jury, that have so profoundly and deeply internalized white racism that they excuse-make for white vigilantism?

And I have wondered about how black folks should deal with a de facto state of affairswherein Stand Your Ground laws act as legal permission for white people to shoot us dead in the street?

By contrast, there has been little if any discussion of the macro-level cultural motivations that drove Michael Dunn to shoot and murder an unarmed teenager, and to feel right and legitimate in doing so, because the latter's music was "offensive" and he dared to "talk back" to a white man.

History and context are important here. Stand Your Ground laws were birthed in the South and other parts of Red State America by the National Rifle Association and the Koch Brothersfunded Right-wing lobby group ALEC.

Zimmerman killed Trayon Martin in Florida. Dunn also killed Jordan Davis in Florida.

Florida saw the highest documented percentage of African-Americans lynched in the United States.

Red State America is the Confederacy reborn. One cannot marshal the language and imagery of the Confederacy (the Confederate flag is in fact the American Swastika) under the guise of the Republican Party without channeling its ugly history of racial violence and white on black racial tyranny. White supremacy is not a buffet of attitudes and values that can be cherry picked from at one's own convenience. No. White supremacy is a philosophy and lifeworld that colors and infuses all that it touches.

The white racism--and accompanying white on black street vigilantism--that is channeled and legitimated by Stand Your Grounds laws is part of this ugly legacy.

There has been extensive research about "Southern Culture" and its relationship to notions of "honor", "manhood", race, class, and violence.

For example, Whet Moser describes how:

The U.S. is simply much more violent than other developed countries. And the region that brings up the national average is the South...

It’s not exclusively Southern states with high assault-death rates; a third chart by Healy shows that some Western and Midwestern states have higher rates than some Southern states. But by region, the difference is dramatic.

This has been the case for many, many years, and many causes have been proposed: hot weather, economic disparity, the legacy of slavery and the Civil War. In 1996, four psychologists from Midwestern universities, led by UIUC’s Dov Cohen and Michigan’s Richard Nisbett, designed a lab experiment to test if Southerners were more prone to violence, and in particular violence stemming from a “culture of honor” endemic to the region.

They ran their subjects through a battery of tests designed to provoke: bumping the subject in a hallway, calling him an “asshole,” forcing a game of “chicken” in a hallway (anecdatally, I am more likely to bump rude people on the bus or sidewalk than my friends, and am also Southern), and other subtle manhood challenges. The researchers then took qualitative and quantitative data (emphasis mine)...

After provocation, Southerners were not only more angry on the outside, they were more angry on the inside, down to their neurochemistry. (The authors also theorize that Southern politeness could be a response to Southern aggression—if Southerners are more likely to take offense than other regional cultures, it follows they would be less likely to give offense, for safety’s sake.)

The South's regional culture of masculinity, honor, and violence was carried North (and elsewhere) by the series of "great migrations" of African-Americans during the twentieth century as they moved to escape Jim and Jane Crow:

What does this have to do with Chicago, and violence in Chicago?

In 1986, Nicholas Lemann wrote a lengthy, two-part series for The Atlantic on crime and poverty in Chicago. One of the things he encountered was just how Southern Chicago is:

"Although the migration ended in the early seventies – again, because jobs had become scarce in Chicago – there is still considerable movement back and forth, and the South is very much in the minds of black Chicagoans. Most of the very successful local blacks who are held up as role models are southern-born: Jesse Jackson (South Carolina), John H. Johnson, the owner of Ebony (Arkansas), Oprah Winfrey, the TV host who appeared in The Color Purple (Mississippi), Walter Payton, of the Chicago Bears (Mississippi), the Reverend Johnnie Colemon, the pastor of the biggest church in Chicago (Mississippi). [snip]

Black Mississippians go to Chicago too. Recently, at a student assembly of a black Catholic grade school in Canton [Mississippi], I asked the children how many had been to Chicago, and nearly every hand went up. Often they went for long visits with relatives in the summers. (How many want to live in Chicago when they grow up? I asked. No hands. Why not? An immediate chorus: “Too dangerous.") At one of Chicago’s worst high schools – Orr, on the West Side – I asked a class how many were born in Chicago. Almost everyone was. But almost everyone’s mother had been born in Mississippi. Many of the mothers of a class of eighth graders at Beethoven School, an elementary school whose students all live in the Robert Taylor Homes, were from Mississippi."

Part of Lemann’s thesis, not that he ignores the effects of segregation and concentrated poverty, is that the divide between city and backcountry was also brought north: “Every aspect of the underclass culture in the ghettos is directly traceable to roots in the South – and not the South of slavery but the South of a generation ago. In fact, there seems to be a strong correlation between underclass status in the North and a family background in the nascent underclass of the sharecropper South.” Lemann also found the opposite—a correlation between middle-class status in the nascent middle-class of urban Canton and mobility in the North.

Race is central to the South's culture of violence, manhood, and honor.

Moreover, race and racism involve a sense of "group position". White supremacy demands that non-whites, and blacks in particular, "know their place".

The South developed elaborate rituals and social conventions that ranged from segregated public facilities to the social norm that black people would step off the street if whites approached, avert their eyes to the ground, and assume a natural position of subordination relative to white people.

George Zimmerman's murder of Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida--a community that was once a "sundown town"--followed a Southern cultural logic that the black body was in a space where it did not belong. Thus, Zimmerman, a man who overly identifies with Whiteness and White Authority, felt empowered to stalk, confront, and kill Trayvon Martin.

Michael Dunn killed Jordan Davis because the African-American teenager, was to his eyes, disrespectful, arrogant, and "talked back". White privilege has socialized white male adults to expect a level of natural subordination and deference from (young) people of color. Michael Dunn's honor was insulted, and his sense of Southern white manhood infringed upon, because Jordan Davis did not follow his commands.

From the lynching tree, to the present with its Stand Your Ground laws, black "arrogance" is a "crime"--one punishable by death.

Dunn's perception of insult and "reasonable" threat from a black teenager who was "armed" with rap music echoes the research on interpersonal violence and how violent aggressors may actively try to provoke conflict in order to defend their perceived sense of honor.

Randall Collins' Violence: A Micro-sociological Theory offers a chillingly accurate description of the motivations driving white street vigilantes such as Michael Dunn and George Zimmerman--men who are now empowered by Stand Your Ground laws to kill:

The second source of evidence is that in honor code situations, individuals often go looking for trouble. They are not merely defending themselves against slights, peacefully minding their own business otherwise. These are precisely the scenes or recurrent situations where people are hyper-sensitive, where they do things to provoke others, to drive them to the edge. The typical micro-scenario of honor confrontations revealed in contemporary ethnography is where someone uses a repertoire of half-insults, insolent gestures, and verbal games to provoke someone int a fight. The rhetoric and the idiom is that of honor, but here the honor code is being used provocatively, not defensively; it provides an excuse for fighting while putting the onus on the other for having behaved outrageously and thus deserving the violence that follows.

Stand Your Ground laws are a script for wanton violence in which the aggressor and bully can provoke an outcome where the victim is somehow transformed into the guilty party.

In a society where whites are 350% more likely to be found innocent of killing black people under Stand Your Ground laws, and blacks are much more likely to be given the death penalty than whites, informal Southern codes of white manhood, honor, and racial violence now have the power and protection of law.

Historian and political scientist Glenn Feldman has written extensively about what he describes as the "Southernization" of American politics where the rise of the White Right, the Tea Party, and the Republican's "Southern Strategy" have had profoundly negative consequences for the country's civic culture. In keeping with Feldman's thesis, Stand Your Ground laws are exporting the South's culture of racialized violence and "honor" to the rest of the United States.

If advocates of Stand Your Ground have their way, all of America will be the new/old South. Is that a country which most Americans would want to live in?

The South is part of the United States; the South is a country within a country.

The Michael Dunn-Jordan Davis Stand Your Ground murder case has been the focus of a great deal of micro-level analysis. Dunn's racist letters and claims of "victim" status have been been highlighted as evidence of his racist intent towards Jordan Davis.

An interview with Dunn's neighbors exposed his sociopathic and rageful character. Jordan Davis's family has courageously shared how they have dealt with the horror of having their teenage son stolen from them by an impulse control lacking adult--and then how the same adult was found "not guilty" of committing murder.

What do we make of African-American young people, one of which who was on Dunn's jury, that have so profoundly and deeply internalized white racism that they excuse-make for white vigilantism?

And I have wondered about how black folks should deal with a de facto state of affairswherein Stand Your Ground laws act as legal permission for white people to shoot us dead in the street?

By contrast, there has been little if any discussion of the macro-level cultural motivations that drove Michael Dunn to shoot and murder an unarmed teenager, and to feel right and legitimate in doing so, because the latter's music was "offensive" and he dared to "talk back" to a white man.

History and context are important here. Stand Your Ground laws were birthed in the South and other parts of Red State America by the National Rifle Association and the Koch Brothersfunded Right-wing lobby group ALEC.

Zimmerman killed Trayon Martin in Florida. Dunn also killed Jordan Davis in Florida.

Florida saw the highest documented percentage of African-Americans lynched in the United States.

Red State America is the Confederacy reborn. One cannot marshal the language and imagery of the Confederacy (the Confederate flag is in fact the American Swastika) under the guise of the Republican Party without channeling its ugly history of racial violence and white on black racial tyranny. White supremacy is not a buffet of attitudes and values that can be cherry picked from at one's own convenience. No. White supremacy is a philosophy and lifeworld that colors and infuses all that it touches.

The white racism--and accompanying white on black street vigilantism--that is channeled and legitimated by Stand Your Grounds laws is part of this ugly legacy.

There has been extensive research about "Southern Culture" and its relationship to notions of "honor", "manhood", race, class, and violence.

For example, Whet Moser describes how:

The U.S. is simply much more violent than other developed countries. And the region that brings up the national average is the South...

It’s not exclusively Southern states with high assault-death rates; a third chart by Healy shows that some Western and Midwestern states have higher rates than some Southern states. But by region, the difference is dramatic.

This has been the case for many, many years, and many causes have been proposed: hot weather, economic disparity, the legacy of slavery and the Civil War. In 1996, four psychologists from Midwestern universities, led by UIUC’s Dov Cohen and Michigan’s Richard Nisbett, designed a lab experiment to test if Southerners were more prone to violence, and in particular violence stemming from a “culture of honor” endemic to the region.

They ran their subjects through a battery of tests designed to provoke: bumping the subject in a hallway, calling him an “asshole,” forcing a game of “chicken” in a hallway (anecdatally, I am more likely to bump rude people on the bus or sidewalk than my friends, and am also Southern), and other subtle manhood challenges. The researchers then took qualitative and quantitative data (emphasis mine)...

After provocation, Southerners were not only more angry on the outside, they were more angry on the inside, down to their neurochemistry. (The authors also theorize that Southern politeness could be a response to Southern aggression—if Southerners are more likely to take offense than other regional cultures, it follows they would be less likely to give offense, for safety’s sake.)

The South's regional culture of masculinity, honor, and violence was carried North (and elsewhere) by the series of "great migrations" of African-Americans during the twentieth century as they moved to escape Jim and Jane Crow:

What does this have to do with Chicago, and violence in Chicago?

In 1986, Nicholas Lemann wrote a lengthy, two-part series for The Atlantic on crime and poverty in Chicago. One of the things he encountered was just how Southern Chicago is:

"Although the migration ended in the early seventies – again, because jobs had become scarce in Chicago – there is still considerable movement back and forth, and the South is very much in the minds of black Chicagoans. Most of the very successful local blacks who are held up as role models are southern-born: Jesse Jackson (South Carolina), John H. Johnson, the owner of Ebony (Arkansas), Oprah Winfrey, the TV host who appeared in The Color Purple (Mississippi), Walter Payton, of the Chicago Bears (Mississippi), the Reverend Johnnie Colemon, the pastor of the biggest church in Chicago (Mississippi). [snip]

Black Mississippians go to Chicago too. Recently, at a student assembly of a black Catholic grade school in Canton [Mississippi], I asked the children how many had been to Chicago, and nearly every hand went up. Often they went for long visits with relatives in the summers. (How many want to live in Chicago when they grow up? I asked. No hands. Why not? An immediate chorus: “Too dangerous.") At one of Chicago’s worst high schools – Orr, on the West Side – I asked a class how many were born in Chicago. Almost everyone was. But almost everyone’s mother had been born in Mississippi. Many of the mothers of a class of eighth graders at Beethoven School, an elementary school whose students all live in the Robert Taylor Homes, were from Mississippi."

Part of Lemann’s thesis, not that he ignores the effects of segregation and concentrated poverty, is that the divide between city and backcountry was also brought north: “Every aspect of the underclass culture in the ghettos is directly traceable to roots in the South – and not the South of slavery but the South of a generation ago. In fact, there seems to be a strong correlation between underclass status in the North and a family background in the nascent underclass of the sharecropper South.” Lemann also found the opposite—a correlation between middle-class status in the nascent middle-class of urban Canton and mobility in the North.

Race is central to the South's culture of violence, manhood, and honor.

Moreover, race and racism involve a sense of "group position". White supremacy demands that non-whites, and blacks in particular, "know their place".

The South developed elaborate rituals and social conventions that ranged from segregated public facilities to the social norm that black people would step off the street if whites approached, avert their eyes to the ground, and assume a natural position of subordination relative to white people.

George Zimmerman's murder of Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida--a community that was once a "sundown town"--followed a Southern cultural logic that the black body was in a space where it did not belong. Thus, Zimmerman, a man who overly identifies with Whiteness and White Authority, felt empowered to stalk, confront, and kill Trayvon Martin.

Michael Dunn killed Jordan Davis because the African-American teenager, was to his eyes, disrespectful, arrogant, and "talked back". White privilege has socialized white male adults to expect a level of natural subordination and deference from (young) people of color. Michael Dunn's honor was insulted, and his sense of Southern white manhood infringed upon, because Jordan Davis did not follow his commands.

From the lynching tree, to the present with its Stand Your Ground laws, black "arrogance" is a "crime"--one punishable by death.

Dunn's perception of insult and "reasonable" threat from a black teenager who was "armed" with rap music echoes the research on interpersonal violence and how violent aggressors may actively try to provoke conflict in order to defend their perceived sense of honor.

Randall Collins' Violence: A Micro-sociological Theory offers a chillingly accurate description of the motivations driving white street vigilantes such as Michael Dunn and George Zimmerman--men who are now empowered by Stand Your Ground laws to kill:

The second source of evidence is that in honor code situations, individuals often go looking for trouble. They are not merely defending themselves against slights, peacefully minding their own business otherwise. These are precisely the scenes or recurrent situations where people are hyper-sensitive, where they do things to provoke others, to drive them to the edge. The typical micro-scenario of honor confrontations revealed in contemporary ethnography is where someone uses a repertoire of half-insults, insolent gestures, and verbal games to provoke someone int a fight. The rhetoric and the idiom is that of honor, but here the honor code is being used provocatively, not defensively; it provides an excuse for fighting while putting the onus on the other for having behaved outrageously and thus deserving the violence that follows.

Stand Your Ground laws are a script for wanton violence in which the aggressor and bully can provoke an outcome where the victim is somehow transformed into the guilty party.

In a society where whites are 350% more likely to be found innocent of killing black people under Stand Your Ground laws, and blacks are much more likely to be given the death penalty than whites, informal Southern codes of white manhood, honor, and racial violence now have the power and protection of law.

Historian and political scientist Glenn Feldman has written extensively about what he describes as the "Southernization" of American politics where the rise of the White Right, the Tea Party, and the Republican's "Southern Strategy" have had profoundly negative consequences for the country's civic culture. In keeping with Feldman's thesis, Stand Your Ground laws are exporting the South's culture of racialized violence and "honor" to the rest of the United States.

If advocates of Stand Your Ground have their way, all of America will be the new/old South. Is that a country which most Americans would want to live in?

The Prisoner's Dilemma is one of the most written about and studied "games" in the social sciences. It explores how "players" will choose to cooperate (or not) with one another. Economists have used it to model how buyers and sellers behave in the market. Experts in international relations use the Prisoner's Dilemma to explore how state actors could potentially respond to one another in a conflict or during negotiations. Social psychologists have studied the Prisoner's Dilemma in order to model human behavior and our propensity to cooperate with or betray one another.

Stand Your Ground Laws, and the legal murder of young black people such as Jordan Davis and Trayvon Martin by Michael Dunn and George Zimmerman, are a "real life" example of the Prisoner's Dilemma in action. Do two parties with limited to no information about one another choose to cooperate, defect, engage in "tit for tat" retaliation, or do they attack preemptively?

Dunn and Zimmerman were not acting in an information vacuum: they had two important data points. Their victims were black and male. Stand Your Ground empowered Dunn and Zimmerman to shoot first and ask questions later because they knew that the law would legitimate their murderous deeds.

In thinking through the Prisoner's Dilemma, there is an additional implication of the use of Stand Your Ground laws by white people (and those overly identified with Whiteness and White Authority). Should black and brown people, men in particular, apply a similar standard, acting preemptively based on the learned assumption that they will likely be shot dead by white men who claim "self-defense"?

Stand Your Ground laws have created a feedback loop of escalating violence.

To point.

As a black man living in the aftermath of the Dunn and Zimmerman trials (and the data suggesting the racial bias of Stand Your Ground in practice), I am afraid that a white person will use said defense to "reasonably" decide to shoot me because of the color of my skin. A rational actor who is a person of color would choose preemption and "winning" the "game" over "losing" and being shot dead.

There is a very limited issue space in the mainstream news media. The approved discourse does not include any acknowledgment of how black and brown people should for reasons both historic and contemporary be terrified of white violence. Whiteness imagines itself as neutral and benign. Consequently, white privilege blinds most white folks of the ability to critically self-reflect on such matters.

And because the mainstream media operates through, and is empowered by the white racial frame, it is unlikely--if not impossible--that it will entertain the following and obvious question: Should black people be reasonably afraid of white people given Stand Your Ground laws and a frightening rise in white racial animus and hostility in the Age of Obama?

The mainstream media will most certainly not ask if black men, when faced with a threatening situation across the colorline, should shoot white people first under the reasonable assumption that the latter means them serious harm under the Stand Your Ground laws.

During the Black Freedom Struggle's counter-insurgency campaign against Jim and Jane Crow and American Apartheid, there was a group of men known as the Deacons for Defense and Justice. These African-American military veterans provided armed security for Freedom Riders and other civil rights activists. They made it clear that they would shoot back if fired upon by white racial terrorists and their allies.

Stand Your Ground laws will force African-Americans to make a similar pronouncement if we are to be safe and secure in our person from white vigilantism. Such a claim would not be "black racism" or "reverse racism" as Right-wing bloviators and race-baiters would inevitably crow and announce to their low-information, propagandized, public.

Self-defense is in keeping with the basic citizenship rights of all Americans, in a liberal democratic polity, and can be traced back to the writings of the Framers, as well as foundational political philosophers such as Locke, Hobbes, Burke.

Stand Your Ground Laws, the concealed and open carry of weapons, and the court's protection of white street vigilantes are creating an explosive mix where civic virtue, self-interest, and common sense demand that people of color win the Prisoner's Dilemma of their lives by acting preemptively.

Black self-defense is the inevitable result of white violence. Ultimately, Stand Your Ground laws may have a consequence that is very different from the one imagined by its supporters on the White Right.

There was an ugly epilogue to that strange crime. A drunken Motlow shot and killed a conductor on a passenger train in 1924 and beat the murder charge through a crudely racist, and high-priced, defense strategy...

On March 17, 1924, after a visit here for a brief court appearance, Motlow had drinks with friends before heading to Union Station. He stumbled unsteadily onto the Louisville & Nashville night train for the trip home to Tennessee.

Sleeping-car car porter Ed Wallis asked Motlow for his ticket. He didn’t have one and became irate that Wallis, who was black, dared to challenge him. Conductor Clarence Pullis, who was white, intervened. As the train chuffed through the downtown tunnel toward the Eads Bridge, Motlow pulled a pistol and fired twice, striking Pullis once in the abdomen.

Pullis, of Kirkwood, died in a hospital in East St. Louis. Motlow was charged with murder.

In the era of Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis, and ominous Stand Your Ground laws, the above account is painfully familiar.

Now, consider the following:

Dunn has testified he described the music to his fiancee as "rap crap."

In the parking lot, as the music blared, "his blood started to boil; he didn't like the music that was coming out of the car next to him; he got angrier and angrier," Wolfson said.

Dunn rolled down his window and asked the youths to turn it down, which they did, but then turned it back up, Wolfson said.

"He got angry at the fact that a 17-year-old kid decided not to listen to him," she said, adding that Dunn then pulled a 9 mm gun out of his glove box and shot "systematically and methodically" at the SUV. "Nobody denied that Jordan was talking back. But this defendant took it upon himself to silence Jordan Davis forever."

The jury in the Michael Dunn-Jordan Davis trial has decided that Dunn is "not guilty" of murder.

The matter should have been a simple one: a man with a gun shoots and kills an unarmed teenager who was sitting in a car and playing loud music. Despite the claims by the shooter that the victim and the other young people he shot were "armed", no evidence of a weapon is found. Dunn then goes back to his hotel, walks his dog, relaxes, and does not inform the police that he shot at a vehicle and its occupants 10 times.

Of course, Stand Your Ground, what is a de facto licence to shoot and kill at will, is invoked by Dunn's attorney. Jordan Davis is a 17-year-old black teenager. Michael Dunn is a 47-year-old white adult. Once more, America's long history of state sanctioned white supremacist violence against black and brown people unfairly shifts the scales of justice.

Michael Dunn was found not guilty of murder: the legal system was not able to hurdle over the added doubt which exists whenever a white person is charged with killing a black person. Of course, somehow the latter had it coming, asked for it, or provoked their own end.

Michael Dunn was found not guilty of murdering Davis because he "felt threatened". Thus, the notorious Stand Your Ground laws offer him protection from the consequences of his actions. Moreover, the jury's decision is very much in keeping with the American social and legal precedents which have for centuries deemed black life cheap at the hands of white murderers, rapists, terrorists, and other human debris and miscreants.

There is a thread of connective tissue which runs from Trayvon Martin to Jordan Davis, President Obama, and black athletes such as Richard Sherman.

Martin was guilty of not being sufficiently deferent to a stranger with no legal authority who against police instructions chose to stalk and threaten him with a gun.

Obama has faced Birtherism, irresponsible obstructionism, and overt disrespect because he is not sufficiently compliant and deferent in the face of the Republican Party's neo Confederate white identity politics.

Sherman, a Stanford University graduate, was branded a "thug" because he dared to celebrate and tout his athletic prowess after a championship football game.

Jordan Davis was shot dead for being black, male, and having the nerve to "mouth off" to a white man:

On rebuttal, Assistant State Attorney John Guy appealed to the jurors' "common sense."
"That defendant didn't shoot into a car full of kids to save his life," he said. "He shot into it to preserve his pride. Period. That's why we're here."

Though Davis may have had a big mouth, he had no weapon, Guy said. Though he acknowledged minor inconsistencies in witness accounts, he said that was to be expected. "It's not like television," he said. "In real life, there are inconsistencies."

All four examples consist of black people--men and teenagers in particular--who have committed one of the greatest social offenses in a country where white supremacy was standing law, and where such rules still exist in many ways.

Their "crime"? For the White Gaze, Obama, Martin, Sherman, and Davis are "arrogant" and "uppity".

During Jim and Jane Crow, black men and women had to get off of the sidewalk and avert their eyes when white people approached. African-American communities were destroyed by white rampaging mobs because the very idea of black success, genius, and dignity was "offensive" to white sensibilities.

For the White Right and its authoritarian populism in the present, Barack Obama is guilty of the major offense that is being black and successful and President of the United States. For a black man to have such achievements is a triumvirate of success, one that is intolerable to the white supremacist ethos which drives the contemporary Republican Party, and the racially resentful human mediocrities who are attracted to its authoritarian populism and the psychological wages of whiteness such an association provides them.

Michael Dunn killed Jordan Davis because the latter was not sufficiently "respectful" towards a white man. The legal decision exists separate and apart from that basic fact.

Dunn is not alone in his distaste for "arrogant" negroes. History echoes.

Continuing with the 1924 murder trial of Lem Motlow:

Motlow testified that Wallis was arrogant. Using a racial slur, he said Wallis grabbed him by the throat. “I reached for my pistol,” Motlow said, “then somebody grabbed my hand from behind, and the pistol accidentally discharged twice.”

During closing arguments, Frank Bond, a defense lawyer from Nashville, repeatedly used racial slurs and said, “There are two kinds of (blacks) in the South. There are those who know their place ... and those who have ambitions for racial equality. ... In such a class falls Wallis, the race reformer, the man who would be socially equal to you all, gentlemen of the jury.”

Circuit Attorney Howard Sidener said, “This is not a case of North and South. ... This is a case of murder.” But the 12 white gentlemen quickly voted to acquit on Dec. 10. Said foreman Frederick Smith, “We didn’t believe the Negro.” Jurors shook hands with Motlow.

"Arrogant" and "uppity" black Americans continue to face sanctions and discipline at the hands of white people in post civil rights America. Michael Dunn's murder of Jordan Davis, and the jury's acquittal on that count, is a reminder of that social norm.

Stand Your Ground laws are but one more example of those practices--the legalese sounds much nicer and palatable than the raw truth that black people must always be compliant when faced with White Authority.

Critics have applauded The LEGO Movie as a tribute to individuality, childhood creativity, and a movie with enough "smart" popular culture references to please parents while the fun colors and high jinks engage younger viewers.

My opinion diverges from the movie's 95 percent positive rating on the film review website Rotten Tomatoes.

The LEGO Movie is one of the most ideologically conservative and sophisticated efforts at manipulating an audience (one that skews towards the young) in recent memory.

I am not surrendering to hyperbole for the sake of controversy or attention; I left The LEGO Movie feeling both frustrated and disgusted. The LEGO Movie is 1) a feature length commercial for overpriced toys, and 2) reinforces a lie about how in an era of Casino Capitalism that the corporation, democracy, and the self are somehow symbiotic, and can coexist in a positive relationship with one another.

The following observations about The LEGO Movie contain some mild spoilers.

1. Modern advertising works by creating a sense of emotional identification between the consumer and a product. The transition from the 1980s and early 1990s to the present emphasizes "individuality" and self-actualization as made possible by consumption. The marketing of Apple products is a master example of this practice wherein millions of people show their individuality through the purchase of a consumer good that they believe makes them "special" or "unique". Engaged and active citizenship is moved to the marketplace in the Consumer's Republic.

The LEGO Movie is a feature-length reinforcement of that ideology.

2. The LEGO Movie suggests that we are special and unique individuals by virtue of our existence. It is not our actions--positive or negative--that define our value. This is an ethos of what has come to be known as "snowflakes" and "I am special and unique and unlike any other" that has infected a whole cohort of young people, affectionately called the "Facebook Generation", who are afflicted with narcissistic personality disorder.

The LEGO Movie is smart and very self-aware: it transparently uses the above language in order to dismiss the critique as a means of legitimating its own ideology of pseudo-individuality through consumerism and conformity.

3. Huxley versus Orwell? Would power control the citizenry through the suppression of pleasure and information? Or would power instead overwhelm the public with stimuli, and thus create a society ungrounded from its own history? The LEGO Movie is a space where those conflicting strategies of social control are clearly and directly presented while offering a space for both possibilities.

4. Insincerity and hypocrisy. A huge global corporation creates a blockbuster film with a superficial narrative that argues for individuality all the while encouraging the viewer to find their individuality by purchasing its over-priced goods. Here a "radical" critique of conformity is actually an encouragement to consumerism and group think. In all, if you want to be "free" see The LEGO Movie and buy the toys.

5. Corporations begin to build relationships with their consumers when the latter are children, most impressionable, and when their psychological defenses are the most weak and vulnerable. The LEGO Movie is an example of that foundational concept in modern marketing and consumer psychology in practice.

The documentary The Corporation details the corporate-child-marketing strategy here.

6. Moreover, The LEGO Movie's themes of self-actualization through conformist individuality and consumerism also echo the claims made in the acclaimed BBC documentary The Century of Self regarding the rise of the citizen consumer democracy, the management of desire, and the self-help industry.

7. Fox News and the other parts of the Right-wing propaganda machine have attacked The LEGO Movie because it is "anti-business".

The propagandists in the Right-Wing echo chamber have either not seen the movie, are tethered to the lie of "the liberal media" and "Big Hollywood", or both. The LEGO Movie ends with a reconciliation between father and son that is sealed with a surrender to the corporation as the beating heart of the good society and a fulfilled and happy individual.

The hero of The LEGO Movie makes peace with and rehabilitates the "villain" by reminding him that the people need big business and corporations to make things so that consumers can improve those goods as a way of showing how they are "real" individuals.

Here, the individual is enhanced by the corporation. Moreover, to teach children and the public in an age of globalization, neoliberalism, and a Culture of Cruelty, that the Corporation is a person (one who is just misguided)--and that Main Street and Wall Street are allies--legitimates a broken society where the plutocracy's and banksters' power over the day-to-day lives of hundreds of millions of people is normalized and subsequently made into the natural and inevitable order of things.

There is no real freedom in the society and fantasy offered by The LEGO Movie: democracy is an illusion. The best that an individual can hope for is to self-actualize and fulfill their human potential by purchasing consumer goods from a global corporation.

Ultimately, The LEGO Movie is a dystopian exercise in the guise of an "innocent" and "positive" children's film. Its politics are dishonest. There is no liberation or agency to be found in the type of individuality suggested by The LEGO Movie. Instead, we are all citizens in a society where freedom is mistakenly conflated with the ability to buy things, and to find self-help validation through feature length toy commercials.

We find meaning through popular culture. It is a space where identities are negotiated and a society's values and beliefs are reinforced--as well as being subverted and challenged. Ultimately, popular culture is a projection of a society's collective subconscious.

As I have discussed here and elsewhere on numerous occasions--and with no small amount of controversy on the part of those who disagree with a basic thesis--popular culture is a space where political values and dominant norms around race, class, gender, and sexual are both reinforced and reproduced.

Popular culture is not "just" a fun distraction. Its power lies in the ability of individuals to dismiss it as "harmless", when in fact, popular culture is one of the dominant means through which individuals are socialized into a set of cultural and social values.

For example, The Walking Dead, which returns to television on Sunday night, is not "just" about zombies. Rather, the zombie motif is a way of working through anxieties about gender, nationality, freedom, human nature, survival, race, consumerism, faith, and other issues.

The HBO mini-series True Detective is a meditation on the place of religion in a nihilistic world, and where the story is set against the crippling poverty of rural New Orleans. Of note, careful viewers of True Detective have likely noticed how African-Americans are both invisible and hyper-visible in the story through the use of flashbacks as a narrative device.

I am particularly fascinated by how questions of race and representation remain present even in those spaces where individuals are seeking escape through popular culture and finding pleasure in creating alternate lives through traditional pen and paper role-playing games, having adventures in video games, engaging in speculative exercises of the imagination through literature and other media, or attending events such as The World Science Fiction Convention.

Discussions of how race and gender still "matter" in those "fun" and ostensibly "neutral" spaces are very impassioned. Why? Those spaces are "their" spaces. And how dare "you" bring "your" issues into "their" world.

White Supremacy and white privilege are operative across every aspect of American society. Ironically, fantasy--what should be detached and separate from the "real world"--is one of the spaces where Whiteness is most entrenched as an ideological force.

The fantastical spaces of video games, comic books, role-playing games, conventions, and other mediums/venues are not racially unmarked: there are "White" fantasies, "male" fantasies, and "straight" fantasies which are not universal...although they gain their power through a pretense and appeal to normality.

When the particular nature of a given fantasy is identified, its owners and adherents can become very defensive.

This dynamic is even more pronounced among those who imagine themselves as "outsiders" and somehow separate, if not superior to others, because of their choice in hobbies and interests. Self-described progressives, visionaries, futurists, and free-thinkers can be the most reactionary when confronted about how they too participate in and support systems of white privilege, racism, sexism, classism, and homophobia.

Relative invisibility is one of the most powerful and enduring aspects of white supremacy and Whiteness. This is accomplished through appeals to "common sense" and the language of "everyone" or "it's just normal".

If such assumptions are challenged, and the particular way that the white racial frame operates is exposed (as a myopic and narrow understanding of the world, and not one that is all encompassing and natural) an uncomfortable truth is made visible.

The roles for people of color (and the Other more generally) in White fantasies are limited and circumscribed. There is a defined script for non-whites as viewed through the White Gaze. Those roles are even more pronounced in the realm of fantasy and speculative fiction (both interactive and otherwise). The best works of speculative literature and art, both digital and traditional, subvert and challenge those norms by making them clear and present in the text. The common, those examples of popular culture that are the worst examples of what we can derisively term as "mass culture", simply take Whiteness and White fantasies as a given.

To point. There is a discussion over at Kotaku via the sites The Daily Dot and Medieval People of Color about the "historical accuracy" of an upcoming video game called "Kingdom Come: Deliverance" that would have non-white characters in Medieval and Renaissance era Europe.

The quest for a "historically accurate video game" is an oxymoron. This does not limit predictably racist responses such as this one.

The following comment is very revealing as well. While it strives for a reasonable reading of history, it too is steeped in a type of unconscious and taken for granted white privilege that does the work of White Supremacy:
   
Well, as a historian, a gamer, and a decent human being, I'm torn on this (although not at all torn on the reaction of the "Death to SJW" fellow, which was despicable and rude).

    There were quite a few people of black or Arabic decent in medieval Europe, especially after the early Crusading era, due to trade and the Christian kingdom of Jerusalem operating as a "cultural portal" between various peoples (and if any of you bring up Assassin's Creed as valid history, I'll find out where you live and . . . um . . . tie you up, and make you play only the Abstergo parts).

    Also Spain's Christians and Muslims were, while technically at war for over 750 years, living through long periods of relative peace, trade, and even intermarriage in some places. Despite what some (poorly researched) modern histories might indicate, the Spanish Inquisition did not remove the Muslims or Arabic-decent Christians from Spain in any significant amounts (although there were periods of deportment for some Jews and Muslims, while others left voluntarily; it wasn't a very friendly period to say the least).

    So, yeah, there could have been a decent amount of colored people in Bohemia, from a variety of sources.

    The problem is, they wouldn't be knights, nobles, or anyone else you're likely to encounter or care about in a video game where you play an action hero. They were usually monks or servants (or both), almost always second-class citizens (except in Spain), and sometimes isolated to their own communities.

    Moreover, it wouldn't be accurate to say they were a "common sight" in late medieval Northern Europe; while there are records of black and Arabic people mixing in society with white people, and being accepted as warriors, merchants, or any number of other professions, they were always the exception rather than the rule.

    So while it might be historically accurate to portray them as townspeople or religious brothers or sisters, being able to play as a black character or finding one sitting on a local throne or something isn't where I'd go if the goal were historical accuracy.

    But that said, there's more than enough leeway and historical "blind spots" in our knowledge to integrate people of African descents subtly into a game like Kingdom Come (Asians, Native Americans, and Subcontinent Indians, not so much).

The problem here is simple. Most white Europeans would not have been knights, nobles, or other social elites. White players will not be limited by such a fact. The fantasy of being high-born and a "hero" trumps how such circumstances were outliers. Why should black and brown players be limited by historical veracity and "accuracy" in a video game?

The public's cultivated ignorance about the interracial and cross-cultural contacts that typify human history is not surprising. There are Americans who still believe that Gone with the Wind is a documentary film. Undoubtedly, there are likely many more people who think that Rome was a "white" society, that Europeans were the only people to explore the world, and that anyone who was not "white" was sitting around waiting to be "discovered".

Eurocentrism has a crippling effect on a person's cognitive and intellectual abilities. It magnifies one's sense of security and importance. Eurocentrism does this through compelling lies that distort reality and the historical record.

Video games are not immune from the alluring intoxication of Eurocentrism. Video games are a powerful tool for political socialization. Those mediated fantastical realities are sites for teaching about history. There are "technologies" of race. Historically, these have included the printing press, "science", radio, and other types of mass media. Digital media is part of that trajectory: video games will reflect the complex tensions within a multiracial democracy, one that is very racially and class segregated on a day-to-day basis, with a self-consciously "integrated" popular culture, in a neoliberal moment, and where globalization is the norm.

Video games and other online digital media will be spaces for the macro and micro level aggressions known as cyber-racism. This is a mirror for America's (and the West's) public anti-racist turn after the civil rights moment and the end of World War 2. In the United States, formal White supremacy retreated to private spaces, and now hides behind "colorblindness" while marching under the banner of movement conservatism and the White Right in the United States. Anti-racism is a public norm. Yet, American society remains steeped in systems which sustain and support white race and class privilege.

The Age of Obama is a mixed, dynamic, and contradictory space for matters of racial justice and progress. Video games are reflections of that fact.

My hope is that the fantasies and adventures which we can live out through video games and other digital media can be more hopeful, forward, thinking, and radical than the present day "real world". Speculative texts should be a place for dreaming. The challenge for those who are racially privileged is to divorce themselves from a taken for granted assumption that their fantasies, and the worlds they inhabit, are necessarily those of others.

 

History still binds us to the present:

Five years after the inauguration of the first black president, racial inequality lives on, reproducing itself in a vicious cycle. Even if all discrimination were to end tomorrow, self-reinforcing racial disparities would continue, according to the new book “Reproducing Racism: How Everyday Choices Lock in White Advantage,” by USC Gould School of Law Professor Daria Roithmayr.

Roithmayr’s book focuses on racial gaps in housing, education and jobs—for example, Latino and black poverty rates are between 2.5 and four times the rate for whites, and black unemployment is double that of whites. Drawing on work in social network theory and other disciplines, Roithmayr argues that everyday choices recreate these racial gaps from one generation to the next.

“It’s really a racial ‘rich get richer’ story,” Roithmayr says. “It’s all about the power of networks.”

"Reproducing Racism" is an important book. I wonder if Barack Obama will be reading it?

In conversations about structural inequality and the "new" colorblind racism, one of the repeated themes is how inequality is largely reproduced through impersonal, macrolevel, decision-making processes. The old racism--what are now caricatures that remain nonetheless very dangerous--of KKK members, skinheads, and overt bigotry is an anachronism.

Here is the irony: as a society, Americans can (for the most part) claim victory over the most noxious and easily defined types of racist behavior in the public sphere. However, by focusing on the remnants of "old fashioned" racism, institutional and colorblind racism in the present is protected...if not nurtured.

President Obama will give his State of the Union Address in a few hours. He will say nothing radical or especially forward-thinking about wealth and income inequality. Moreover, wealth and income inequality in the United States is a stark reminder of the power of the colorline. It is no coincidence that African-Americans and Latinos have significantly less wealth and income than their white peers.

White wealth and black poverty was an intentional decision by white elites and policy makers from the founding of the United States until the end of Jim and Jane Crow. The destruction of inter-generational wealth for people of color, and the literal transfer of land, labor, cash, and capital to whites, was the nation's stated public policy. It was not an accident. American Apartheid was a system of racial exploitation by white society with the goal of economically marginalizing and oppressing people of color.

America has made great strides in the last five decades towards fulfilling its potential as a multiracial democracy.

Old habits and social structures still remain.

The author of "Reproducing Racism" continues:

For example, whites in well-paid jobs refer their friends for jobs, who in turn refer their friends and so on. White networks have more high-paid jobs; black and brown network contacts are more likely to be under- or unemployed. Likewise, affluent white neighborhoods finance their schools with their property taxes, providing students with richer learning experiences and opportunities. Those graduates go on to live in the same or equally affluent neighborhoods.

“It turns out that racial inequality persists because the old clichés are true: it does take money to make money, and it really isn’t what you know but who you know. Because racial disparities now run on automatic pilot, these gaps will continue even in the absence of intentional discrimination,” Roithmayr says.

Will affirmative action programs or an increase in school funding help to dismantle this cumulative inequality?

Unfortunately not, says Roithmayr. “Small reforms won’t help. I think racial inequality is probably locked in structurally at this point. Unless policymakers immediately take drastic steps, like rethinking how we finance public schools, pass along jobs or give our kids financial assistance when they’re starting out, these feedback loops will continue to reinforce existing racial gaps.”

The United States is extremely segregated: as such, the job and labor market is tiered by race, class, and gender. And for too many Americans, geography--the randomness of where one is born--over-determines life chances.

Those who have access to these networks are not "better at life", to borrow from the NFL player Richard Sherman, because of biology or breeding. Rather, they have access to opportunities that accrue material and social advantages over the course of a lifetime, advantages which can then be passed down to one's children, kin, and friends.

Public policy can impact the shape of social networks, neighborhoods, and opportunity structures. However, in the shadow of America's neoliberal nightmare, in the Age of Austerity, and with a president who has adopted a policy of incremental surrender and accommodation to the Republican Party, the types of innovative, race and class conscious policies that are needed to broaden access to economic opportunities for all Americans, will not be forthcoming.

Barack Obama, the country's first president who happens to be black, does not have the will or political capital to speak truth to power on such matters.

I worry that the American people will instead hear a version of the Scold-in-Chief who blames black people for the black-wealth income and wealth gap, offers up some corporate/neoliberal/privatization scheme to help "fix" failing local economies, and extols American exceptionalism as a solution to global economic policies that have sucked wealth out of the country's working and middle classes and siphoned it up to the 1 percent.

I do hope that I am wrong about President Obama's State of the Union Address.

Where is a white version of Don Lemon when we need him? A brave white man to lecture white women about their bad parenting skills, out of control libidos, and the rampant "bad" culture among White Americans, more generally?

Alas, what shall we do with the white women?

Heather Jensen left her two children unattended in an automobile so that she could sneak off and have sex with a man who is not her live-in boyfriend. Heather Jensen's two children died from heat exposure while their mother rutted with her Lothario. The deaths of William and Tyler were directly caused by their mother's negligence and lack of impulse control.

Ennisha Devers's child was video recorded in her home while he cussed and acted like a "thug". The video recording was shared by a local police organization that is concerned with how "the black poor" are raising their children, and as an example of a broken culture which produces criminals, thugs, and hooligans. Apparently, black toddlers who use profanity when prompted by adults will be incarcerated later in life.

A story about black "thug" toddlers prompts a national conversation. By comparison, a story about a white woman whose irresponsible behavior results in the deaths of her two children is an outlier, and passes without much comment from the national media.

For many otherwise smart, well-intentioned, and decent white people (and some others) white supremacy's intersection with white privilege exists as an abstraction. This is the very nature of privilege: it blinds those who possess and enjoy it.

In all, the disparate reaction by the news media--and the public-- to Heather Jensen and Ennisha Dever is a glaring example of how white privilege operates as a system of social relationships and beliefs, beliefs that in turn impact how people interpret the world around them.

Ennisha Devers's bad parenting was greeted with tens of thousands of comments on websites, coverage on national TV and radio, and debated on social media. These responses ranged from gross and ugly racist screeds against both Ennisha Devers and her child, to the "polite" bigotry which operates from assumptions that link black and brown people together with long-held stereotypes about African-Americans as irresponsible citizens, and more recent Right-wing talking points about black women as "welfare queens" who are drains on (white) society.

Heather Jensen's lethal choice to abandon her children in a car while she had sex elsewhere has been greeted with a mix of concern, anger at the mother's poor decision-making, and sympathy for how such an impulsive choice led to a tragedy.

Unlike in the case of Ennisha Devers and her swearing child, there is no mass clarion call, moral panic, or effort to generalize from Heather Jensen to white women as a group. Heather Jensen's race is not the center of the story; it goes unmentioned because Heather Jensen's identity as a white woman is framed as being irrelevant to the death of her children.

Black women are stigmatized both because of their race and their gender in American society. Moreover, white racism holds black women in a particular and almost unique type of contempt while simultaneously being fascinated with black women's bodies and sexuality. Ennisha Devers is a natural villain, one who is easily reduced to her gender and race by the White Gaze.

White privilege deems Heather Jensen, as it does when white people commit crimes--or other undesirable or socially deviant acts--to be an individual. There, Whiteness asserts its power to make white people into the ultimate individuals: the ill deeds of a given person who happens to be white are presented by the mass media and other elites as telling us nothing about "white people" as a group. To even suggest such a question, however pressing and important, is impolitic and howled at with cries of "reverse" or "anti-white" racism.

Black and brown people are not afforded such a luxury. They are a collective who do not enjoy the luxury of living in a society that views them as individuals, where the failures of some in their community are not assumed to be reflections on the character of all.

Arab Americans are stigmatized as terrorists because of the actions of a few people.

Hispanics and Latinos are "illegal aliens" until proven otherwise.

Black men are racially profiled for "stop and frisk" campaigns because some other nebulously defined "black male suspect" may or may not have committed a crime.

Black women whose babies are recorded cussing and acting like "thugs" are stand-ins for a exaggerated and grotesque depiction of the urban poor.

A white woman's kids are dead because their mother is irresponsible and reckless. There is no need for a national conversation about white women and their parenting skills.

A black mother's kid is recorded cursing. There is now an imminent need for a national conversation about "the failed black family".

White privilege is real. There will be no public debate or hours of time spent on TV or radio discussing Heather Jensen's behavior, and what the death of her children reveals about being "white" and "female" in America. Whiteness and white privilege provide a comforting type of anonymity for its owners. Whiteness is also the freedom to act badly and not have it reflect on other members of one's racial group.

The mothers of black "thug" babies are pilloried as a menace to society. White mothers whose babies die while the former has sex in a nearby car are racially unmarked, the ultimate individual, who simply made a bad choice and should be empathized with because of their loss.

Whiteness and white privilege combine to (once again) create a theater for the absurd.

 

This is an image of a 19th century wood engraving called "Slaves in Brazil: The Terrible Torture of a Slave", from 'Journal des Voyages'. It depicts a black slave being boiled alive above a huge cauldron.

The film 12 Years a Slave was a Disney version of the Maafa and the crimes against humanity visited upon black people during the centuries-long slave regime in the Americas.

No mainstream American film would dare to show the true range of white on black torture and cruelty that took place during slavery in the West because such depictions would not be believed by the general public: those deeds would be either described as "unrealistic" or diminished to the level of the "ridiculous" by the moniker "torture porn".

Alternatively, the White Right's media machine would convince its low information public--what are veritable human lemmings--that a movie which portrayed a black man being held over a boiling cauldron by white slavers is "anti-white", and that black torture is somehow an example of "reverse discrimination".

I would like to return to my earlier conversation about film critic Dana Stevens' recent essay at Slate magazine on the movie 12 Years a Slave. As I wrote here, white privilege damages the thinking process of otherwise decent white folks because it actually convinces them that they can alter empirical reality to fit their own priors.

In the case of Slate's Dana Stevens, white privilege and the white racial frame permitted her--in a natural and unthinking way--to assume that the autobiography upon with the movie 12 Years a Slave is based, must somehow be an "inaccurate" representation of anti-black violence by whites during the Southern slave regime in the United States.

As is common when white Americans are forced to confront the centuries of violence by "other" "white" people against people of color across the Black Atlantic, discussions about the past are transformed into default statements about the present.

Because Whiteness imagines itself as benign, any discussion of systemic racial violence against black and brown people is taken personally by many white folks. Because Dana Stevens imagines herself as a good person, the anti-black racism depicted in 12 Years a Slave must somehow be a distortion of the historical record. This is a very common cognitive and rhetorical deflection when white folks are confronted about their investment in, and relationship to, white privilege and white racism.

It is important to discuss Stevens' epic white privilege failure for a number of reasons. First, with 12 Years a Slave's nomination for a number of Oscar awards, questions about the film's veracity, as well as the public memory and history surrounding slavery in America, will once again bubble up in the public discourse.

Second, Dana Stevens enjoys a privileged position as a major film critic. With this position comes a responsibility to make a fair effort at telling the truth.

As such, modesty serves the goal of intellectual honesty. "I don't know" or "perhaps I should learn more" are fair questions. They are the beginnings of knowledge. Unfortunately, as is common when matters of race and the color line are discussed, intuition and unfounded claims are elevated to the level of rigorous fact-finding, scholarship, research, and expertise.

With a basic online search of the many reliable resources available from the Smithsonian, the Digital History Project, or the public archives hosted by universities and colleges around the world, Stevens could have learned a great deal of information, information which would have hopefully forced a reconsideration of her misguided conclusions about how the movie 12 Years a Slave "unrealistically" depicted the white on black racial tyranny of American slave society.

On Twitter, Stevens opined that she does not understand the negative response to her views about the movie 12 Years a Slave.

My criticism is based on how a combination of intellectual laziness and myopic Whiteness led Dana Stevens to minimize the suffering of black people during slavery because such a fact is inconvenient for her cognitive and emotional worldview.

For example, in her writing about the film 12 Years a Slave, Stevens suggested the following:

But when the white overseers and masters—particularly Fassbender’s red-bearded supervillain, but to a lesser degree the figures played by Paul Dano, Paul Giamatti, and Benedict Cumberbatch—show up, there’s sometimes the hint of a prurient horror-movie vibe that can feel exploitive. I felt this when Dano’s rather theatrically vile character sang that hideous “Run, nigger, run” song in close-up. Or in the many scenes when Fassbender (who, on a second viewing, I find to be laying it on a little thick) wanders his plantation with a bottle in hand, circling like a predator, looking for someone to humiliate and abuse.

Contrary to Stevens' delusions, the historical record would seem to suggest that the slave owners and their overseers were capable of a great amount of mercurial and wanton cruelty. As a rebuttal to Stevens' White Gaze, abolitionist, former slave, and novelist William Brown described his own experience as human property in the following way:

My mother was hired out in the city, and I was also hired out there to Major Freeland, who kept a public house. He was formerly from Virginia, and was a horse- racer, cock- fighter, gambler, and withal an inveterate drunkard. There were ten or twelve servants in the house, and when he was present,it was cut and slash- - knock down and drag out. In his fits of anger, he would take up a chair, and throw it at a servant; and in his more rational moments, when he wished to chastise one, he would tie them up in the smokehouse, and whip them; after which, he would cause a fire to be made of tobacco stems, and smoke them. This he called "Virginia play."

Contrary to Dana Stevens' complaint about the "theatrically vile" white characters in 12 Years a Slave, Brown's master would then torture him:

Major Freeland soon made his appearance, and took me out, and ordered me to follow him, which I did. After we returned home I was tied up in the smokehouse, and was very severely whipped. After the major had flogged me to his satisfaction, he sent out his son Robert, a young man eighteen or twenty years of age, to see that I was well smoked. He made a fire of tobacco stems, which soon set me to coughing and sneezing. This, Robert told me, was the way his father used to do to his slaves in Virginia. After giving me what they conceived to be a decent smoking, I was untied and again set to work.

Such cruelty was not the lone "right" of white men who owned black human property. White women also wickedly enjoyed the violence and power to make black people suffer. Perhaps, this depiction of white women as equally (if not more so in some cases) invested in white racial tyranny was upsetting to Dana Stevens' understandings of self? Thus, she was mute in her review/critical essay about the cruelty of the white female antagonist in the movie 12 Years a Slave?

Lewis Clarke explained the suffering he endured from the white woman who owned him as human property:

[My mistress's] instruments of torture were ordinarily the raw hide, or a bunch of hickory- sprouts seasoned in the fire and tied together. But if these were not at hand, nothing came amiss. She could relish a beating with a chair, the broom, tongs, shovel, shears, knife- handle, the heavy heel of her slipper, or a bunch of keys; her zeal was so active in these barbarous inflictions, that her invention was wonderfully quick, and some way of inflicting the requisite torture was soon found.

One instrument of torture is worthy of particular description. This was an oak club, a foot and a half in length, and an inch and a half square. With this delicate weapon she would beat us upon the hands and upon the feet until they were blistered. This instrument was carefully preserved for a period of four years. Every day, for that time, I was compelled to see that hated tool of cruelty lying in the chair by my side. The least degree of delinquency, either in not doing all the appointed work, or in look or behavior, was visited with a beating from this oak club. That club will always be a prominent object in the picture of horrors of my life of more than twenty years of bitter bondage....

Mrs. Banton, as is common among slave- holding women, seemed to hate and abuse me all the more, because I had some of the blood of her father in my veins. There are no slaves that are so badly abused, as those that are related to some of the women, or the children of their own husband; it seems as though they never could hate these quite bad enough.

Centuries of slavery across the Black Atlantic involved the murder of millions of black people in the service of White Empire. Black bodies were objects of violence, profit, terror, and pleasure for white slaver owners--and broader white society. The black body was an item and a capital good worth trillions of dollars. Violence, through its threat and practice, was the primary way that white society tried to control black human property in the West. Once more, white privilege deems such facts inconvenient and uncomfortable for Dana Stevens, as she writes:

I guess, simply put, I’m just not sure I’m down with body horror as a directorial approach for a movie on this subject. After a certain point it seems to serve more to shut out (and gross out) the audience than to make them think, feel, and engage.

The experience of violence rendered on the black body is something that should be massaged or perhaps omitted because it does fit within Stevens' Whiteness fueled wish for how she would like a black director to depict the suffering of other black people. Stevens wants a lie of history to be told, one that makes her feel safe and secure.

In such a dreamworld, in which black suffering during slavery in the West would be (quite literally) white washed, there would be no filmic or other accounts of sexual violence by white slave owners--and other white folks so empowered by their social position--against black people.

Accounts of white slave owners gang-raping black women (and men) should also not be discussed. And what of how white slave owners would sexually abuse, participate in sex orgies, attempt human breeding experiments as though African-Americans were livestock, and watch black slaves have sex with one another in arrangements as deemed by the white master of the plantation, and for the latter's pleasure?

Sam and Luisa Everett's harrowing tale of their lives as former slaves in Virginia as told to the Works Project Administration in 1936 does not fit neatly with how Whiteness and the white racial frame imagines the happy ol' slave plantation:

On this plantation were more than 100 slaves who were mated indiscrimi-nately and without any regard for family unions. If their master thought that a certain man and woman might have strong, healthy offspring, he forced them to have sexual relation, even though they were married to other slaves. If there seemed to be any slight reluctance on the part of either of the unfortunate ones, “Big Jim” would make them consummate this relationship in his presence.  

He used the same procedure if he thought a certain couple was not producing children fast enough. He enjoyed these orgies very much and often entertained his friends in this manner; quite often he and his guests would engage in these debaucheries, choosing for themselves the prettiest of the young women. Sometimes they forced the unhappy husbands and lovers of their victims to look on.

Louisa and Sam were married in a very revolting manner. To quote [Louisa]:

“Marse Jim called me and Sam ter him and ordered Sam to pull off his shirt that was all the McClain niggers wore and he said to me: Nor, ‘do you think you can stand this big nigger?’ He had that old bull whip flung acrost his shoulder, and Lawd, that man could hit so hard! So I jes said ‘yassur, I guess so,’ and tried to hide my face so I couldn’t see Sam’s nakedness, but he made me look at him anyhow.”

“Well, he told us what we must git busy and do in his presence, and we had to do it. After that we were considered man and wife. Me and Sam was a healthy pair and had fine, big babies, so I never had another man forced on me, thank God. Sam was kind to me and I learnt to love him.”

Various tortures, such as how slaves were forced to sit naked on ant hills, or their mouths filled with feces as a punishment for insolence, would be stricken from the historical record because they could make Dana Steven and other white folks (and some people of color) who are similarly inclined feel uncomfortable.

The physical dismemberment of runaways slaves would also be eliminated from the popular accounts and memory of the slaveocracy in the Americas because such accounts are upsetting to tender (white) sensibilities. In a movie about the enslavement of Black Americans as directed or written by Dana Stevens there would most certainly not be a moment such as this one:

The day for the execution of the penalty was appointed. The Negroes from the neighboring plantations were summoned, for their moral improvement, to witness the scene. A powerful blacksmith named Hewes laid on the stripes. Fifty were given, during which the cries of my father might be heard a mile, and then a pause ensued. True, he had struck a white man, but as valuable property he must not be damaged. Judicious men felt his pulse. Oh! he could stand the whole. Again and again the thong fell on his lacerated back. His cries grew fainter and fainter, till a feeble groan was the only response to his final blows. His head was then thrust against the post, and his right ear fastened to it with a tack; a swift pass of a knife, and the bleeding member was left sticking to the place. Then came a hurrah from the degraded crowd, and the exclamation, "That's what he's got for striking a white man." A few said, "it's a damned shame;" but the majority regarded it as but a proper tribute to their offended majesty....

White privilege is a type of drug. White privilege, and its associated practices of white racism, white supremacy, and the white racial frame, are powerful intoxicants.

The white supremacy of slavery across the Black Atlantic, and then decades of segregation, as well as Jim and Jane Crow, were systems of racial tyranny. Human beings with near absolute power over others, and where that power is legitimated by the state and society through fictions of human racial difference, legitimates and rationalizes cruelty.

As gently depicted by the film 12 Years a Slave, the logical assumption should be that such power naturally encourages abuse and exploitation. Race and arbitrary distinctions of skin color are means of legitimating such a social order.

Race has nothing to do with the cruelties meted out by white society against black human property for at least four centuries across the Black Atlantic; in a paradox, race has everything to do with the cruelties meted out by white society against black human property for at least four centuries across the Black Atlantic

As shown by her thoughts regarding the film 12 Years a Slave, Dana Stevens, and others who are similarly possessed by white privilege, makes an error in assuming that the white on black (and brown) cruelty of slavery (as well as colonialism and imperialism) are outliers or unusual conditions that require extraordinary and extreme proofs of existence. This is an absurd claim, one that stands as an extreme outlier when compared to the overall violent grotesqueness of human history.

Thus, and again, white privilege is shown to be a type of cognitive narcissism, one that hurts white people ethically, morally, and intellectually.