Archive for October 2007

Where’s the Happy Ending?

October 31, 2007

Jason Prothero leaves a pretty good comment on the Barometer and Blackface post, and I wanted to address it with its own post.

First of all, Jason, thanks for the comment. Let’s see what’s going on:

I guess I’m saying that the normal person who goes to Beaver games doesn’t think of that as a first thought.

Why is ignorance of this historical fact normal? Is it not worth knowing? If it’s not, how do you justify that? I agree with you that most people don’t necessarily know about blackface, but there is certainly a reason for that. Is that reason, whatever it is, a good one? Or does – as I think – that reason have to do with a historically white-centric curriculum in schools and a tendency to marginalize the suffering of people of color?

I think here something has to be said about intent. Clearly the intent had nothing to do with racism. Once they know people are offended it should stop. And of course being ignorant to it is no excuse, but intent should be in there somewhere.

I have noted elsewhere that while intent is important (indeed, most of the arguments defending the presence of black facepaint hinge on intent), I think effect (or how the action is received and understood) is also incredibly important.

Imagine this response to the Baro’s running of the photo and the Facebook group:

1. The photo and Facebook stuff appear.

2. Someone points out how the image and idea reference a piece of history that’s maybe not worth emulating – i.e. blackface and minstrel shows.

3. Proponents of black facepaint read the provided links and hold a discussion on Facebook, in person, and in the pages of the Barometer as to why they want to use black facepaint, and how they are very conscious of what it means and intend no disrespect. They request to hear the opinions of others, making sure to listen to the comments of people of color.

At this point it can go two ways:

4a: The discussion is great, and the folks who raised the issue in the first place understand that those folks painting their faces black understand and respect the history behind. Perhaps black facepaint at OSU games takes on a whole new meaning, one that honors and respects the history in question. Or perhaps the idea is dropped and orange facepaint is used.

4b: The discussion doesn’t go so well, and the objections to black facepaint stand. Some folks still use it, but some don’t, understanding how it’s hurtful towards others.

Frankly, I’d have been happier with either outcome, because they both involve an element of learning about why this is an issue. Instead, we get comments on Facebook that are pretty clearly racist and reveling in their ignorance, or simply claim that since “I” don’t see the problem, no one else should either (which is really not that different from reveling in one’s ignorance).

No wonder people are upset – it’s not that it happened (though certainly I am of the opinion that it should not have) but that the (mostly) white folks who are doing this have refused to listen to any dissenting voices, and indeed have been pretty effective in marginalizing them.

Sounds like you’re reaching a bit. They should apologize, not encourage that behavior again and use it as a learning experience. No need to take it too far.

Agreed – except that in the case of many of the Facebook folks and the comments left on the Gazette-Times website, there are few if any apologies or acknowledgments. Instead, there are lots of complaints that people should just “stop whining and get over it.”

What is too far? In this case, it appears that too far is asking for white folks to do some learning and perhaps admit to a mistake.

Compare that to these suggestions (if you want some that maybe “go too far”: Black facepaint should be banned from games, the Beavers should stop wearing black entirely, the editor, advisor and all other staff responsible for the photo should be fired, the students who wear black facepaint and/or leave racist comments on Facebook should expelled or forced to take a class on racism… I could go on, but you get the point. I have yet to hear anyone advocating any of these suggestions.

What’s being asked of white people is not a lot, not really. And yet some of us still react like it’s the end of the world.

Say hello to white privilege.

And Jason – I have read Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States cover to cover. For the record =)


Hering, Evidence, and Assertions

October 31, 2007

I couldn’t resist noting a little problem this Hering editorial: There is zero connection to the problem at hand and Hering’s conception of a solution. In fact, I’d say his characterization of the “problem” is, in fact, a problem itself.

Let’s see exactly what Hering says…

Here is the problem:

An anthropologist at the University of Oregon has told state Superintendent Susan Castillo that research has shown that the display of Indian stereotypes, no matter how positively they might be intended or regarded by white people, damages the self-esteem of Indian students, even if they don’t admit it.

(My only comment: Of course – even positive stereotypes create impossible expectations on behavior.)

Here is Hering’s solution:

One way may be to end the official status of tribes as “nations” that always need help, and of their members and descendants as protected minorities. If people are told all the time they need special help and treatment, fragile self-esteem might not come as a big surprise. (hh)

Does anyone else see the incredibly gigantic disconnect between his assertion and the evidence he offers?

The mascots in question – Warriors and other “positive” stereotypes of Native Americans – bear absolutely no resemblance to what Hering describes as the state of affairs regarding Native Americans. In fact, the evidence Hering does cite – the study that found that all stereotypes are damaging – sort of disproves Hering’s point entirely by showing that even if Native Americans had a solid material existence and were confronted with positive stereotypes, they would still be faced with what Hering calls “self-esteem” issues.

This is, of course, to say nothing of how shitty it is to suggest that the real problem is that Native folks just have “low self esteem” and that if, as Hasso suggests, those stupid Indians just suck it up, we could all go on and enjoy our white-supremacist mascot traditions.

I wonder if Hering has any idea how incredibly deprived, bigoted and racist this editorial is.

David Brooks Finally Gets to the Mid-90s

October 30, 2007

I realized this years and years ago; can I write for the NYT editorial page now?

Until that moment, I had thought that the magic of the information age was that it allowed us to know more, but then I realized the magic of the information age is that it allows us to know less. It provides us with external cognitive servants — silicon memory systems, collaborative online filters, consumer preference algorithms and networked knowledge. We can burden these servants and liberate ourselves.

Hey Newsweek, WTF?

October 30, 2007

Reading a paper copy of Newseek, I came across a section with the title “The Dignity Index.” This purports to rate a particular event of the last week on a scale of 1 to 100, with 1 being “mildly tacky” and 100 being “utterly shameless.”

Setting aside for a minute how judgmental and un-journalistic this is, I was a little shocked by the particular items listed in the Index and how they were rated.
From the online edition:

Texas Judge Sharon Keller refuses to keep her court open an extra 20 minutes so lawyers could fix a computer glitch and file a death-row appeal. Hours later, the inmate was executed.
Score: 32

A bittersweet buh-bye to Sen. Larry Craig. Your three-week reign of shame (for ruining Idaho’s Hall of Fame ceremony just by showing up) is over. You’ve been bested. Or worsted.
Score: 73

Pandering for votes, lifelong Yankee fan Rudy Giuliani does the unthinkable: he’s rooting for the Red Sox in the World Series. So wrong on so many levels, we’re speechless.
Score: 95

What the hell? A judge refusing to wait 20 minutes to give a human being a chance to live rates a 32, and a New Yorker rooting for the Red Sox rates a 95?

Fuck You, Newsweek.

On the Barometer Editorial Regarding Blackface etc.

October 29, 2007

I have gone back and forth regarding this editorial all weekend.

On the one hand, I’m very glad to see the Baro address the issue at all. This incident involved not a columnist but a staff decision, so I can’t say I’m all that surprised (but yes, still somewhat surprised) at the choice to cover the issue in some fashion.

On the other hand, I think it’s kind of a weasely editorial. Let me explain.

The editorial starts with this:

We’ve spent a week talking about it, and it’s created quite a stir on campus. The editorial board of The Daily Barometer felt that the matter required more than just simply running the column submitted by staff columnist Renée Roman Nose.

A few weeks ago, we ran a news story that included a graphic of a college-aged male wearing all black. He was also wearing black face paint. This graphic was designed in the name of school spirit, but it didn’t come off that way to some members of our campus community.

It came off as offensive. It could be seen as a throwback to minstrel-era comedians mocking African heritage.

We explain this not in ignorance, but in order to pose a question.

A few things:

1. In the first paragraph, they note that they felt a greater response was needed than just Renee’s column, but that doesn’t explain why they held her column. We’ll return to that decision later in the editorial.

2. They note that they are not explaining why the blackface is offensive out of ignorance – whose ignorance? It seems clear that the Baro staff was ignorant about this issue since they ran the photo in the first place. The ignorance of the reader? Well, if OSU students are so busy defending the black facepaint on Facebook, then it seems they are a wee bit ignorant as well. So – who is ignorant, again?

That sentence sounds like a way to weasel out of taking responsibility for the staff’s own ignorance.

Moving on:

More than a week after this story ran in The Daily Barometer, Roman Nose submitted a column explaining and apologizing for the misdeed that the staff of the Barometer had perpetrated.

In literal shock and dismay that we hadn’t heard about this issue before our columnist submitted something she intended to have printed, we chose – as an editorial board – to hold her column until further notice.

Holding Roman Nose’s column was not a decision made to silence the voices of those offended. It was not a decision made to hide the something we did wrong.

It was a decision made so that we could appropriately and accurately respond to the campus community – with the opinions of Barometer staff members, community members and especially the opinions and understanding given to us by Renée Roman Nose.

OK. So the Baro’s editorial board held the column because they were caught by surprise – due to their ignorance – and wanted to have a chance to formulate a response before they ran her column.

That’s weaselly. And kind of pathetic. Again, we have a suggestion that the Baro staff was ignorant about what they did, reluctant as they may be to admit it. Second, we have a pretty sad use of their power: They held Renee’s column because it would make them look bad, and they wanted a chance to come up with some sort of response before it was printed.

If I, as a columnist or reader, or as a subject of a news story, were to be in the same position, it’s highly unlikely that the Baro would extend the same offer to me. I think this was a case of panicked CYA, and a shameful one at that, since the Baro’s learning from Roman Nose’s column hinged in no way on whether or not it had been printed. Better the Baro print her column when she submitted it and deal with the fact that they fucked up, stepping into the conversation when they learned enough to have something useful to say.

Also, the fact that they did not hear about this issue before the column’s submission suggests a few things:

One, that they don’t have any connections to the communities that get upset about things like racism on the front page, the implications of which are not good, since the communities were likely people of color and their anti-racist allies and friends.

Two, that people in said communities did not go the Baro staff with their concerns. Speaking from experience, I can safely suggest that this is the case because the Baro has historically been very unwelcoming to anyone the hyper-cliquish staff deems outsiders. Outsiders, of course, being anyone who is not friends with the staff.

Next, the editorial contains of the lamest statements I’ve ever heard:

Members of the community have asked how it is possible that we could have completely missed the boat on how that was offensive.

To this we ask, couldn’t that be a good thing that the era of offensive mockery is now far enough behind us that it was not present in our active memory?

Could you display your privilege any more prominently? It’s not quite inducing vomiting yet. But it’s close.


Here’s what I heard: “Isn’t it a good thing we are so privileged to have no knowledge of blackface?”

Never mind the fact that every other year, some dumbshit fraternity makes national news for hosting a blackface party. That’s just news – and why would the members of a newspaper’s editorial board want to keep up on something as useless as news?

Or how about this: “Isn’t it a good thing we are ignorant of this aspect of the history of racism in America?”

For fuck’s sake, Baro. Just because you know something about history – be it blackface or the Armenian genocide of 1915 – does not mean you endorse or condone said historical fact.

Also, that is a profoundly anti-intellectual argument in that it portrays ignorance of history as a good thing. Coming from a newspaper located on a college campus, that’s kind of….bad.

The fact that the editorial employs that poor of an argument shows just how badly they are grasping at any excuse not to own their ignorance on this one.

The editorial closes with a plea:

After a week of pondering and asking ourselves what the correct response would be, we understand the correct response is to open our minds, open our doors and hear what our campus is telling us. We understand that an apology for the unintentional offense was necessary.

Promoting a culture of fear and lack of inclusiveness goes against the lessons learned in difference, power and discrimination courses and the lessons we accumulate as contributing members of the campus community.

It is important for a thriving student media that all students participate in the conversation. Please, write a letter to the editor. Stop and visit the Barometer office. Give us a call.

We actually do want to hear what we do wrong. We want to improve as we strive to act professionally in working toward career goals.

I am of two minds about this.

On the one hand, I do not want to discard what I think is a genuine request on the Baro’s part. This represents an opportunity for growth and learning, and that’s good. I hope students take them up on this.

On the other, the Baro is constantly inviting people to come talk to them…. but they almost always fail to listen.

The Baro staff, in my experience, has always been a closed clique of people. I’m certainly not the only person to notice this. So historical experience makes me very skeptical of this newfound desire for openness.

Overall, I think the editorial was pretty poor on reasoning and responsibility. While it officially apologized, it tripped over itself to avoid any sort of blame (and perhaps the attendant consequences?), and it shows a dangerous lack of understanding on the relevant issues.

Plus, the decision to hold Roman Nose’s column comes across – and was – a poor move designed almost solely to cover their collective asses.

The Baro needs to do better.

Another Inconvenient Truth?

October 29, 2007

Loathe as I am to say it, I think that last comment on this post over at LT’s place has just enough truth to it to make it worth noting:

It is interesting to me that this blog is titled Lebanon for Truth and Reconciliation… and yet no part of this bitter, back bitting, “truthful” blog (and it’s comments) are doing anything to bring reconciliation. I both agree and disagree with many of the comments posted for various reasons but as anyone I have discussed this blog with points out, regardless if the points are valid THIS blog has stirred up MORE controversy and anger than was already there (which was NOT what we needed) so LT I suggest if you want to continue on your crusade for Truth… leave out the reconciliation title because you are far from bringing that about.

While I don’t think LT’s blog is “backbiting” or bitter”, I do think that at times, the content of the blog runs at odds with the blog’s title (whereas, obviously, this blog’s title of Rhetorical Wasteland is a good indicator that I babble on and on without saying anything interesting; take note). Even given the obvious historical reference – South African Truth and Reconciliation Commissions, in which people were given amnesty for admitting to crimes committed while SA was under apartheid – I definitely expected LT’s blog to be more…. positive? Is that the word?

On the other hand, I appreciate that LT is a critical thinker, and I appreciate the urge to get rumors out into the open. But ultimately, I think that the tone present in LT’s writing is often more abrasive than the content, which I think leads to people overlooking said content and being dismissive based on tone.

Or something.

This has been your incoherent post of the day.

Meta – Leaving Links in Comments

October 29, 2007

I have discovered that links left in comments as text (i.e. not embedded) don’t work for some reason – Blogger cuts them off at the width of the comment section. So if you can, please leave them using HTML tags. Thanks.