"Men, it has been well said, think in herds; it will be seen that they go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, and one by one." - Charles Mackay
Thursday, March 30, 2006
Imperial Overreach is Accelerating the Global Decline of America
by Martin Jacques

"Our power, then, has the grave liability of rendering our theories about the world immune from failure. But by becoming deaf to easily discerned warning signs, we may ignore long-term costs that result from our actions and dismiss reverses that should lead to a re-examination of our goals and means."
These are the words of Henry Hyde, chairman of the House international relations committee and a Republican congressman, in a recent speech. Hyde argues that such is the overweening power of the US that it may not hear or recognize the signals when its policy goes badly wrong, a thinly veiled reference to Iraq. He then takes issue with the idea that the US can export democracy around the world as deeply misguided and potentially dangerous. He argues: "A broad and energetic promotion of democracy in other countries that will not enjoy our long-term and guiding presence may equate not to peace and stability but to revolution ... There is no evidence that we or anyone can guide from afar revolutions we have set in motion. We can more easily destabilize friends and others and give life to chaos and to avowed enemies than ensure outcomes in service of our interests and security."

It is clear that the US occupation of Iraq has been a disaster from almost every angle one can think of, most of all for the Iraqi people, not least for American foreign policy. The unpicking of the imperial logic that led to it has already commenced: Hyde's speech is an example, and so is Francis Fukuyama's new book After the Neocons, a merciless critique of Bush's foreign policy and the school of thought that lay behind it. The war was a delayed product of the end of the cold war and the triumphalist mentality that imbued the neocons and eventually seduced the US. But triumphalism is a dangerous brew, more suited to intoxication than hard-headed analysis. And so it has proved. The US still has to reap the whirlwind for its stunning feat of imperial overreach.

In becoming so catastrophically engaged in the Middle East, making the region its overwhelming global priority, it downgraded the importance of everywhere else, taking its eye off the ball in a crucial region such as east Asia, which in the long run will be far more important to the US's strategic interests than the Middle East. As such, the Iraqi adventure represented a major misreading of global trends and how they are likely to impact on the US. Hyde is clearly thinking in these terms: "We are well advanced into an unformed era in which new and unfamiliar enemies are gathering forces, where a phalanx of aspiring competitors must inevitably constrain and focus options. In a world where the ratios of strength narrow, the consequences of miscalculation will become progressively more debilitating. The costs of golden theories [by which he means the worldwide promotion of democracy] will be paid for in the base coin of our interests."

The promotion of the idea of the war against terror as the central priority of US policy had little to do with the actual threat posed by al-Qaida, which was always hugely exaggerated by the Bush administration, as events over the last four and a half years have shown. Al-Qaida never posed a threat to the US except in terms of the odd terrorist outrage. Making it the central thrust of US foreign policy, in other words, had nothing to do with the al-Qaida threat and everything to do with the Bush administration seeking to mobilize US public opinion behind a neoconservative foreign policy. There followed the tenuous - in reality nonexistent - link with Saddam, which provided in large measure the justification for the invasion of Iraq, an act which now threatens to unravel the bizarre adventurism, personified by Donald Rumsfeld, which has been the hallmark of Bush foreign policy since 9/11. The latter has come unstuck in the killing fields of Iraq in the most profound way imaginable.

Hyde alludes to a new "unformed" world and "a phalanx of aspiring competitors". On this he is absolutely right. The world is in the midst of a monumental process of change that, within the next 10 years or so, could leave the US as only the second largest economy in the world after China and commanding, with the rise of China and India, a steadily contracting share of global output. It will no longer be able to boss the world around in the fashion of the neoconservative dream: its power to do so will be constrained by the power of others, notably China, while it will also find it increasingly difficult to fund the military and diplomatic costs of being the world's sole superpower. If the US is already under financial pressure from its twin deficits and the ballooning costs of Iraq, then imagine the difficulties it will find itself in within two decades in a very different kind of world.

Hyde concludes by warning against the delusions of triumphalism and cautioning that the future should not be seen as an extension of the present: "A few brief years ago, history was proclaimed to be at an end, our victory engraved in unyielding stone, our pre-eminence garlanded with permanence. But we must remember that Britain's majestic rule vanished in a few short years, undermined by unforeseen catastrophic events and by new threats that eventually overwhelmed the palisades of the past. The life of pre-eminence, as with all life on this planet, has a mortal end. To allow our enormous power to delude us into seeing the world as a passive thing waiting for us to recreate it in an image of our choosing will hasten the day when we have little freedom to choose anything at all."

That the world will be very different within the next two decades, if not rather sooner, is clear; yet there is scant recognition of this fact and what it might mean - not least in our own increasingly provincial country. The overwhelming preoccupation of the Bush administration (and Blair for that matter) with Iraq, the Middle East and Islam, speaks of a failure to understand the deeper forces that are reshaping the world and an overriding obsession with realising and exploiting the US's temporary status as the sole global superpower. Such a myopic view can only hasten the decline of the US as a global power, a process that has already started.

The Bush administration stands guilty of an extraordinary act of imperial overreach which has left the US more internationally isolated than ever before, seriously stretched financially, and guilty of neglect in east Asia and elsewhere. Iraq was supposed to signal the US's new global might: in fact, it may well prove to be a harbinger of its decline. And that decline could be far more precipitous than anyone has previously reckoned. Once the bubble of US power has been pricked, in a global context already tilting in other directions, it could deflate rather more quickly than has been imagined. Hyde's warnings should be taken seriously.
posted by R J Noriega at 10:48 AM | Permalink | 0 comments
Comfortably Numb
By Richard DeGrandpre

Did you feel for those Iraqis who were tied down and had attack dogs baying and chewing at them? Did seeing the pictures and hearing the stories make you sick? Or were you like most of us – engaged by the drama, entertained by the scandal, yet comfortably numb about the whole thing?

Many have replaced empathy with an “I”-centered sentimentality. Feeling has been turned on its head: caring is now a means not for taking action, but for feeling better about oneself or getting attention. We ride the emotional dramas in the tabloids, wear colored ribbons, and express our love for God and country. Meanwhile, we take no action – at least none driven by empathy.

Empathy is how we respond to the plight of fellow human beings. It is the bedrock of our moral sensibility that allows us to feel for others, to put ourselves in their place. If you cannot feel, how can you act outside your own wants and desires? To many today, it seems easier to just deny feelings of empathy, to react to them “rationally” as a weakness in this hard and fast world.But this has a cost. Losing feeling for others, or never developing the capacity to feel deeply at all, means closing off a fundamental part of being human. We feel less not just about the millions of innocent people killed by violence in the past decade, or the thousands of civilians killed in America’s wars for peace, but also about, say, our own partner, neighbors or parents. All feelings run along the same neural pathways.

Shutting down some means shutting down many. In the process, we become less human. As this happens, we not only stop feeling the pain of others, we become more capable of inflicting it. This is the darkest side of empathy’s erosion. If feelings underlie an empathic response, numbness makes brutality viable. Thus, as you happily switch off from humanity, you become a threat to it. We were comfortably numb about the torture at Abu Ghraib, and so were the GI guards who carried it out. Americans didn’t say sorry because they didn’t feel sorry. Simple as that.
And if we can’t feel for others, who will feel for us? Perhaps this is part of the general worsening of mental well-being. As a recent World Health Organization study shows, there’s a near-perfect correlation between the rise of alienation in the modern world and the decline of people’s mental states, with mental dysfunction growing globally. As empathy falls, behaviors predicated on its lack have been pathologized, like narcissistic and antisocial personalities. But these are not symptoms of organic disease. Instead, it is the social system that is in need of radical treatment.

Consider the example of antidepressant drugs like Paxil and Zoloft. It is now understood that these ssri antidepressants shut down peoples’ sexual emotions. What remains less appreciated is that they produce their mood-altering effect by essentially manufacturing apathy. Are these drugs popular, in part, precisely because they shut down our feelings? It is a frightening notion. Medicating our numbness is one thing, with a long and lonely history. But a culture medicating itself into comfortable numbness is something else. It is no longer the symptom but the cure.
posted by R J Noriega at 10:41 AM | Permalink | 0 comments
Building a Culture of Freedom
By Jeff Milchen

At a July 4 event last year, I picked up a pocket copy of the U.S. Constitution imprinted with the slogan "Revolution bought us our freedom, but the Constitution let us keep it." At first it seemed like a nice patriotic sentiment, but recent events have awakened me to recognize it as a dangerous falsehood. For without our awareness and vigilant defense of freedoms, the Constitution is no more than discolored paper.

Many citizens have expressed dismay over Americans' failure to counter assaults on our Bill of Rights by John Ashcroft and the Bush administration, but they shouldn't be surprised. Our freedoms have been under bi-partisan encroachment for years with little citizen resistance.

It's easy to blame our recent compliance on reaction to September 11 or sparse media coverage of government critics. Both play a role, but the ease with which Americans have ceded liberty in the name of safety represents a more deeply-rooted problem - a national ignorance of our own history. Perhaps we do not aggressively defend our own Constitutional rights because we don't appreciate their origin and importance.
Supporting this theory is an annual poll that gauges citizen knowledge and attitudes toward the First Amendment, commissioned by Vanderbilt University's Freedom Forum. In 2001, 29 percent of respondents agreed strongly with the statement "The First Amendment goes too far in the rights it guarantees" while another 10 percent simply agreed, suggesting that almost four in 10 people believe we enjoy too much freedom of expression. That number rose dramatically from previous years.

But this is just a passing reaction to September 11; we're still freedom-loving people at heart, right? Sorry, the poll was taken in April, 2001.

Chillingly, the poll also found 23 percent of respondents disagreed that "newspapers should be able to publish freely without government approval of a story" and only 57 percent agreed strongly that "newspapers should be allowed to criticize public officials."

Given this, how can we who value civil rights counter attacks on our hard-won freedoms?

There is no quick fix. We must rally to stop further encroachments, but we need also to sow seeds for future liberty by passing forgotten values on to our children. Disrespect for the Constitution by those in power is not a new phenomenon with the Bush administration, but a perpetual threat to guard against.

When President Clinton alarmingly stated in 1993 that "The United States can't be so fixed on our desire to preserve the rights of ordinary Americans," barely a murmur was heard in response. And majorities of both major parties supported the 1996 "Antiterrorism" act, which began erosions of civil liberties accelerated by the Bush administration.

Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy warns that "The Constitution needs renewal and understanding each generation, or it's not going to last." Key to such understanding is recognizing that early Americans were reluctant to establish a central government powerful enough to suppress freedom. Many fled England to flee precisely that power. The Constitution was ratified only because Congress promised to add guarantees of liberty-the Bill of Rights-in a permanent contract between citizens and their government.

Yet today we permit these rights to be treated as privileges that Congress or White House officials may choose to ignore or revoke. Our founders would be apoplectic to witness our Attorney General-the man who lost his Senate seat to a dead man in 2000--contemptuously accuse civil rights defenders of aiding terrorists. Yet no Congressperson or major newspaper has called for his removal.

Mr. Ashcroft derided his critics as using "phantoms of lost liberty" while he unconstitutionally holds hundreds of people in prison without charges (the Bill of Rights makes no exceptions for non-citizens). If we let it happen to "them" without a fight, we will richly deserve the loss of our own freedom. Generations of Americans in the military and social justice movements have fought and died for rights we enjoy today, but our Constitution still is not self-enforcing.

We'll need more than those who deem themselves civil rights activists to build a critical mass of resistance to the internal encroachments on freedom, and we'll need to reach beyond comfortable, effortless actions like e-mails and petitions.
While addressing the current civil rights crisis, we must also rebuild a culture of freedom. We should strive to engage our young people in civics, facilitate their understanding beyond check-box memorization of historical facts and encourage a sense of patriotism that involves loyalty to our Constitutional principles, not blind obedience to power.

While truly dangerous laws like the "Patriot Act" already passed, we have reason for hope. Remember that serious attacks on liberties have succeeded many times in our past--notably during every major war. Yet each time our rights have been curtailed, we not only have struggled successfully to reclaim those rights, but furthered freedom.

We can and must do it again. But it will happen only from the grassroots up, not from the initiative of those in positions of federal power.

And while we organize to restore freedoms lost, let's strive to ensure that future generations will have no need to repeat our defensive struggle, but instead can progress further still toward a nation of liberty and justice for all.
posted by R J Noriega at 10:16 AM | Permalink | 1 comments
Our Hidden History of Corporations in the United States
When American colonists declared independence from England in 1776, they also freed themselves from control by English corporations that extracted their wealth and dominated trade. After fighting a revolution to end this exploitation, our country's founders retained a healthy fear of corporate power and wisely limited corporations exclusively to a business role. Corporations were forbidden from attempting to influence elections, public policy, and other realms of civic society.

Initially, the privilege of incorporation was granted selectively to enable activities that benefited the public, such as construction of roads or canals. Enabling shareholders to profit was seen as a means to that end.

The states also imposed conditions (some of which remain on the books, though unused) like these:

* Corporate charters (licenses to exist) were granted for a limited time and could be revoked promptly for violating laws.

* Corporations could engage only in activities necessary to fulfill their chartered purpose.

* Corporations could not own stock in other corporations nor own any property that was not essential to fulfilling their chartered purpose.

* Corporations were often terminated if they exceeded their authority or caused public harm.

* Owners and managers were responsible for criminal acts committed on the job.

* Corporations could not make any political or charitable contributions nor spend money to influence law-making.

For 100 years after the American Revolution, legislators maintained tight controlled the corporate chartering process. Because of widespread public opposition, early legislators granted very few corporate charters, and only after debate. Citizens governed corporations by detailing operating conditions not just in charters but also in state constitutions and state laws. Incorporated businesses were prohibited from taking any action that legislators did not specifically allow.

States also limited corporate charters to a set number of years. Unless a legislature renewed an expiring charter, the corporation was dissolved and its assets were divided among shareholders. Citizen authority clauses limited capitalization, debts, land holdings, and sometimes, even profits. They required a company's accounting books to be turned over to a legislature upon request. The power of large shareholders was limited by scaled voting, so that large and small investors had equal voting rights. Interlocking directorates were outlawed. Shareholders had the right to remove directors at will.

In Europe, charters protected directors and stockholders from liability for debts and harms caused by their corporations. American legislators explicitly rejected this corporate shield. The penalty for abuse or misuse of the charter was not a plea bargain and a fine, but dissolution of the corporation.

In 1819 the U.S. Supreme Court tried to strip states of this sovereign right by overruling a lower court's decision that allowed New Hampshire to revoke a charter granted to Dartmouth College by King George III. The Court claimed that since the charter contained no revocation clause, it could not be withdrawn. The Supreme Court's attack on state sovereignty outraged citizens. Laws were written or re-written and new state constitutional amendments passed to circumvent the Dartmouth ruling. Over several decades starting in 1844, nineteen states amended their constitutions to make corporate charters subject to alteration or revocation by their legislatures. As late as 1855 it seemed that the Supreme Court had gotten the people's message when in Dodge v. Woolsey it reaffirmed state's powers over "artificial bodies."

But the men running corporations pressed on. Contests over charter were battles to control labor, resources, community rights, and political sovereignty. More and more frequently, corporations were abusing their charters to become conglomerates and trusts. They converted the nation's resources and treasures into private fortunes, creating factory systems and company towns. Political power began flowing to absentee owners, rather than community-rooted enterprises.

The industrial age forced a nation of farmers to become wage earners, and they became fearful of unemployment--a new fear that corporations quickly learned to exploit. Company towns arose. and blacklists of labor organizers and workers who spoke up for their rights became common. When workers began to organize, industrialists and bankers hired private armies to keep them in line. They bought newspapers to paint businessmen as heroes and shape public opinion. Corporations bought state legislators, then announced legislators were corrupt and said that they used too much of the public's resources to scrutinize every charter application and corporate operation.

Government spending during the Civil War brought these corporations fantastic wealth. Corporate executives paid "borers" to infest Congress and state capitals, bribing elected and appointed officials alike. They pried loose an avalanche of government financial largesse. During this time, legislators were persuaded to give corporations limited liability, decreased citizen authority over them, and extended durations of charters. Attempts were made to keep strong charter laws in place, but with the courts applying legal doctrines that made protection of corporations and corporate property the center of constitutional law, citizen sovereignty was undermined. As corporations grew stronger, government and the courts became easier prey. They freely reinterpreted the U.S. Constitution and transformed common law doctrines.

One of the most severe blows to citizen authority arose out of the 1886 Supreme Court case of Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad. Though the court did not make a ruling on the question of "corporate personhood," thanks to misleading notes of a clerk, the decision subsequently was used as precedent to hold that a corporation was a "natural person."

From that point on, the 14th Amendment, enacted to protect rights of freed slaves, was used routinely to grant corporations constitutional "personhood." Justices have since struck down hundreds of local, state and federal laws enacted to protect people from corporate harm based on this illegitimate premise. Armed with these "rights," corporations increased control over resources, jobs, commerce, politicians, even judges and the law.

A United States Congressional committee concluded in 1941, "The principal instrument of the concentration of economic power and wealth has been the corporate charter with unlimited power...."

Many U.S.-based corporations are now transnational, but the corrupted charter remains the legal basis for their existence. At ReclaimDemocracy.org, we believe citizens can reassert the convictions of our nation's founders who struggled successfully to free us from corporate rule in the past. These changes must occur at the most fundamental level -- the U.S. Constitution
posted by R J Noriega at 10:05 AM | Permalink | 0 comments
Tuesday, March 28, 2006
All I need
posted by R J Noriega at 7:32 PM | Permalink | 0 comments
A Poverty of the Mind

SEVERAL recent studies have garnered wide attention for reconfirming the tragic disconnection of millions of black youths from the American mainstream. But they also highlighted another crisis: the failure of social scientists to adequately explain the problem, and their inability to come up with any effective strategy to deal with it.

The main cause for this shortcoming is a deep-seated dogma that has prevailed in social science and policy circles since the mid-1960's: the rejection of any explanation that invokes a group's cultural attributes — its distinctive attitudes, values and predispositions, and the resulting behavior of its members — and the relentless preference for relying on structural factors like low incomes, joblessness, poor schools and bad housing.

Harry Holzer, an economist at Georgetown University and a co-author of one of the recent studies, typifies this attitude. Joblessness, he feels, is due to largely weak schooling, a lack of reading and math skills at a time when such skills are increasingly required even for blue-collar jobs, and the poverty of black neighborhoods. Unable to find jobs, he claims, black males turn to illegal activities, especially the drug trade and chronic drug use, and often end up in prison. He also criticizes the practice of withholding child-support payments from the wages of absentee fathers who do find jobs, telling The Times that to these men, such levies "amount to a tax on earnings."

His conclusions are shared by scholars like Ronald B. Mincy of Columbia, the author of a study called "Black Males Left Behind," and Gary Orfield of Harvard, who asserts that America is "pumping out boys with no honest alternative."

This is all standard explanatory fare. And, as usual, it fails to answer the important questions. Why are young black men doing so poorly in school that they lack basic literacy and math skills? These scholars must know that countless studies by educational experts, going all the way back to the landmark report by James Coleman of Johns Hopkins University in 1966, have found that poor schools, per se, do not explain why after 10 years of education a young man remains illiterate.

Nor have studies explained why, if someone cannot get a job, he turns to crime and drug abuse. One does not imply the other. Joblessness is rampant in Latin America and India, but the mass of the populations does not turn to crime.

And why do so many young unemployed black men have children — several of them — which they have no resources or intention to support? And why, finally, do they murder each other at nine times the rate of white youths?

What's most interesting about the recent spate of studies is that analysts seem at last to be recognizing what has long been obvious to anyone who takes culture seriously: socioeconomic factors are of limited explanatory power. Thus it's doubly depressing that the conclusions they draw and the prescriptions they recommend remain mired in traditional socioeconomic thinking.

What has happened, I think, is that the economic boom years of the 90's and one of the most successful policy initiatives in memory — welfare reform — have made it impossible to ignore the effects of culture. The Clinton administration achieved exactly what policy analysts had long said would pull black men out of their torpor: the economy grew at a rapid pace, providing millions of new jobs at all levels. Yet the jobless black youths simply did not turn up to take them. Instead, the opportunity was seized in large part by immigrants — including many blacks — mainly from Latin America and the Caribbean.

One oft-repeated excuse for the failure of black Americans to take these jobs — that they did not offer a living wage — turned out to be irrelevant. The sociologist Roger Waldinger of the University of California at Los Angeles, for example, has shown that in New York such jobs offered an opportunity to the chronically unemployed to join the market and to acquire basic work skills that they later transferred to better jobs, but that the takers were predominantly immigrants.

Why have academics been so allergic to cultural explanations? Until the recent rise of behavioral economics, most economists have simply not taken non-market forces seriously. But what about the sociologists and other social scientists who ought to have known better? Three gross misconceptions about culture explain the neglect.

First is the pervasive idea that cultural explanations inherently blame the victim; that they focus on internal behavioral factors and, as such, hold people responsible for their poverty, rather than putting the onus on their deprived environment. (It hasn't helped that many conservatives do actually put forth this view.)

But this argument is utterly bogus. To hold someone responsible for his behavior is not to exclude any recognition of the environmental factors that may have induced the problematic behavior in the first place. Many victims of child abuse end up behaving in self-destructive ways; to point out the link between their behavior and the destructive acts is in no way to deny the causal role of their earlier victimization and the need to address it.

Likewise, a cultural explanation of black male self-destructiveness addresses not simply the immediate connection between their attitudes and behavior and the undesired outcomes, but explores the origins and changing nature of these attitudes, perhaps over generations, in their brutalized past. It is impossible to understand the predatory sexuality and irresponsible fathering behavior of young black men without going back deep into their collective past.

Second, it is often assumed that cultural explanations are wholly deterministic, leaving no room for human agency. This, too, is nonsense. Modern students of culture have long shown that while it partly determines behavior, it also enables people to change behavior. People use their culture as a frame for understanding their world, and as a resource to do much of what they want. The same cultural patterns can frame different kinds of behavior, and by failing to explore culture at any depth, analysts miss a great opportunity to re-frame attitudes in a way that encourages desirable behavior and outcomes.

Third, it is often assumed that cultural patterns cannot change — the old "cake of custom" saw. This too is nonsense. Indeed, cultural patterns are often easier to change than the economic factors favored by policy analysts, and American history offers numerous examples.

My favorite is Jim Crow, that deeply entrenched set of cultural and institutional practices built up over four centuries of racist domination and exclusion of blacks by whites in the South. Nothing could have been more cultural than that. And yet America was able to dismantle the entire system within a single generation, so much so that today blacks are now making a historic migratory shift back to the South, which they find more congenial than the North. (At the same time, economic inequality, which the policy analysts love to discuss, has hardened in the South, like the rest of America.)

So what are some of the cultural factors that explain the sorry state of young black men? They aren't always obvious. Sociological investigation has found, in fact, that one popular explanation — that black children who do well are derided by fellow blacks for "acting white" — turns out to be largely false, except for those attending a minority of mixed-race schools.

An anecdote helps explain why: Several years ago, one of my students went back to her high school to find out why it was that almost all the black girls graduated and went to college whereas nearly all the black boys either failed to graduate or did not go on to college. Distressingly, she found that all the black boys knew the consequences of not graduating and going on to college ("We're not stupid!" they told her indignantly).

SO why were they flunking out? Their candid answer was that what sociologists call the "cool-pose culture" of young black men was simply too gratifying to give up. For these young men, it was almost like a drug, hanging out on the street after school, shopping and dressing sharply, sexual conquests, party drugs, hip-hop music and culture, the fact that almost all the superstar athletes and a great many of the nation's best entertainers were black.

Not only was living this subculture immensely fulfilling, the boys said, it also brought them a great deal of respect from white youths. This also explains the otherwise puzzling finding by social psychologists that young black men and women tend to have the highest levels of self-esteem of all ethnic groups, and that their self-image is independent of how badly they were doing in school.

I call this the Dionysian trap for young black men. The important thing to note about the subculture that ensnares them is that it is not disconnected from the mainstream culture. To the contrary, it has powerful support from some of America's largest corporations. Hip-hop, professional basketball and homeboy fashions are as American as cherry pie. Young white Americans are very much into these things, but selectively; they know when it is time to turn off Fifty Cent and get out the SAT prep book.

For young black men, however, that culture is all there is — or so they think. Sadly, their complete engagement in this part of the American cultural mainstream, which they created and which feeds their pride and self-respect, is a major factor in their disconnection from the socioeconomic mainstream.

Of course, such attitudes explain only a part of the problem. In academia, we need a new, multidisciplinary approach toward understanding what makes young black men behave so self-destructively. Collecting transcripts of their views and rationalizations is a useful first step, but won't help nearly as much as the recent rash of scholars with tape-recorders seem to think. Getting the facts straight is important, but for decades we have been overwhelmed with statistics on black youths, and running more statistical regressions is beginning to approach the point of diminishing returns to knowledge.

The tragedy unfolding in our inner cities is a time-slice of a deep historical process that runs far back through the cataracts and deluge of our racist past. Most black Americans have by now, miraculously, escaped its consequences. The disconnected fifth languishing in the ghettos is the remains. Too much is at stake for us to fail to understand the plight of these young men. For them, and for the rest of us.

Orlando Patterson, a professor of sociology at Harvard, is the author of "Rituals of Blood: Consequences of Slavery in Two American Centuries."
posted by R J Noriega at 9:12 AM | Permalink | 0 comments
Monday, March 27, 2006
Guest Workers' Won't Work
By Tamar Jacoby

The conventional wisdom is all but unanimous, so much so that even those who hold the opposing view pay homage to it. Sure, some people dispute even the notion that we need foreign workers to keep the U.S. economy growing. But among those who recognize the necessity of a continued flow of immigrants to do dirty, unskilled jobs that educated Americans increasingly no longer want to do, the mantra goes unquestioned: What's needed is a guest worker program to deliver this labor in a timely, efficient way.

But the conventional wisdom is wrong, and as the Senate debates immigration in the weeks to come, members would do well to reexamine the assumption. The last thing the United States needs is an inflexible guest worker plan.

It isn't hard to understand where the idea came from or why it's popular in Washington. Policymakers from George W. Bush to Sens. John McCain, John Cornyn and Edward Kennedy grasp that the main problem with our immigration system is the lack of visas for foreign workers. International supply and demand -- demand created by U.S. labor needs -- generate a flow of roughly 1.5 million immigrants a year. But our annual immigration quotas accommodate less than two-thirds of that number, producing an annual spillover of about a half-million illegal workers that erodes the rule of law and undermines our security.

The logical remedy: to provide these additional workers with visas and allow them to enter the country in a lawful, dignified way. The only problem: Policymakers are afraid the public would reject such a large increase in permanent immigration. So even those who have been most courageous in promoting reform talk instead about temporary visas. Bush and Cornyn would require foreigners to go home at the end of their work stints. McCain and Kennedy would allow some workers to stay permanently, but they, too, call their proposal a temporary worker program, and many of those who support their package -- including myself -- have gone along in adopting the term.

The problem with the guest worker idea starts with practicality: Appealing as it sounds to some, a time-limited program will not work. The adage is true: There is nothing more permanent than a temporary worker. Many of those who come to the United States for short stints will want to stay on when their visas expire, perpetuating the underground economy that the program is supposed to eliminate.

This isn't just speculation -- look at the reality today. True enough, many young foreign workers initially come to the United States for what they think will be a short visit, and many do go home after a few years. But unlike past such workers, an increasing number are now staying on. This is partly a result of U.S. policy: Our efforts to fortify the border have made it harder for people to travel back and forth. But other, deeper forces are at work. The traditional flow of migrant farmworkers -- truly seasonal laborers, usually single men -- is giving way to a more diverse stream: both men and women, often with families, less rooted at home and more open to the lure of life in America.

Meanwhile, growing immigrant communities have made settling here a more attractive choice. Of some 11 million illegal immigrants in the United States, only 2.4 million are single men, while nearly half are couples and many have children. Legal migrants are even more rooted.

The bottom line: It won't help to bring our quotas more into line with the size of the immigrant flow if we don't also craft a policy in keeping with the way these workers behave -- and today that means accepting the reality that many will want to settle permanently in the United States.

But that's not all. Admitting foreign workers on a strictly temporary basis would also violate American traditions -- our democratic values and our history as a nation of immigrants -- and it would be deeply unpopular with the voting public.

The Manhattan Institute and the National Immigration Forum recently conducted a series of focus groups testing two contrasting options: a guest worker program or a more traditional immigration plan based on the idea of citizenship. The results ran sharply counter to the expectations of policymakers in Washington. Democrats and Republicans alike overwhelmingly preferred the citizenship model for reasons of both principle and practicality. It might make sense initially, these voters said, to admit workers on a provisional basis. It might also make sense to create incentives for the more transient to go home at the end of their work stints. But if they worked hard, put down roots and invested in their communities, wouldn't we want to encourage them to stay? Don't we want immigrants to assimilate? Don't we want to attract the kind of hard-working, committed folks who plan for the future and invest?

The answer is, of course, that we do. This isn't just the American way, it's also the antidote to many of our worst fears about immigration: Sojourners with no stake in the future are going to be much less likely to learn English or buy their own homes or make an effort to move up on the job.

Sure, a citizenship plan looks like a bigger gamble; like the workers, the changes that come with it will be permanent. But surely it would be better to face up to that change and shape it in a way consistent with our values. Rather than a one-size-fits-all guest worker program, we need a system that leaves room for workers to choose, welcoming those who feel they belong and who work their way up and make our country stronger as they do.
posted by R J Noriega at 10:57 AM | Permalink | 0 comments
Leaving the Past
posted by R J Noriega at 6:58 AM | Permalink | 0 comments
Saturday, March 25, 2006
"Race In/For Cyberspace: Identity Tourism and Racial Passing on the Internet"
by Lisa Nakamura

A cute cartoon dog sits in front of a computer, gazing at the monitor and typing away busily. The cartoon's caption jubilantly proclaims, "On the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog!" This image resonates with particular intensity for those members of a rapidly expanding subculture which congregates within the consensual hallucination defined as cyberspace. Users define their presence within this textual and graphical space through a variety of different activities‹commercial interaction, academic research, netsurfing, real time interaction and chatting with interlocutors who are similarly "connected"‹but all can see the humor in this image because it illustrates so graphically a common condition of being and self definition within this space. Users of the Internet represent themselves within it solely through the medium of keystrokes and mouse-clicks, and through this medium they can describe themselves and their physical bodies any way they like; they perform their bodies as text. On the Internet, nobody knows that you're a dog; it is possible to "computer crossdress" (Stone 84) and represent yourself as a different gender, age, race, etc. The technology of the Internet offers its participants unprecedented possibilities for communicating with each other in real time, and for controlling the conditions of their own self-representations in ways impossible in face to face interaction. The cartoon seems to celebrate access to the Internet as a social leveler which permits even dogs to express freely themselves in discourse to their masters, who are deceived into thinking that they are their peers, rather than their property. The element of difference, in this cartoon the difference between species, is comically subverted in this image; in the medium of cyberspace, distinctions and imbalances in power between beings who perform themselves solely through writing seem to have deferred, if not effaced.

This utopian vision of cyberspace as a promoter of a radically democratic form of discourse should not be underestimated. Yet the image can be read on several other levels as well. The freedom which the dog chooses to avail itself of is the freedom to "pass" as part of a privileged group, i.e. human computer users with access to the Internet. This is possible because of the discursive dynamic of the Internet, particularly in chat spaces like LambdaMOO where users are known to others by self authored names which they give their "characters" rather than more telling email addresses with domain names. Defining gender is a central part of the discourse‹players who choose to present themselves as "neuter," one of the several genders available to players on LambdaMOO, are often asked to "set gender," as if the choice to have a neuter gender is not a choice at all, or at least one that other players choose to recognize. Gender is an element of identity which must be defined by each player‹though the creators of LambdaMOO try to contribute towards a reimagining of gender by offering four, two more than are acknowledged in "real life," still, one must be chosen‹the choice is not optional. Each player must "enunciate" the gender that they choose, since this gender will be visible to other players who call up other players' physical descriptions on their screens. However, race is not an "option" which must be chosen‹though players can elect to write it into their descriptions, it is not required that they do so. My study, which I would characterize as ethnographic, with certain important reservations, focuses on the ways in which race is "written" In the cyberspace locus called LambdaMOO, as well as the ways it is read by other players, the conditions under which it is enunciated, contested, and ultimately erased and suppressed, and the ideological implications of these performative acts of writing and reading otherness. What does the way race is written in Lambda MOO reveal about the enunciation of difference in new electronic media? Have the rules of the game changed, and if so, how?

Role playing sites on the Internet such as LambdaMOO offer their participants programming features such as the ability to physically "set" one's gender, race, and physical appearance, through which they can, indeed are required to, project a version of the self which is inherently theatrical. Since the "real" identities of the interlocutors at Lambda are unverifiable (except by crackers and hackers, whose outlaw manipulations of code are unanimously construed by the Internet's citizens as a violation of both privacy and personal freedom) it can be said that everyone who participates is &q uot;passing," as it impossible to tell if a character's description matches a player's physical characteristics. Some the uses to which this infixed theatricality are put are benign and even funny‹descriptions of self as a human-size pickle or pot bellied pig are not uncommon, and generally are received in a positive, amused, tolerant way by other players. Players who elect to describe themselves in racial terms, as Asian, African American, Latino, or other members of oppressed and marginalized minorities, are often seen as engaging in a form of hostile performance, since they introduce what many consider a real life "divisive issue" into the phantasmatic world of cybernetic textual interaction. The borders and frontiers of cyberspace which had previously seemed so amorphous take on a keen sharpness when the enunciation of racial otherness is put into play as performance. While everyone is "passing," some forms of racial passing are condoned and practiced since they do not threaten the integrity of a national sense of self which is defined as white.

The first act a participant in LambdaMOO performs is that of writing a self description‹it is the primal scene of cybernetic identity, a postmodern performance of the mirror stage:

Identity is the first thing you create in a MUD. You have to decide the name of your alternate identity‹what MUDders call your character. And you have to describe who this character is, for the benefit of the other people who inhabit the same MUD. By creating your identity, you help create a world. Your character's role and the roles of the others who play with you are part of the architecture of belief that upholds for everybody in the MUD the illusion of being a wizard in a castle or a navigator aboard a starship: the roles give people new stages on which to exercise new identities, and their new identities affirm the reality of the scenario. (Rheingold)

In LambdaMOO it is required that one choose a gender; though two of the choices are variations on the theme of "neuter," the choice cannot be deferred because the programming code requires it. It is impossible to receive authorization to create a character without making this choice. Race is not only not a required choice, it is not even on the menu.1 Players are given as many lines of text as they like to write any sort of textual description of themselves that they want. The "architecture of belief" which underpins social interaction in the MOO, that is, the belief that your interlocutors possess distinctive human identities which coalesce through and vivify the glowing letters scrolling down the computer screen, is itself built upon the this form of fantastic autobiographical writing called the self description. The majority of players in LambdaMOO do not mention race at all in their self description, though most do include eye and hair color, build, age, and the pronouns which indicate a male or a female gender.2In these cases when race is not mentioned as such, but hair and eye color is, race is still being evoked‹a character with blue eyes and blond hair will be assumed to be white. Yet while the textual conditions of self-definition and self performance would seem to permit players total freedom, within the boundaries of the written word, to describe themselves in any way they choose, this choice is actually an illusion. This is because the choice not to mention race does in fact constitute a choice‹in the absence of racial description, all players are assumed to be white. This is partly due to the demographics of Internet users‹most are white, male, highly educated, and middle class. It is also due to the utopian belief-system prevalent in the MOO. This system, which claims that the MOO should be a free space for play, strives towards policing and regulating racial discourse in the interest of social harmony. This system of regulation does permit racial role playing when it fits within familiar discourses of racial stereotyping, and thus perpetuates these discourses. I am going to focus on the deployment of Asian performance within the MOO because Asian personae are by far the most common non-white ones chosen by players and offer the most examples for study.

The vast majority of male Asian characters deployed in the MOO fit into familiar stereotypes from popular electronic media such as video games, television, and film, and popular literary genres such as science fiction and historical romance. Characters named Mr. Sulu, Chun Li, Hua Ling, Anjin San, Musashi, Bruce Lee, Little Dragon, Nunchaku, Hiroko, Miura Tetsuo, and Akira invoke their counterparts in the world of popular media; Mr. Sulu is the token "Oriental" in the television show "Star Trek," Hua Ling and Hiroko are characters in the science fiction novels Eon and Red Mars, Chun Li and Liu Kang are characters from the video games "Street Fighter" and "Mortal Kombat," the movie star Bruce Lee was nicknamed "Little Dragon," Miura Tetsuo and Anjin San are characters in James Clavell's popular novel and miniseries "Shogun," Musashi is a medieval Japanese folklore hero, and Akira is the title of a Japanese animated film of the genre called "anime." The name Nunchaku refers to a weapon, as does, in a more oblique way, all of the names listed above. These names all adapt the samurai warrior fantasy to cyberdiscursive role playing, and permit their users to perform a notion of the Oriental warrior adopted from popular media. This is an example of the crossing over effect of popular media into cyberspace, which is, as the latest comer to the array of electronic entertainment media, a bricolage of figurations and simulations. The Orientalized male persona, complete with sword, confirms the idea of the male oriental as potent, antique, exotic, and anachronistic.

This type of Orientalized theatricality is a form of identity tourism; players who choose to perform this type of racial play are almost always white, and their appropriation of stereotyped male Asiatic samurai figures allows them to indulge in a dream of crossing over racial boundaries temporarily and recreationally. Choosing these stereotypes tips their interlocutors off to the fact that they are not "really" Asian; they are instead "playing" in an already familiar type of performance. Thus, the Orient is brought into the discourse, but only as a token or "type." The idea of a non-stereotyped Asian male identity is so seldom enacted in LambdaMOO that its absence can only be read as a symptom of a suppression.

Tourism is a particularly apt metaphor to describe the activity of racial identity appropriation, or "passing" in cyberspace. The activity of "surfing," (an activity already associated with tourism in the mind of most Americans) the Internet not only reinforces the idea that cyberspace is not only a place where travel and mobility are featured attractions, but also figures it as a form of travel which is inherently recreational, exotic, and exciting, like surfing. The choice to enact oneself as a samurai warrior in LambdaMOO constitutes a form of identity tourism which allows a player to appropriate an Asian racial identity without any of the risks associated with being a racial minority in real life. While this might seem to offer a promising venue for non-Asian characters to see through the eyes of the Other by performing themselves as Asian through on-line textual interaction, the fact that the personae chosen are overwhelmingly Asian stereotypes blocks this possibility by reinforcing these stereotypes.

This theatrical fantasy of passing as a form of identity tourism has deep roots in colonial fiction, such as Kipling's Kim and T.E. Lawrence's Seven Pillars of Wisdom, and Sir Richard Burton's writings. The Irish orphan and spy Kim, who uses disguise to pass as Hindu, Muslim, and other varieties of Indian natives, experiences the pleasures and dangers of cross cultural performance. Said's insightful reading of the nature of Kim's adventures in cross cultural passing contrasts the possibilities for play and pleasure for white travelers in an imperialistic world controlled by the European empire with the relatively constrained plot resolutions offered that same boy back home. "For what one cannot do in one's own Western environment, where to try to live out the grand dream of a successful quest is only to keep coming up against one's own mediocrity and the world's corruption and degradation, one can do abroad. Isn't it possible in India to do everything, be anything, go anywhere with impunity?" (42). To practitioners of identity tourism as I have described it above, LambdaMOO represents an phantasmatic imperial space, much like Kipling's Anglo-India, which supplies a stage upon which the "grand dream of a successful quest" can be enacted.

Since the incorporation of the computer into the white collar workplace the line which divides work from play has become increasingly fluid. It is difficult for employers and indeed, for employees, to always differentiate between doing "research" on the Internet and "playing": exchanging email, checking library catalogues, interacting with friends and colleagues through synchronous media like "talk" sessions, and videoconferencing offer enhanced opportunities for gossip, jokes, and other distractions under the guise of work.3 Time spent on the Internet is a hiatus from "rl" (or real life, as it is called by most participants in virtual social spaces like LambdaMOO), and when that time is spent in a role playing space such as Lambda, devoted only to social interaction and the creation and maintenance of a convincingly "real" milieu modeled after an "internation al community," that hiatus becomes a full fledged vacation. The fact that Lambda offers players the ability to write their own descriptions, as well as the fact that players often utilize this programming feature to write stereotyped Asian personae for themselves, reveal that attractions lie not only in being able to "go" to exotic spaces,4 but to co-opt the exotic and attach it to oneself. The appropriation of racial identity becomes a form of recreation, a vacation from fixed identities and locales.
This vacation offers the satisfaction of a desire to fix the boundaries of cultural identity and exploit them for recreational purposes. As Said puts it, the tourist who passes as the marginalized Other during his travels partakes of a fantasy of social control, one which depends upon and fixes the familiar contours of racial power relations.

It is the wish-fantasy of someone who would like to think that everything is possible, that one can go anywhere and be anything. T.E. Lawrence in The Seven Pillars of Wisdom expresses this fantasy over and over, as he reminds us how he‹a blond and blue-eyed Englishman‹moved among the desert Arabs as if he were one of them. I call this a fantasy because, as both Kipling and Lawrence endless remind us, no one‹least of all actual whites and non-whites in the colonies‹ever forgets that "going native' or playing the Great Game are facts based on rock-like foundations, those of European power. Was there ever a native fooled by the blue or green-eyed Kims and Lawrences who passed among the inferior races as agent adventurers? I doubt it... (Said 44)

As Donna Haraway notes, high technologies "promise ultimate mobility and perfect exchange‹and incidentally enable tourism, that perfect practice of mobility and exchange, to emerge as one of the world's largest single industries" (168). Identity tourism in cyberspaces like LambdaMOO functions as a fascinating example of the promise of high technology to enhance travel opportunities by redefining what constitutes travel‹logging on to a phantasmatic space where one can appropriate exotic identities means that one need never cross a physical border or even leave one's armchair to go on vacation. This "promise" of "ultimate mobility and perfect exchange" is not, however, fulfilled for everyone in LambdaMOO. The suppression of racial discourse which does not conform to familiar stereotypes, and the enactment of notions of the Oriental which do conform to them, extends the promise of mobility and exchange only to those who wish to change their identities to fit accepted norms.

Performances of Asian female personae in LambdaMOO are doubly repressive because they enact a variety of identity tourism which cuts across the axes of gender and race, linking them in a powerful mix which brings together virtual sex, Orientalist stereotyping, and performance. A listing of some of the names and descriptions chosen by players who masquerade as "Asian" "females" at LambdaMOO include: AsianDoll, Miss_Saigon, Bisexual_Asian_Guest, Michelle_Chang, Geisha_Guest, and MaidenTaiwan. They describe themselves as, for example, a "mystical Oriental beauty, drawn from the pages of a Nagel calendar," or, in the case of the Geisha_Guest, a character owned by a white American man living in Japan:

a petite Japanese girl in her twenties. She has devoted her entire life to the perfecting the tea ceremony and mastering the art of lovemaking. She is multi-orgasmic. She is wearing a pastel kimono, 3 under-kimonos in pink and white. She is not wearing panties, and that would not be appropriate for a geisha. She has spent her entire life in the pursuit of erotic experiences.

Now, it is commonly known that the relative dearth of women in cyberspace results in a great deal of "computer cross dressing," or men masquerading as women. Men who do this are generally seeking sexual interaction, or "netsex" from other players of both genders. When the performance is doubly layered, and a user extends his identity tourism across both race and gender, it is possible to observe a double appropriation or objectification which uses the "Oriental" as part of a sexual lure, thus exploiting and reifying through performance notions of the Asian female as submissive, docile, a sexual plaything.

The fetishization of the Asian female extends beyond LambdaMOO into other parts of the Internet. There is a usenet newsgroup called "alt.sex.fetish.orientals" which is extremely active‹it is also the only one of the infamous "alt.sex" newsgroups which overtly focuses upon race as an adjunct to sexuality.

Cyberspace is the newest incarnation of the idea of national boundaries. It is a phenomenon more abstract yet at the same time more "real" than outer space, since millions of particip ants deploy and immerse themselves within it daily, while space travel has been experienced by only a few people. The term "cyberspace" participates in a topographical trope which, as Stone points out, defines the activity of on-line interaction as a taking place within a locus, a space, a "world" unto itself. This second "world," like carnival, possess constantly fluctuating boundaries, frontiers, and dividing lines which separate it from both the realm of the "real" (that which takes place off line) and its corollary, the world of the physical body which gets projected, manipulated, and performed via on-line interaction. The title of the Time magazine cover story for July 25, 1994, "The Strange New World of Internet: Battles on the Frontiers of Cyberspace" is typical of the popular media's depictions of the Internet as a world unto itself with shifting frontiers and borders which are contested in the same way that national borders are. The "battle" over borders takes place on several levels which have been well documented elsewhere, such as the battle over encryption and the conflict between the rights of the private individual to transmit and receive information freely and the rights of government to monitor potentially dangerous, subversive, or obscene material which crosses state lines over telephone wires. These contests concern the distinction between public and private. It is, however, seldom acknowledged that the trope of the battle on the cyber frontier also connotes a conflict on the level of cultural self definition. If, as Chris Chesher notes, "the frontier has been used since as a metaphor for freedom and progress, and...space exploration, especially, in the 1950s and 1960s was often called the 'new frontier,'" (18) the figuration of cyberspace as the most recent representation of the frontier sets the stage for border skirmishes in the realm of cultural representations of the Other. The discourse of space travel during this period solidified the American identity by limning out the contours of an cosmic, or "last" frontier.5 The "race for space," or the race to stake out a border to be defended against both the non human (aliens) and the non American (the Soviets) translates into an obsession with race and a fear of racial contamination, always one of the distinctive features of the imperialist project. In films such as Alien, the integrity and solidarity of the American body is threatened on two fronts‹both the anti-human (the alien) and the passing-as-human (the cyborg) seek to gain entry and colonize Ripley's human body. Narratives which locate the source of contaminating elements within a deceitful and uncanny technologically-enabled theatricality‹the ability to pass as human‹depict performance as an occupational hazard of the colonization of any space. New and futuristic technologies call into question the integrity of categories of the human since they enable the non-human to assume a human face and identity.

Recently, a character on Lambda named "Tapu" proposed a piece of legislation to the Lambda community in the form of petition. This petition, entitled "Hate-Crime," was intended to impose penalties upon characters who harassed other characters on the basis of race. The players' publicly posted response to this petition, which failed by a narrow margin, reveals a great deal about the particular variety of utopianism common to real-time textual on-line social interaction. The petition's detractors argued that legislation or discourse designed to prevent or penalize racist "hate speech" were unnecessary since those offended in this way had the option to "hide" their race by removing it from their descriptions. A character named "Taffy" writes "Well, who knows my race unless I tell them? If race isn't important than why mention it? If you want to get in somebody's face with your race then perhaps you deserve a bit of flak. Either way I don't see why we need extra rules to deal with this." "Taffy," who signs himself "proud to be a sort of greyish pinky color with bloches" [sic] recommends a strategy of both blaming the victim and suppressing race, an issue which "isn't important" and shouldn't be mentioned because doing so gets in "somebody's face." The fear of the "flak" supposedly generated by player's decisions to include race in their descriptions of self is echoed in another post to the same group by "Nougat," who points out that "how is someone to know what race you are a part of? If [sic] this bill is meant to combat comments by towards people of different races, or just any comments whatsoever? Seems to me, if you include your race in your description, you are making yourself the sacrificial lamb. I don't include 'caucasian' in my description, simply because I think it is unnecess ary. And thusly, I don't think I've ever been called 'honkey.'" Both of these posts emphasize that race is not, should not be, "necessary" to social interaction on LambdaMOO. The punishment for introducing this extraneous and divisive issue into the MOO, which represents a vacation space, a Fantasy Island of sorts, for its users, is to become a "sacrificial lamb." The attraction of Fantasy Island lay in its ability to provide scenarios for the fantasies of privileged individuals. And the maintenance of this fantasy, that of a race-free society, can only occur by suppressing forbidden identity choices.

While many of the members of social on-line communities like LambdaMOO are stubbornly utopian in their attitudes towards the power dynamics and flows of information within the technologically mediated social spaces they inhabit, most of the theorists are pessimistic. Andrew Ross and Constance Penley introduce the essays in their collection Technoculture by asserting that "the odds are firmly stacked against the efforts of those committed to creating technological countercultures" (xiii). Chesher concedes that "In spite of the claims that everyone is the same in virtual worlds, access to technology and necessary skills will effectively replicate class divisions of the rest of reality in the virtual spaces" (28) and "will tend to reinforce existing inequalities, and propagate already dominant ideologies" (29). Indeed, the cost of net access does contribute towards class divisions as well as racial ones; the vast majority of the Internet's users are white and middle-class. One of the dangers of identity tourism is that it takes this restriction across the axes of race/class in the "real world" to an even more subtle and complex degree by reducing non-white identity positions to part of a costume or masquerade to be used by curious vacationers in cyberspace. Asianness is co-opted as a "passing" fancy, an identity-prosthesis which signifies sex, the exotic, passivity when female, and anachronistic dreams of combat in its male manifestation. "Passing" as a samurai or geisha is diverting, reversible, and a privilege mainly used by white men. The paradigm of Asian passing masquerades on LambdaMOO itself works to suppress racial difference by setting the tone of the discourse in racist contours, which inevitably discourage "real life" Asian men and women from textual performance in that space, effectively driving race underground . As a result, a default "whiteness" covers the entire social space of LambdaMOO‹race is "whited out" in the name of cybersocial hygiene.

The dream of a new technology has always contained within it the fear of total control, and the accompanying loss of individual autonomy. Perhaps the best way to subvert the hegemony of cybersocial hygiene is to use its own metaphors against itself. Racial and racist discourse in the MOO is the unique product of a machine and an ideology. Looking at discourse about race in cyberspace as a computer bug or ghost in the machine permits insight into the ways that it subverts that machine. A bug interrupts a program's regular commands and routines, causing it to behave unpredictably. "Bugs are mistakes, or unexpected occurrences, as opposed to things that are intentional" (Aker 12). Programmers routinely debug their work because they desire complete control over the way their program functions, just as Taffy and Nougat would like to debug LambdaMOO of its "sacrificial lambs," those who insist on introducing new expressions of race into their world. Discourse about race in cyberspace is conceptualized as a bug, something which an efficient computer user would eradicate since it contaminates their work/play. The "unexpected occurrence" of race has the potential, by its very unexpectedness, to sabotage the ideology-machine's routines. Therefore, its articulation is critical, as is the ongoing examination of the dynamics of this articulation. As Judith Butler puts it:

Doubtlessly crucial is the ability to wield the signs of subordinated identity in a public domain that constitutes its own homophobic and racist hegemonies through the erasure or domestication of culturally and politically constituted identities. And insofar as it is imperative that we insist upon those specificities in order to expose the fictions of an imperialist humanism that works through unmarked privilege, there remains the risk that we will make the articulation of ever more specified identities into the aim of political activism. Thus every insistence on identity must at some point lead to a taking stock of the constitutive exclusions that reconsolidate hegemonic power differentials...(118)

The erasure and domestication of Asianness on LambdaMOO perpetuates an Orientalist myth of social control and order. As Cornell West puts it, as Judith Butler puts it, "race matters," and "bodie s matter." Programming language and Internet connectivity have made it possible for people to interact without putting into play any bodies but the ones they write for themselves . The temporary divorce which cyberdiscourse grants the mind from the body and the text from the body also separates race and the body. Player scripts which eschew repressive versions of the Oriental in favor of critical rearticulations and recombinations of race, gender, and class, and which also call the fixedness of these categories into question have the power to turn the theatricality characteristic of MOOspace into a truly innovative form of play, rather than a tired reiteration and reinstatement of old hierarchies. Role playing is a feature of the MOO, not a bug, and it would be absurd to ask that everyone who plays within it hew literally to the "rl" gender, race, or condition of life. A diversification of the roles which get played, which are permitted to be played, can enable a thought provoking detachment of race from the body, and an accompanying questioning of the essentialness of race as a category. Performing alternative versions of self and race jams the ideology-machine, and facilitates a desirable opening up of what Judith Butler calls "the difficult future terrain of community" (242) in cyberspace.
posted by R J Noriega at 2:28 PM | Permalink | 0 comments
They’ve Come for Us All
Brian Cook

First they came for the Communists,” runs the opening of the famous poem about the Nazis’ incremental persecution of minorities. So perhaps we should admire the efficiency of Reps. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wisc.) and Peter King (R-N.Y.) in sponsoring “immigration reform” legislation that revokes the rights of both undocumented immigrants and the rest of us, all at once.

In December, the House passed the Border Protection, Anti-Terrorism and Illegal Immigration Control Act by a vote of 239 to 182, thanks to the complicity of 36 Democrats. Reading as if it was penned in a vacuum—wholly removed from the 12 million undocumented immigrants toiling in the dark underbelly of our glistening, service-oriented New Economy—the 257-page bill is an affront to reality. Among other monstrosities, it would classify these workers as felons subject to imprisonment, permanently bar them from legal status, put numerous roadblocks in the way of legal immigrants and political refugees, and authorize construction of a giant fence along a third of the U.S.-Mexico border.

Given the perverse glee our culture takes in penalizing its marginalized, the act’s solely punitive measures toward undocumented immigrants should come as no surprise. What might be more surprising—although it’s become increasingly less so—is that the bill also tramples the rights of U.S. citizens. The act defines “smugglers” of immigrants so broadly that it would include a counselor helping victims of domestic violence, a church volunteer providing them with food or clothing, or a worker driving a fellow employee to the bus stop. Such senseless acts of kindness could be rewarded with up to five years in prison.

Of course, enforcing this law and imprisoning the millions of doctors, teachers and workers who deal with immigrants on a daily basis is patently absurd, as well as rife with the potential to be selectively used. As Josh Bernstein, director of federal policy for the L.A.-based National Immigration Law Center, says, “Anti-immigration groups often talk about the rule of law, but here we are passing laws that nobody believes are going to be enforced.”

The good news is that the House bill won’t become law as is. The bad news is that the immigration reform bill of Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), being marked up in committee as In These Times went to press, is only marginally better. If given enough time to work, however, the committee appears likely to incorporate many of the provisions of the bipartisan bill introduced by Sens. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.). While far from perfect, it would put undocumented immigrants on the path to citizenship.

Unfortunately, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) has threatened to undercut the committee and introduce his own bill, focused solely on border control measures, to the Senate floor on March 27. Frist is rushing this important legislation for the same reason the House bill got passed in the first place: political grandstanding.

Despite the split on immigration between the GOP’s business faction and its culturally conservative base, many Republicans would love to show voters how “tough” they are on immigrants, regardless of how ill-thought-out the legislation may be. In a cynical attempt to fire up their base, they are willing to destroy the slowly emerging, bipartisan consensus on real immigration reform.

In a beautiful irony, however, the strategy may well backfire. On March 10, activists organized a march in Chicago to protest the House legislation. They expected 10,000 people, at most; instead, more than 100,000 showed up. The divisive legislation awoke what Bernstein calls a “sleeping giant”: the growing political power of Latinos. “If I was a Republican,” says Bernstein, “I would be scared. I would be really scared.”
posted by R J Noriega at 2:07 PM | Permalink | 0 comments
The Unbearable Whiteness of Being:
The Unbearable Whiteness of Being1:
African American Critical Theory and Cyberculture
by Kalí Tal

After the Egyptian and Indian, the Greek and Roman, the Teuton and Mongolian, the Negro is a sort of seventh son, born with a veil, and gifted with second-sight in this American world--a world which yields him no true self-consciousness, but only lets him see himself through the revelation of the other world. It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one's self through the eyes of others, of measuring one's soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his twoness--an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled arrivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.
The history of the American Negro is the history of this strife--this longing to attain self-conscious manhood, to merge his double self into a better and truer self.

(W.E.B. DuBois, The Souls of Black Folk, 1903)

In cyberspace, it is finally possible to completely and utterly disappear people of color. I have long suspected that the much vaunted "freedom" to shed the "limiting" markers of race and gender on the Internet is illusory, and that in fact it masks a more disturbing phenomenon--the whitinizing of cyberspace. The invisibility of people of color on the Net has allowed white-controlled and white-read publications like WIRED to simply elide questions of race.2

The irony of this invisibility is that African American critical theory provides very sophisticated tools for the analysis of cyberculture, since African American critics have been discussing the problem of multiple identities, fragmented personae, and liminality for over a hundred years. But WIRED readers and writers aren't familiar with this rich body of critical theory, and so we are presented with articles like "Sex, Lies, and Avatars," which fawn uncritically over Sherry Turkle's supposedly groundbreaking work in Life on the Screen.

Turkle's work is interesting, as far as it goes, but limited in its scope. Instead of looking to Lacan (who, like Turkle, works in a white, European tradition), she might have more profitably turned her eyes closer to home. If Turkle had read W.E.B. DuBois, she might not have had to wait "more than twenty years after meeting the ideas of Lacan, Foucault, Deleuze, and Guattari" to find an environment in which these "Gallic abstractions" were "more concrete." (Life, p. 15) Turkle (and WIRED) are always already talking about the white self, and even within that category, a limited set of the white self: middle- to upper-class, educated, usually male. This privileged white self becomes the normative self, the "we" of WIRED and, unfortunately, of most of the Net.

But the struggle of African-Americans is precisely the struggle to integrate identity and multiplicity, and the culture(s) of African-Americans can surely be understood as perfect models of the "postmodern" condition, except that they predate postmodernism by hundreds of years, and thus contradict the notion that the absence of the (illusion of) unitary self is something new. Cyberpunk writers have felt this resonance, and that is why Gibson's Net is populated by loas, deities from the voudou religion of the Caribbean; why Emma Bull's protagonist in Bone Dance is ridden by the same gods; why Stirling's Islands in the Net features Rasta-based characters.3 The "culture of simulation" is no different from "the culture" for people of color in this country, who have been "inventing" themselves, their multiple selves" as they go along, and "constructing the world, too" (as Ellison's Invisible Man constructed his underground room, illuminated by stolen power).

I'm reminded of a science fiction workshop I took in 1976. Ted Sturgeon, a great teacher, assigned us to write a science fiction story that answered the question, "Why don't black people write science fiction?" Ted was progressive, a good man. He asked the question honestly. We all wrote stories about how the day-to-day struggle for survival left black folks no time or energy to construct fantasies. I took Ted's word that there were no black science fiction writers. But Ted was wrong, and I was wrong, and it took me a long time to understand that white publishers and the white science fiction establishment, and white critics simply couldn't see African-American science fiction, just like the white guy who bumps into Ellison's Invisible Man can't see him, even as the Invisible Man beats the crap out of him. George Schuyler wrote science fiction back in the 1930s. Ralph Ellison wrote it in the 1950s. Sam Greenlee wrote it in the 1960s. Octavia Butler, Sam Delany, Toni Bambara, Toni Morrison, and Ishmael Reed have been writing it for the last couple of decades. The work is out there, but nobody talking about cyberspace pays the least bit of attention to it.

Just like no one talking about hypertext pays attention to Henry Louis Gates, Jr., whose description of the Ifa (Yoruba sacred texts) could be a model for that form:

Its system of interpretation turns upon a marvelous combination of geomancy and textual exegesis, in which sixteen palm nuts are "dialed" sixteen times, and their configurations or signs then read and translated into the appropriate, fixed literary verse that the numerical signs signify.... These verse texts,whose meanings are lushly metaphorical, ambiguous, and enigmatic, function as riddles, which the propitiate must decipher and apply as is appropriate to his or her own quandary." (Signifying Monkey: 10).

The god Ifa writes the texts, and the god Esu translates them, and it is exactly this translator-god who has metamorphosed into the Trickster figure of contemporary African-American culture. That the Trickster inhabits the Net is undeniable--he is, in fact, the essence of the Net. Gates' Trickster/Signifying Monkey (and it's no accident that African-Americans were using "signify" as a verb long before the postmodernists picked it up) embodies various black rhetorical tropes, including "marking, loud-talking, testifying, calling out (of one's name), sounding, rapping, playing the dozens, and so on." (52) Net culture can easily be understood in these terms--the Signifying Monkey is surely the Father of Flames.

We don't need "a whole new set of metaphors for thinking about the unconscious." We need, as a culture, to pay attention to the theory and literature of those among us who have long been wrestling with multiplicity. There are many things about e-space which are not new. Yes, the Internet gives us more people writing, but I'm afraid that at the moment it give us more of the same people writing. Let's see some real difference.
posted by R J Noriega at 1:44 PM | Permalink | 0 comments
Thursday, March 23, 2006
AFROCENTRISM : The Argument We're Really Having
by Ibrahim Sundiata

Afrocentrism is many things to many people, from the insistent claims of Leonard Jeffries to the commercialism of the mainstream media. In the last five years it has pushed its way into the American consciousness, both as an academic movement and as an attitude. Several years ago I watched Eddy Murphy as Akenaton, Iman as Nfertiti, and Michael Jackson as a Trickster Imhotep in the music video "Remember the Time." MTV had met Afrocentrism? At any rate, it was an ambitious fantasy set in ancient Egypt for the delectation of Black Americans and, perhaps, the consternation of Whites.

I, a professional Africanist, had remained largely removed from the controversy surrounding Black nationalist historiography and, especially, Afrocentrism. Not that I hadn't heard about clashes. Several years ago, I could not help but be aware of charges of both racism and anti-Semitism at Hillary Clinton's alma mater, Wellesley College. Professor Tony Martin of the Africana Studies Department taught from The Secret Relationship between Blacks and Jews, a book issued by the Nation of Islam; it argued that Jews dominated the Atlantic slave trade. Professor Mary Lefkowitz, a classicist, became one of Professor Martin's chief critics. He in turn accused her of leading a "Jewish onslaught." The president of the college became embroiled in an argument over freedom of speech, a debate with national reverberations, especially in a decade of supposedly deteriorating Black/Jewish relations.

Several months ago I met the same Mary Lefkowitz, a pleasant low-keyed woman with a scholarly face. In a course about Africa and the West, I had invited her to speak. Lefkowitz, now author of Not Out of Africa: How Afrocentrism Became an Excuse to Teach Myth as History, spoke in measured tones about the stories that many scholars, Black and White, had spun about the connection between Egypt and Greece. The student audience asked questions and probed the responses in the best scholarly fashion. And that should have been that.

Now, in May of 1996, I found myself on a panel at Wellesley with the opposing forces of Afrocentrism and anti-Afrocentrism. I had stepped into the minefield that surrounds Afrocentrism, "Blackness" and "political correctness" in the academy. The audience of several hundred, crammed into a small science auditorium, was a sea of black, brown and white faces. Some young, a few old, mostly female, they seemed to resonate with the kind of intense interest seldom reserved for ancient history. Indeed, I knew that they had not come for that, per se. In the past several months Lefkowitz has become the doyenne of those who wish to see the end of liberal "relativism" in the academy, including many on the Right who see her as the opening wedge in a crusade to cleanse the temples of learning of creeping multiculturalism. Conservative pundits like George Will in Newsweek are using her work as a cudgel to beat home certain ideas about standards, pedagogy and race. Not since Martin Bernal's 1987 Black Athena: The Afroasiatic Roots of Classical Civilization, which argued for the African roots of Attic civilization, have so many nonspecialists gotten into a lather about the sons and daughters of Hellen. The discussion has little to do with Egyptology or classics; it does involve our deepest feelings of who we are and the state of contemporary Black/White relations.

Lefkowitz is a serious scholar. We also have essential points of disagreement. She and I talked over lunch about the controversy surely to follow on the heels of the publication of her book. Lefkowitz points out that some Afrocentrists state that the ancient Greeks stole their philosophy from Egypt. She maintains that any idea of an Egyptian "Mystery System" is ultimately based on Greco-Roman sources which present only a partial and late version of Egyptian practice and ritual. These were worked up into a pseudohistorical pastiche in the early eighteenth century by a French cleric and then given wide currency. Lefkowitz argues that the Masons and certain twentieth century African American writers mistakenly used this work to construct a vision of ancient Egyptian religion and knowledge. However, she does not stop there. On the basis of a very slender number of examples, she set out to demolish what she construes to be "Afrocentrists" and to save young people from their clutches. She explicitly states that her work is a critique of "relativist" or "subjective" history that attempts to vindicate the past of any particular group—in this case Blacks. Indeed, her work has been partially funded by conservative groups hoping to stem the tide of such scholarship. If her tormentors have the Nation of Islam, Professor Lefkowitz has the Bradley and John M.Olin Foundations.

Until the publication of Bernal's work in the late 1980s, the White academic establishment took little notice of what was emerging as "Afrocentrism." However, Black nationalist historiography had already put down deep roots in the African American community. In the nineteenth century writers like Edward Blyden and Martin Delany pointed the way. In the twentieth century J. A. Rogers and others emphasized the Black contributions to "High Cultures" of the Old World, contributions which they argued had been for too long denied. At the same time, religious groups, like the Moorish Science Temple and, later, the Nation of Islam, created a completely alternative cosmology and narrative for African Americans. This responded to the predominant ideology of White supremacy and created a universal history in which the North American racial hierarchy was turned on its head. Blacks were the original people and whites were a devolution. The Civil Rights movement of the 1960s and the following Black Power movement increased the need for a broader new history. Works like Chancellor Williams' The Destruction of Black Civilization and George James' Stolen Legacy became focal texts. The Senegalese historian Cheikh Anta Diop's works were translated into English; these were taken up by many Black Studies departments and became part of the alternative Black Studies canon.

Afrocentrists argue that Blacks must see themselves through Black eyes, as agents of history, rather than as simply subjects of investigation. Their view must proceed from an "inside place." Most emphasize the civilizations of northeastern Africa, namely Kemet (Egypt), Nubia, Axum, and Meroe. Early on it was truly a "Black Thing," involving as it did its own conferences, publishing and networks. By 1978 Jay Carruthers' Kemetic Institute was established in Chicago. A year later a similar thematic course was taken by the Institute of Pan-African Studies in Los Angeles. A meeting in that city in 1984, the First Annual Ancient Egyptian Studies resulted in the organization of the Association for the Study of Classical African Civilizations. In the same year Ivan Van Sertima's Nile Valley Civilization group held a major conference. His Journal of African Civilization became a major diffusion point in the burgeoning corpus of Afrocentric literature.

In spite of criticism (or maybe because of it), Afrocentrism (or Afrocentricity) was and is spreading. Elementary schools in Atlanta, Washington, D.C., and Detroit, as well as other locales, have initiated new curricula, impelled largely by the demands of parents and students. The African American Baseline Essays, created for the Portland, Oregon, school system, have had a wide impact. Covering a number of disciplines, ranging form history to mathematics, the essays attempt to topple the perceived "Eurocentrism" of the pedagogical status quo. At the same time, Afrocentrism has begun to make itself felt in higher education. The largest Afrocentric program in the United States is housed at Temple University in Philadelphia and has well-over one hundred students under the chairmanship of Molefi Asante.

The African American Studies establishment has awakened to find itself on the defensive and university administrators find their campuses being visited by a stream of Afrocentric speakers invited in by the students. In the early 1970s Orlando Patterson of Harvard, a Jamaican-born sociologist, lambasted the incipient movement as emphasizing only "pageants, pyramids and princes." Twenty years later Newsweek carried a feature article on it; Afrocentrism was a menacing exotic growth emanating from the bowels of urban America, rapping out a lyric of Black primacy and rapping ancient history on the head. Many Whites and not a few African Americans saw it as dangerous. In 1994 the Manhattan Institute, a public policy forum, published Alternatives to Afrocentrism, a collection of highly critical essays by, among others, Lefkowitz, Gerald Early, Stanley Crouch, Wilson Moses, and Frank Yurco. Early, an African American, has been especially vitriolic, dismissing Afrocentrism as just another North American experiment in "group therapy," intellectual fast food for his less sophisticated brethren.

Lefkowitz says that her own combat with Afrocentrism began after a visit to Wellesley in the early 1990s by the longtime Afrocentrist Yosef Ben-Jochannan. Given this experience and subsequent ones, the Wellesley professor advises: "University administrators ought to ask whether we need courses in flat-earth theory — or Afrocentric ancient history — even if someone is prepared to teach them." This assumes an equivalence between flat earth theory and all Afrocentrism, a simplistic assumption, at best. Some of Afrocentrism's detractors connect it with everything from anti-Americanism to anti-Semitism. True, among some of its proponents these elements are all too much in evidence. Doctrines of "Sun People" and "Ice People" have emerged that simply reverse the Manichean duality of the dominant White mindset and spit it back. Melanism, "the doctrine that this pigment confers superior intelligence on Blacks, has been propounded, as have theories, too numerous to mention, which connect the origin of Blacks with the Lost Continent of Mu or Muria, a kind of sepia version of Atlantis. Indeed, like former Utopians, many tendencies branch off and make the transition from the tired Profane History of this world (and the political battles it calls for) to millenarian Never Lands which exist outside the American racial nightmare.

Many of Afrocentrism's critics have chosen to battle these straw men (and women). However, "Afrocentrists do not want," according to Asante, "to replace Greece with Egypt. They want a proper recognition of African civilization." Afrocentrism "is not, nor can it be based on biological determinism." The movement is open to "anyone willing to submit to the discipline of learning the concepts and methods. . . ." The question is not whether or not Cleopatra was Black — Asante argues that she was not — but about "a proper recognition of African civilization." Maulana Karenga uses the term "Afrocentricity" to avoid any perception that it has aims equivalent to the "Eurocentrism" it seeks to replace. In seeking to delimit it, he has encouraged its adherents to be autocritical. They must not "promote a static, monolithic and unreal concept of African culture which denies or diminishes its dynamic and diverse character." They must also not "overfocus on the Continental African past at the expense of recognizing the African American past and present as central to and constitutive of African culture and the Afrocentric enterprise."

Afrocentrism attracts attention in a way that new theories of the diffusion of the Indo-European languages do not. Part of this is due to the fact that Afrocentrism lends itself to a political vision. Many of its opponents, from Arthur Schlesinger to Dinesh D'Souza, see it as the historiographical groundwork for Black separatism. As it filters into the academy, it increasingly influences young African Americans who will be the leaders of tomorrow. In addition, as it filters into formerly white temples of learning, it acquires legitimacy and funding which make it harder to uproot as time progresses. To its myriad enemies, it, Hydra-like, seems to acquire new heads and new strength. Some of these new heads are White and within the Ivy League. Chief among them is Martin Bernal of Cornell. He argued that until the eighteenth century Western Europeans had seen the origins of Greek civilization in Egyptian and Phoenician colonization. In the nineteenth century this "Ancient Model" was dropped in favor of one which attributed the wellsprings of classical Greek civilization to hardy (and quite White) northerners cascading down the Balkans. Bernal labels this formulation the "Aryan Model." In it the African and Semitic roots of the West could be blotted out. Racism and anti-Semitism had triumphed, if only for a time.

Bernal's second volume of Black Athena was published in 1991 and it still causing fallout half-a-decade later. Indeed, cyberspace is whizzing with e-mailed debates between the twin peaks of the (White) debate on Afrocentrism. Lefkowitz and a colleague, Guy Rogers, have added fuel to the fire by editing a rather ponderous tome entitled Black Athena Revisited in which a wide variety of scholars hammer away at Bernal's central theses. Much of it has been heard before; much of it needs to be very seriously debated. Much of it is arcane and makes one wonder why all the media hype surrounding arguments about people who have been dead for at least twenty-five hundred years. For instance, Frank Yurco, the Egyptologist, tackles Black Athena herself and holds that Bernal's claim that the Hellenic goddess of wisdom sprang from an Egyptian prototype, Neit, is nonsense. Yurco assures us, at one point, that "H is a strongly voiced phoneme in Egypto-Coptic..[also] Greek theta does not exist in Egypto-Coptic, but it would have to derive from the final t in Egyptian Hwt." Not really the kind of thing most people, even academics, discuss at parties. It is of even less concern to the "Boyz in the Hood." So why now is this "hot stuff"? Lefkowitz is invited to speak on National Public Radio and is defended by George Will, but the recent discovery of the complex relationship between the Germanic languages and the Slavic and Celtic groups won't get five minutes or five pages in the media. The issue is race. The present wrangles have two parts: the relationship between "Black" Africa and Egypt, and the relationship between Egypt and Greece. The first is primary; the issue of Egypt's relation to Greece only takes on interest (and color) when the issue of who the ancient Egyptian actually "were" comes into play.

The assertion that the Egyptians were "Black" raises hackles. The three writers that deal with race in the Lefkowitz/Rogers collection go to considerable lengths to prove that "Blacks," however defined, are not part of the story. Indeed, Glen Bowersock, reviewing Not Out of Africa in the New York Times, had already questioned "why Egyptian origins or influences should be linked with Africans at all, except in the simple-minded geographical sense." This is the heart of the matter. It has bedeviled Western scholars for over one-hundred and fifty years and is still not resolved. Although in the nineteenth century Sir Richard Burton referred to modern Egyptians as "whitewashed niggers," and Sir Flinders Petrie referred to their ancient ancestors as being of "course mulatto stock," neither of these formulations serve to give an agreeable pedigree to the precursors of Western civilization. Indeed, it was for this reason that Giuseppe Sergi, an Italian anthropologist overcame the problem in the 1880s by divining that the ancient Egyptians were dark — sometimes very dark — Caucasians. He labeled his group Hamites and placed them at the intersection of Africa and Asia. Later anthropologists theorized a Hamitic or series of Hamitic languages. By the 1920s the American anthropologist, C. G. Seligman, wrote that any signs of "civilization" in Africa were the products of the penetration of these incomparable bearers of culture. A few years later, Alfred Rosenberg, chief Nazi Party ideologue, could confidently claim Egypt's ruling class for Europe's peoples - and their Aryan branch at that. By the 1960s, however, the "Hamitic Hypothesis" had fallen from grace as the established orthodoxy. The linguist Joseph Greenberg demonstrated that the "Hamitic" languages were a chimera; no such unified group could be found. The people called "Hamites" were found to belong to differing language families. As the linguistic foundations for the hypothesis fell away, so too did the idea of a conquering "Hamitic Race."

At least until Black Athena Revisited. On the whole, the book hedges on the race issue. Guy Rogers says, in summation that "It would be inaccurate to describe the ancient Egyptians as either black or white; the population of ancient Egypt was one of mixed pigmentation." The assertion is mild, but in the land of Colin Powell it seems more disingenuous than myopic. We live in a society of races, which few classicists have expressed any desire to declassify. W. E. B. Du Bois was right when he said: "We cannot if we are sane, divide the world into whites, yellows, and blacks, and then call blacks white." He might have said that it would be equally as strange to call them "Mediterranean," "Hamitic," or a hundred other euphemisms. One assumes that these various authors in Black Athena Revisited have seen, if not met, an African American. And here lies the rub — the very catholicity of the term "Black" in the North American context. The "social "construction of race in America does not rely on skin color. "African Americans," as Asante notes, " constitute the most heterogeneous group in the United States biologically, but perhaps one of the most homogeneous socially." Hypodescent, the "One Drop Rule," has molded and still molds discussions "Blackness." And, it is still maintained. As Wilson Moses points out, "Even today, this . . . reasoning remains the basis for classifying appreciable numbers of people as 'black' despite their blue eyes and blond hair." While Cheikh Anta Diop did argue for a West African phenotype for the ancient Egyptians, leading Afrocentrists do not insist upon it. In fact they are quiet explicit. Karenga notes that it "is . . . playing Europe's racial game to concede that Egyptians are white or Asian if they don't look like a Eurocentric version of a West African." Furthermore, "Ethiopians and Somalis, perhaps, resemble the ancient Egyptians and ancient Nubians more than any other peoples and they are, even by Eurocentric standards, African." Unless we revive the hoary "Hamitic" Myth, they are.

One need not argue that the ancestors of African Americans rafted to the Americas on papyrus boats to make the Afrocentrists' point. The issue is that if they had "Black" African ancestry, it would clearly place them in a subordinate caste in the United States. Or, as Wilson Moses has put it, "In fact many of the Pharaohs, if transplanted across time and onto the Chattanooga Choo-Choo in 1945, would have a hard time obtaining a Pullman berth or being seated in a dining car." It might be pointed out that the ancient Egypt did not see themselves as "Caucasoid" or "Negroid." The issue of imposing our racial taxonomies on the ancient Egyptians is a specious one. To call the Hittites or the Trocharians "Indo-Europeans" is to impose terminology on peoples who never themselves used it. The process of classifying and aggregating is well-known to most social scientists — witness the evolution of the 1970s ethnic neologism "Hispanic."

For those anti-Afrocentrists truly concerned with the Black in Black Athena, there is a way out. One of the writers in the attack on Bernal has it. Not only were the ancient Egyptians not Black, their nearest relatives are Europeans: "It is obvious that both the Predynastic and Late Dynastic Egyptians are more closely related to the European cluster than they are to any of the other major regional clusters in the world." In one fell swoop, he drives a stake through the heart of Bernal's argument, those of the Afrocentrists, and not a few Africanists. Relying on skulls, but not blood groupings or DNA, Loring Brace, an anthropologist at the University of Michigan, tells us that heads do talk and that the ancient Egyptians were closer, at least head-wise, to Germans and Danes than they were to Somalis, Ethiopians, Nubians or Berbers. He dismisses the term "race" and then revives it cleverly disguised within the term "cluster." There are several of these; the two of most interest to him just happen to be the "European" and the "African." And the Egyptians definitely belong with the former. Brace' s article is by far the longest and most detailed of the three in the book that deal with specifically with race. It would also vindicate much late nineteenth century racial thought on the "Egyptian Question."

One of the authors in Black Athena Revisited, Kathryn Bard, does note that some craniometry is pretty old-fashioned. The dean of African-American classicists, Frank Snowden, in his contribution, advises Afrocentrists to give up Egypt and focus on Nubia as the first great Black civilization. Brace's contribution, far more radical than it seems at first glance, would deny even this concession. Nubians, like the Egyptians, are not part of the African head cluster. Brace's argument is admittedly clever, for it avoids any claims that might arise based on the American "One Drop Rule." The Egyptians and their neighbors to the south in Nubia and the Horn are, according to a series of impressive cranial geneologies, adaptations to climate. And the African "cluster" is not in the mix; the ancient Egyptians were people with European skulls whose epidermises gradually adapted to the rigors of a subtropical sun.

Of course, Dr. Brace is not the final word. The field of physical anthropology has progressed somewhat beyond the phrenology and craniometry of the nineteenth century. Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza, to many the present authority in the field, has said that we must look to gene frequencies, blood groupings and a host of other data before we construct our "racial" genealogies. Homo sapiens has had the annoying habit of being able to interbreed; unlike Brace, Cavalli-Sforza believes that the population of the Horn of Africa is clearly the result of a fusion of black African and non-African elements. The Italian geneticist, a former Princeton professor and one of the authors of the Human Genome Project, is hardly a radical in matters racial. At the same time, he, more than some of his American confrerès, is willing to admit to the infinite variety of human experience and the human hybridity that may have been the past of the race and which may be its future.

Where "race" has been legally enforced for over nine generations, we must take it, however socially constructed, very seriously. And here is the both the hope and the warning. Lefkowitz, the scholar, acknowledges that "If you go by the American 'one-drop rule,' the Egyptians would be black." In spite of any craniofacial legerdemain, the Egyptians and their neighbors to the south were "people of color." Hopefully, the sterile debate on whether Northeastern Africa was really within or without Africa will soon be closed. In the late 1980s an Ethiopian student, Mulugeta Seraw, was stomped to death by a group of skinheads in Portland, Oregon. They crushed his skull. Dr. Brace's measurements were irrelevant.
posted by R J Noriega at 2:54 PM | Permalink | 0 comments

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