Sunday, April 29, 2007

The Weekend of a Political Junkie

I had a pretty good weekend filled with a lot of political activity. I started off on Friday night at a Fundraiser for one of my favorite Congressman. I then hit the trolley tour to stump for one of the mayoral candidates.

Saturday, I did some canvassing and went to a crawfish boil, where three of my current political candidates were in attendance. (Jim, you need a website.) I talked politics (and Nascar?) with a lot of people over the course of the weekend, and I could talk politics all the time.

Then tonight, I read this on MSNBC. Hillary announced that if she is elected, she would make my favorite President "a roaming ambassador to the world, using his skills to repair the nation's tattered image abroad." That is so awesome. I was hoping that she would give her husband an important task in her hypothetical administration - the way that she had a strong role in his. Plus, it is just another thing that will piss off all of those Clinton haters. Of course, she could say that she was going to keep him in a closet for four years and they would still be pissed off, so she might as well get some use out of him.

It almost makes me want to vote for her.

But, back to the point of me telling you the details of my weekend. It was a great weekend to be a politically connected person. There was everything that makes this job great - personal contact with voters, fundraising, talking issues with educated people. This is why I do what I do. So, thanks to all of you who helped me do what I do by doing what you do. You made the weekend fun.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Prayer Request

Please keep Margo's papaw and his family in your prayers. He's in the hospital again and his kidneys and other organs are failing.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

My Secret Identity

Since we are in the business of outing bloggers, I thought I'd come clean and give up my mask and cape. The West Tennessee Liberal you know and love is really... John Willingham. Yup. That's me. The ole iconoclastic also-ran himself. Ignore that part where it says David Holt under this post. That was just to cover my tracks.

In other news, I will return to blogging just as soon as finals end (May 4th, although that is followed by the law review competition, which should be slightly less hectic.) I have missed blogging the past few months, I will have a lot of pent-up-egotistical-rants to let loose. Be ready...

And since I am in District 89, I felt compelled to mention how weird this race might be for a special election in Memphis. Jeannie is talking about qualifications and background. Kevin is talking about issues. They're both having events in the district. I thought I was just supposed to vote based on race, gender, and last names. Now I'm confused.

I haven't seen a webpage for Jeannie yet. Let me know if she has one. Kevin has a webpage and an issue-based blog. Check them out.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007


Sorry that I have been gone for awhile, but I have been a little uninspired lately, and wasn't sure what to write about.

So many things have happened since my last post, and it seems like my fellow bloggers say what I want to say, only better.

I wish I could talk about the Virginia Tech tragedy, the Supreme Court's ridiculous ruling on late term abortions, or even what I should expect from my elected officials as well as my friends (y'all are my friends, right?) do, but I just haven't gotten fired up enough to tackle any of those subjects.

The thing that is pissing me off right now is that one of my really good friends is being attacked for no reason other than a personal grudge, and it isn't right.

I have known Kevin for over ten years. We worked together in 1996 when then Senator Steve Cohen decided to run for Congress the first time. I am sure I knew him before then, but that is when our friendship started. After the 1996 campaign, I didn't see him regularly. Every now and then he would be on the news speaking for Mayor Wharton or I would see his name in the paper, and it would make me smile.

During the 2006 Congressional race, I worked with Kevin every day. I saw the sacrifices - both personal and professional - that he was making to make sure Steve Cohen was elected to Congress. Anyone who says that Kevin did not give his heart and soul during that campaign (or any other campaign he has worked on) is a liar. I would not have made it through the entire campaign if Kevin hadn't been there to help me.

Last night, I was at a fundraiser for Kevin, and I sat and watched as a group of former interns, two former chairs of the Shelby County Democratic party, friends, family, and others came to show their support and lend a hand with the campaign. The kind of loyalty Kevin inspires is amazing, and I can only hope that the voters in District 89 make the right choice and elect Kevin to work as hard for them in Nashville as he has worked here.

So, here is what I need you to do. If you can afford it, give Kevin some money. If you can't, come volunteer with the campaign. If you live in District 89, vote for him. Memphis will be well represented by Kevin Gallgher - we just need to work together to make it happen.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

We Need This Conversation

I always knew there were a lot of you lurkers out there. Now I really know it. The Site Meter shows a blogger all sorts of interesting information about site traffic. What I can tell is that in the last week, there have been a whole lot of site visits and page views (views of specific blog entries) on the blog. In fact, the site meter projects that, based on the traffic over the last hour, there will be 6 site visits over the next hour, 312 over the next day, 2,160 over the next week and 4,320 over the next month. Contrast that with, based on the traffic over the last month, 4 in the next hour, 88 in the next day, 608 in the next week and 2,635 in the next month.

And that's way down from where the site traffic was last weekend when I last posted about racism.

I'm glad these posts on racism are being read. But I'm sad that it's not a conversation. Because that's what we need. What a week, too, for differing national news stories framed by race: Don Imus' flameout (no tears here) and the Duke lacrosse players' vindication of innocence.

I'll be gone again until next week, so thanks for reading and, as always, feel free to comment. But at this point I'm not holding my breath.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Memphis Enslaved - The Politics of Resignation

These recent posts on racism have been visited just today by people from Memphis, Vermont, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Reno, Mobile, Seattle, Nashville, Des Moines, Denver, Delhi, etc. For those of you in Memphis who are reading these posts - and the site meter tells me there are a lot more of you visiting the site than for months - as usual (sigh), you are hesitant to comment. Don't forget that you can open a blogger account with a fake name; it's almost as good as posting anonymously.

I imagine you are afraid to be tagged a racist. But the truth is, until we get our honest thoughts on the table and examine our racial biases, we will continue to operate under what the authors of The Church Enslaved call "the politics of resignation".

The premise of this approach is that the differences between blacks and whites are significant, insurmountable, unchanging and for some, valuable. Saddled with this viewpoint, we develop coping strategies that allow us to continue existing as discrete, impenetrable subcultures. We believe that we are never going to change racism in our lifetimes.

So we accept as normal concepts like the black community and white crossover voting. Groups and institutions that are based on or perpetuate racial division like the NAACP, Jack and Jill, Cotillion and the Memphis Country Club continue in existence. Maybe the comfort we get from the status quo would be ok if the interests served by these separate subgroups were not in conflict - if their perpetuation and the perpetuation of the politics of resignation did not prevent large swaths of our community from attaining physical safety and prosperity or encourage those who benefit from our city and county's resources to leave or build community-proof lives.

There's more to come on this subject, but for the next few days work will keep me from posting. In the meantime, as always, your comments are invited.

Economics and Racism - a Few Comments to Consider

In the comments to my earlier post on economics and racism,

bob said...

"...what Polar Donkey's maps reveal is only one piece of the economic impact of continuing racism..."

How about a wording change, substituting cause for effect:

"...what Polar Donkey's maps reveal is only one piece of an economic toolkit that can be used for racial oppression and suppression, in lieu of the more direct-overt techniques that are now illegal..."

I responded:
Is the preservation of economic wealth in the hands of whites a premeditated effort by the current white business community to oppress blacks?

Or is it the product of that community's (perhaps unconscious) assumptions of their superiority, reinforced by their avoidance of relationships with blacks as peers and, because of their resulting ignorance of what life is like for nonwhites, their denial of the political and economic significance of racism?
The ever honest bob is having none of that.

Per bob, "Economic oppression. Racial oppression. Which is the cart, and which is the horse? Or should we really be asking: Who is the driver -- and what map is he using? Your book talks about, as you mention, a form of modern racism that manifests itself as "blame the victim." Granted, many people who do this are just being clueless. But can we completely discount the possibility that others are, shall we say, not so clueless?"

My thoughts in return:
In my experience, these are either the whites who continually attempt to flee integration by moving to the next new "white haven" or, if they still live in Memphis or Shelby County, it's either because (a) they are upper middle class and are able to afford to live insular lives - gated communities, private schools, discriminatory clubs, etc. or (b) they are too poor to move. As to these prosperous Memphians, one might even say they have successfully disinvested entirely in the community except where they have no choice (i.e., property taxes).

Many of these whites are politically conservative and religiously fundamentalist. The Church Enslaved points out that, for all of these peoples' opposition to talk of evolution, they are actually social Darwinists. Their world view is very much based on an individualist view of sin, and they feel society should favor those who are best equipped or behave in the way best suited to thrive in the system.

My point earlier is just that with the end of legalized racism, business leaders no longer intentionally structure the rules to favor them and their type. So, for example, I do not think First Tennessee or SunTrust or Regions management sits around with maps looking at where minorities live with a view to getting the hell out of Dodge. However, because of the people described above, the drain of wealth from areas causes for profit institutions like banks to consider profitability. And profitability means deposits, and customers who can and do pay interest and fees. When those customers flee to another area, so go the banking institutions.

Not done by design institutionally using a tool kit, but driven by racism nonetheless.
Looking for your thoughts....any solutions here?

Memphis Enslaved - Internalized Racism Exhibited by Blacks

The authors of The Church Enslaved write:
Racism in American society doesn't have to do simply with the behaviors and attitudes of white people toward people of color. A significant dimension of racism's embedded character involves internalized racism on the part of people of color.
They describe five "internalized oppressions" displayed by blacks:
  • Beating the system - avoiding or failing to develop life skills that are usually deemed necessary for succeeding in most efforts.
  • Blaming the system - assigning responsibility for their failures onto the structures that were supposed to prepare them to succeed, but not considering their personal roles in such failures.
  • Avoiding contact - this is not only the black converse behavior of white avoidance: that is, blacks avoiding living with and around whites. It also includes: (i) distrusting all white people, and (ii) rejecting other black people who are perceived as not being "black enough", either because of their actual skin tone or because of their cultural preferences that seem to mirror white culture.
  • Denying cultural heritage - showing preference for whites out of a distrust of their own group or shedding black cultural distinctions out of a belief in the superiority or advantages of white culture.
  • Lack of understanding or minimizing the political significance of racial oppression - (a) practicing passive and unassertive behaviors or (b) discrimination against other black people perceived to be less powerful, usually as an expression of their own feelings of powerlessness.
There being different definitions of racism, another one holds that black people cannot be racist; that such a term can only apply to whites (and for some, not only can racism only be exhibited by whites, but all white people are racist, because of their prejudices combined with being members of the power structure). This definition views racism as the confluence of prejudice and power. Thus, the viewpoint is that since whites hold economic and political power and blacks do not, black people can be prejudiced, but not racist.

Whether you hold to that definition of racism or not, what are the effects on racial reconciliation when, for instance, blacks view all whites with distrust?

Is the self-fulfilling nature of this "internalized racism" borne out when blacks, because they distrust the motives of all whites, either refuse or fail to reach out to form one-on-one relationships with whites? When whites reach out to engage in relationship with blacks and their motives are looked on with suspicion, are opportunities for change lost, resulting in the perpetuation of racism?

Is this form of internalized oppression diminishing as older black Americans (and Memphians) - whose lives and opportunities were shaped by legal racism, and for whom the struggles of the civil rights movement were very real - are succeeded by those for whom those experiences are history lessons and who have experienced opportunities denied to their elders?

Saturday, April 07, 2007

The Economic Effect of Racism - the Perpetuation of Poverty

LeftWing Cracker has made a point that is, of course, seminal to any discussion of race in Memphis - one of the most far reaching effects of racism - its economic impact on black Memphians. He is, of course, right about Polar Donkey's maps of payday loan/check cashing locations and mainstream financial institution locations.

Polar Donkey's posts about the locations of market cost versus exploitative cost banking services are the most valuable of his blogging commentaries in my opinion - and fundamental learning for any white Memphian who is sincerely interested in understanding how privileged they are, and what life is like in those parts of our community where that white person most likely does not live.

If you take a look at these maps, you can imagine for yourself what life would be like if, to get to your bank (where they typically charge higher fees to maintain an account with a smaller balance), you had to travel miles from home, as you would if you live in southwest Memphis or north Memphis. Of course, if you have a job that doesn't pay much, you may not drive a reliable late model vehicle or, for that matter, any vehicle, which could make getting to the bank difficult to impossible. You may have cash flow issues, too, which could cause you to incur $32 in charges per bounced check - even if you have transportation to get you to the closest bank.

When you drive through south Memphis, you can't help but notice the vacant buildings that very obviously used to be bank branches. I don't know whether the abandonment of these neighborhoods by the mainstream financial institutions is more the result of banking consolidation, which has eliminated 2 of our 3 historically locally owned banks, or the abandonment of these neighborhoods over the last 5-20 years by former white inhabitants who keep moving further and further east and the resulting lower profitability of these banking locations as those with the money (i.e., the banking deposits) leave, or both.

Yet, what Polar Donkey's maps reveal is only one piece of the economic impact of continuing racism - access to market cost financial institutions. This says nothing of the economic impact on the black community of employment disparities.

Now, many whites will argue, yes, but higher paying jobs require qualified hires. And given the education system here, and the culture of family instability in the black community that produces people who don't have the necessary skills or work ethic for those jobs, whaddya gonna do?

I wonder if this sort of commentary, which I know I've heard many times, when voiced by the racially uneducated white Memphian, could be an example of blaming the victim (attributing systemic oppression to the one who suffers under it) and denying the political significance of differences (minimizing the differing influence that social, political, economic, historical and psychological realities have on the lives of people of color and white).

This is clearly a major part of the equation with regard to the effects of racism in Memphis (or anywhere). And I wanted to respond to it.

But I also think there is great value in continuing to consider the basic concepts offered by The Church Enslaved, such as the very nature of racism, the historic roots of institutionalized racism and racist taboos and myths.

Of course, as always, feel free to comment.

Friday, April 06, 2007

More on Modern Racism

So far, the only comment on my earlier post derides me for using a book as a framework for raising the subject of racism. Too Oprah like, complains Polar Donkey.

I certainly feel a soft glow whenever I discuss racial tension here in Memphis. It's that cosy feeling that we all enjoy, right? Sort of like discussing hot flashes or my new diet.

Well, I don't think it's sugar coating anything to examine the biggest force holding Memphis back - race and all its resulting effects. Every negative thing about our city. other than physical placement on the continent and humidity, is derived from this. Poverty, black infant mortality, urban sprawl, demographic trends, crumbling innercity neighborhoods, educational problems, etc.

It is my humble observation that the very worst hypocrites on this topic are white liberals. We absolutely know we're not racists. We resent being told that we bear responsibility for others' bad actions - not us, we're the well meaning white people who would never think of treating black people badly. When we are around them, that is. Which is primarily in work or retail settings or passing on the street in our cars, maybe in church settings if we go to a liberal church...but rarely or never in our homes or on a frequent basis as part of a real relationship anywhere.

Or if we actually do interact with blacks, we tend to pat ourselves on the back and feel pretty smug compared to all those other white people who construct their lives so as only to encounter black people in public settings, briefly at best. I guess that must include Polar Donkey, who thinks this discussion is trite and unnecesary.

Sort of like you don't notice your child's growth when you see them every day, because it's so infused in our daily lives, we see but don't notice that all or almost of the upper level people we work with (unless you work for the government or schools) are white - and mostly male, but that's another story. Ok, maybe some of us actually are aware that there is something wrong with this picture. But because it is so ubiquitous, we never stop to think, what can WE do to change that, because we assume this is all due to overwhelming forces we are helpless individually to change.

I happen to think that it's not too basic to raise these subjects with, most especially, whites and, so sorry, liberal whites, too. All you have to do is look around to see the lack of self awareness.

When I think of Oprah (which I don't much, as I'm not usually in front of a TV whenever it is that she is on), I think of manufactured maudlin situational discomfort, all resolved and tidied up at the end. What a luxury it would be if we could approach this issue that way, because that was all it took. To steal the last line from The Sun Also Rises, wouldn't it pretty to think so?

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Memphis Enslaved - Modern Racism Exhibited by Whites

To begin, just a few housekeeping comments...

I know better than to think that a bunch of well behaved, repressed white people will clamor to get on record on the topic of racism. Loosen up, ok?

Let's don't leave all the comments to kiljoyhardluck. Don't forget you can create a handle, not your real name, that you can use to comment (clueless gated community dweller, midtowner with black best friends, hickory hiller who hates whitey - whatever) so that no one who knows you will know those racist feelings are YOURS.

Two simples rules if you decide to comment: stay on topic and no personal attacks. Unlike other bloggers, I won't remove your post. I will rely on other readers to out you for the troll you are. After all, this is about community...our community.

Now, regarding modern racism....

The Church Enslaved, the book providing the framework for this post, maintains that the effects of modern racism are felt in 2 ways:
  • when racists in power are able to have a hidden negative effect on black peoples' lives, and
  • through the efforts of people trying to do "the right thing" who, because they are naive or fail to explore their own feelings of racial bias, behave in ways that continue the results of racism.
Since the label of "racist" carries so much shame with it, white people of good faith would never believe that the first bullet point applies to them because, at all costs, they don't want to acknowledge, and in fact want to avoid, such a label.

Here are 5 behaviors of white people that the authors cite as modern racism:
  • dysfunctional rescuing - being patronizing or condescending toward people of color because they perceive blacks are unable to help themselves - "they need my help; I'm white and know better so I better swoop in and fix everything for them".
  • blaming the victim - failing to see the effects institutional oppression causes and, instead, holding those it affects responsible for the very effects it has on them.
  • avoiding contact - pretty self-explanatory, but aside from including segregation, this also includes a choice, whether conscious or not, not to develop relationships with black people.
  • denying differences - for example, an employer failing to realize that a culture perpetuating the entrenchment of power with whites may cause a problem with retention of blacks, or even to recognize the negative perceptions black employees have of such a culture.
  • denying the political significance of differences - as an example, an employer saying that they don't want to hire blacks in management because they had a bad experience with a black management employee in the past, whereas they may have had bad experiences with any number of white management employees in the past, but don't realize that it hasn't stopped them from hiring more white management staff...also, and this is one of my favorites from white liberals, saying "we need to just move on and get over this racial stuff", without acknowledging the real effects of racism, even today, but certainly historically, in forming the worldviews of people of color who live in a white dominant society.
So, a few questions for you.

Have you ever witnessed these behaviors - at work, at church, in members of your family, in your social circle, in yourself?

Is this new information for you? Or have you ever had to confront such behavior before? If so, what was your response? Did you speak up or lay low?

What other subtle forms of racism have you witnessed that I didn't mention in the 5 categories above?

Memphis Enslaved

I recently read an excellent book, The Church Enslaved, by Tony Campolo and Michael Battle, that has a very honest and refreshing discussion about racism and racial reconciliation. This book deals with the church, but it could just as easily translate to the secular world.

Campolo is a white evangelical, attends the black inner city church where he grew up when it was a white church. Battle is black, an Episcopal priest, grew up in integrated schools, went to Ivy League schools and studied with Desmond Tutu.

It deals with white "modern racism", that is, the kind that is more hidden and subtle since for the last 40 years it is not socially acceptable for whites to use the n word and burn crosses, etc., but is nevertheless grounded in the same historical causes as the more overt and violent forms of past racism and is institutionalized and very real. This includes blaming the victim, minimizing racism's effects, patronizing, etc.

It also talks about "internal racism" of blacks against whites - blaming the system, distrust, minimizing their role in the effects, etc.

It asks the question, what do white people say when black people are not around? Are they more honest about their true feelings? Are whites willing to acknowledge this truth?

It also asks, has the black community somehow bought into the notion it sold its former slave masters, that they are lazy and not very capable - as evidenced by a black kid who studies and works hard at school or blacks who successful navigate the white business world to wealth being given a hard time for acting white?

Both forms of racism include avoidance of the "other", which only serves to perpetuate the mistaken assumptions. Sound like any city where you live?

It talks about the racist taboos: about assumptions about physical vs. mental prowess, about sex, and others. Boy is it honest.

I plan to find a small diverse group of honest people who are willing to trust each other's good will to read and discuss the questions raised in this book. Let me know if you are interested. Or start your own group.

I am also going to be blogging about it.

I urge you to go get this book - I know you will also be equally impressed with what it has to say. If you can't afford it, let me know and I'll loan you a copy. I bought several copies at my church, Calvary Episcopal (where Michael Battle preached recently during Lent).

Monday, April 02, 2007

Starve the Fire

There are those in this local political arena and blogosphere who crave, above all else, attention and credit. They are stuck in a worldview that sees the worst in everyone: their intentions, their agendas, their actions, their appearance, their attitudes, etc., etc., etc.

We know who they are.

They would much prefer to nurse grudges and connive and manipulate than to work to grow and improve the local Democratic party and this community.

Instead of getting the facts and disclosing them objectively, facts in their world have to be bent to match their assumptions.

Their assumptions are wrong most of the time.

They work hard, I will give them that. If only they spent their energies on something other than their egos and misassumptions about other people and groups, they would be a force for positive change.

Why do we let our energies and time get siphoned off paying attention to these people? I guess it's kind of like slowing down as you pass a car wreck - you can't help but look at the deeply disturbing violence of the scene.

Ok, we're all human. Even though we might never be caught dead picking up the National Enquirer or World News, we peek at or listen to or talk about their hate filled spew. It's Page Six, Memphis Democratic Politics Style.

When fire is given air, it spreads and consumes everthing that's in its path. Let's starve this particular fire. Let's lock the window, close the door, fasten the latch and turn out the light on this bunch.

There are so many better things to do.

Don't Whine... Organize...

I wanted to comment on a few repeated talking points I’ve been hearing from certain people.

The convention was setup to keep Bailey people off.

Okay, apparently Thaddeus and some people think that people purposely tried to keep Bailey delegates off the committee by asking who they were voting for for chair. Well, duh. Does somebody not realize how this game works? Nobody, can make you say who you are supporting before the vote. Myself, I didn’t tell my district before I was elected this time or last time who I was voting for. However, it’s a legitimate question. Bailey’s people came to elect members that supported him. So did Norman’s. That’s how this works.

The white people are screwing us all.

First of all, I love Desi Franklin, but she doesn’t control me, my wife, or to the best of my knowledge anyone but herself (her kid's a teen, so I doubt he even counts.) If the white delegates voted in a block, it could be due in part to leaders of the other side (I’m looking at you Del and Thad) trying to base the campaign on “let’s get the committee back from the white devils.” I’m not sure that is a message with broad appeal. Norman’s message apparently had broad appeal seeing that people from EVERY so-called faction voted for him.

The executive committee allocations were decided based on voter turnout. Any imagined delegate discrepancies out there had very little effect considering how many precincts had no delegates and how many districts Bailey apparently didn’t even try to compete in. If Del and Thad think whites are taking too many seats then bring people and elect them for crying out loud.

You know what happened? You got out-organized.

In my district (89), I hardly put any work into organizing. Nevertheless, myself and the two candidates I voted for won almost unanimously. There was only 1 member of Team Bailey that came to the convention. And my district isn’t an all-white suburb. It’s a very diverse district with a diverse group of caucus goers. I don’t know what Bailey was doing over the past few months, but you didn’t bring the people. My voters hadn’t even gotten calls from ya’ll. Why would they vote for you?

It ain’t about money.

Last time and this time one candidate spent more money and that candidate lost. Money really doesn’t matter in this race. Mailings are a waste. What you have to do is bring people to the caucus. Then you personally contact the swing voters in each district until you have the majority. It’s not complicated. It’s old school. Do it! If the fact that I have the audacity to be both white and a Democrat who wants to help the party offends you so much, then actually pick up the phone, knock on the door, and shake the hand of voters. How the hell else do you think you’ll win? Seriously, how has this thing worked over the last 30 years? Shoe leather folks. And that goes for real campaigns too. Geeze… Rant over…