Wednesday, August 17, 2005

like farrakhan reads his daily qu'ran...: open letter #3

dear minister farrakhan,

as a general rule, i don't fuck with you. but every now and then, you say something, and i just want to shout from the rooftops, 'will somebody please listen to this muthafucka?!?!' {if i recall correctly, the nation of islam has only felt my wrath maybe once on this blog (which is interesting because as a young hater, malcolm x was my hero from 6-9th grade).} anyway, when my boy moacir sent me a link to a story chronicling some of your recent doings, i have to admit, you, mr. honorable made this homegyrl smile. summer m.? smile? yeah, yo. it blows my mind, too.

here's why:

according to, you were quoted as saying that vincente fox was right. for those of you (my readers) who don't know, black "leaders" (or as chris rock said, "substitute teachers") such as jesse jackson and the rev. al (who i kinda love, but whatever) got their boxers all in a bunch when vicente fox reportedly said that mexican immigrants were willing to work jobs that even american blacks wouldn't. the reverends cried racism and demanded that fox apologize. he, like a true g, didn't. the situation got even stickier when the mexican government issued a commemorative stamp of memin pinguin (pictured right). even more black folks got all upset and junk because of the image for reasons i suppose you see.**

now like you, i very much disagreed with the "black leaders" on these two issues for several reasons. first, it presumed that the discourse surrounding race was/is the same in the united states as it was/is in other parts of the world, and if it wasn't then it should be. and second, it posited the united states (citizens of color or not) as the racism police who seemingly had the right and authority to demand an (insincere) apology from someone who did not necessarily share their views on race (and therefore must be racist). third, it showed how that whole bread and circuses thing the romans came up with still works, though we are allegedly more sophisticated. what i mean by that is race yet again became the slight of hand employed so that folks would not pay attention to the true heart of what i believe fox's point was. that is: if your most hated racial group won't do the things people from my country do, then there's a problem here. so instead of saying, 'hey, how about us oppressed folks channel our limited resources and try to get some real social justice in here?' the conversation became, 'let's be distracted by (poor, maybe?) rhetoric.'

but mr. honorable, you saw right through that. though i don't entirely espouse the way you said it, i do like what you had to say regarding the matter. i quote from the article covering your visit to a church in milwaukee, wi, "farrakhan said sunday that blacks do not want to go to farms and pick fruit because they already 'picked enough cotton.'...'why are you so foolishly sensitive when somebody is telling you the truth?" he asked the crowd at mercy memorial baptist church. he said blacks and latinos should form an alliance to correct differences and animosity between the two communities" [my emphasis].


well i'll be. are you telling me a black male public figure (outside of barack "b-rock" obama) said something i agree with? what i liked most about your statement was the idea of truth. i'm not a philosopher or whatever, but i do think your statement about truth was the truth. follow? what i'm trying to say is, i think black folks have been pretty untruthful with themselves for sometime now, and i think it sends us barking up the wrong tree, and therefore no progress is made for the race. to put it another way, i think black people have been reluctant to dig a little deeper, and really face some things. what i mean by that is this unwillingness to really address certain issues. here are a few examples:
  • ejemplo 1: a while back i read an issue of ebony (r.i.p. john h. johnson), and one of the cover stories had to do with the seeming lack of black males on college campuses throughout the united states. now there were several possible angles that could have been taken. ebony chose to address it from the angle of the single, black, straight female having difficulty locating and securing a viable mate. now i'm not saying that this isn't an issue. believe me, i know enough single, black, straight, young women with this very "problem". however, it seemed to me that more responsible journalism would have dedicated at least some time to reasons why black males aren't on college campuses. some of which include a serious problem when it comes to retention rates (of all students of color, male or female), and the fact that something like more than 1 in 3 black men under the age of 35 or so will have in some way been incarcerated or negatively involved with the criminal (in)justice system by the year 2010. now i'm not saying that conversations on this don't happen. what i am saying is these discussions don't happen enough.
  • ejemplo 2: let me be clear, i'm not a proponent of eracing history. outside of confederate flags flying in front of courthouses, i don't agree with changing images or the names of buildings to suit persons of color who find them offensive. for example, the other week my girl rrrrachel said something to the effect that she was surprised that in the remake of the dukes of hazzard, they didn't change the name of the car (the general lee) or the hood emblem (the confederate flag), to which i pretty much replied, 'why would they?' i don't think they should change all the jefferson davis high schools to something more "p.c." in fact, if you've paid any amount of attention to my blog, you know that i truly abhor political correctness because i feel it limits language, and makes us even more inarticulate when it comes to questions of identity--especially race, because if you fuck with race on any level you soon realize that there is indeed a paucity of language surrounding it. anyway, i don't agree with "eracing" remnants of a racist past because 1) such "cover-ups", it seems to me, sort of provide an easy way out, and i fear certain groups could quite easily argue something like, "well, we changed the name of the building..." 2) to continue with the school example: who gives a damn if they change the name of robert e. lee high school if the kids inside the school couldn't tell you who robert e. lee was? i'd go on, but this entry is already exceedingly long.
  • ejemplo 3: now things get a little sticky here. i don't know if i've made this apparent to the readers, but part of the reason for your, mr. farrakhan, visit to milwaukee was to promote your upcoming millions more march. though you encouraged women and gays to attend (see below), your boy, rev. willie wilson of washington d.c. is executive director of this march. hmmmm. what a conundrum. but i digress. this black church and gay folks thing is the best example of black folks just really unwilling to address their shit. ya boy willie wilson is on record with some pretty vile and homophobic remarks (see article). now i know often it's the person tied most closely to something that ends up spewing the most hate (i mean, it's no surprise that clare kendry's husband was the one spewing the most racist rhetoric in passing), but this homophobia shit in the black church is really getting out of hand. the other weekend, my granny (my daddy's mama who does not know/acknowledge that i have a liquor license) told me that she thought this guy i grew up with was gonna become a preacher. as my sister and i stood in line together i told her, "i wanted to tell granny, 'well, i always thought he was a bla gay, anyway.'" now part of that was me being an asshole, but i don't think i make that many assholish remarks that don't have a bit of truth somewhere in them (sometimes you gotta look really deep). but instead of acknowleding that isht, nigs like willie wilson (really, can their be a more nigged out name than willie wilson?) are running around making screw and nut analogies, saying it's because the black women make more money that they're dyking it now. nigga please.

anyway, despite that last point i wanted to say thanks to you, mr. farrakhan, for encouraging women and gays (i assume you're including lesbians in that bunch, but one step at a time) to attend your upcoming millions more march in washington, d.c. october 15. i'm not sure how your boy willie took it, but i (sort of) appreciate the gesture. i hope you all welcome those who choose to go (because i'm not) with open arms. gay folks truly know how to throw a parade. a word of advice: don't feed the drag queens. they bite.

summer m., unofficial voice of the race

open letter 1
open letter 2

**it is my understanding that memin pinguin is what we would call a "trickster" figure. also, apparently, the only time memin had issues with the darkness of his skin wasn't while in mexico. it seems that one comic strip chronicled him and his friends going to the united states. it was in that strip that he was discriminated against because of his skin color.

language alone protects us from the scariness of things with no names. language alone is meditation. ~toni morrison


Blogger Morcy said...

The Pinguín defense is decently established in this article from the WaPo.

The putting of "African" in square quotes in this paragraph is very telling:

To Americans, the figure, with his exaggerated "African" features, appears to be a copy of racist American cartoons. To Mexicans, he is a thoroughly likable character, rich in sparkling wisecracks, and is felt to represent not any sense of racial discrimination but rather the egalitarian possibility that all groups can live together in peace.

17/8/05 12:43  
Blogger Harold Gibson said...

Damn Summer, you gonna be a great PhD, this shit was almost like reading War and Peace. After a second reading, I find myself resonating with your statement about us not be comfortable with certain truths. Yeah, we hear everybody who picked cotton joke about how awful it was but we don't want to acknowledge that someone in our family actually did do it.

Okay now the little sambo thing y'all want to try and push off as wonderful to us less than intellectuals, well keep sellin, we still ain't buying but it never stopped a car company from trying.

It is sort of like how the colleges and universities which use Indian images try to tell us these images are not demeaning or offensive. They are demeaning and awful especially since at the inception of the emblem non of their children would have been welcome in the school, but they are icons of another era so less not be so anal about them. Well, no.

And finally, why should a school or a city that has a majority black enrollment ever be feel like it has to pay homage to an oppressive past by allowing the heroes of oppresion to remain hallowed icons. So no I don't want my children going to Jefferson Davis nothing or Robert E Lee elementary.

17/8/05 13:39  
Blogger summer m. said...

@moacir: wanna be my minister of information?

@harold: thanx for the compliment. with any luck i won't have to "use" my ph.d.

anyway, to your response.

1) on memin pinguin: he's prolly only a "sambo" (actually, probably more of a trickster like i said) if he was created within our broders. contexts are never the same. to be black in the united states is different from being black in other places. here's an example. remember back in the day when chevy had a nova? it was a little inexpensive car. they didn't/couldn't sell any in places like mexico. why? because nova=no va which means "does not go" in spanish. see how the car changed when the context changed?

thus, i don't really think your mascot example is really analogous. that's another issue (which gives me an idea for a rumor. thanx.)

2) eracing history: my point here is even if you went and changed everything that offended everybody, that doesn't do anything but change the names. further, it removes tangible evidence of a more blatantly racist past. thus, when we concentrate on changing names, we're really channeling our energies to the least of our problems. it would make more sense to me if such time were devoted to making sure every student got the same amount of money dedicated to his/her education urban or suburban. i'm not saying such things are issues, but imho there are more beneficial ways we might spend our time and money. mostly, i think such efforts really show just how impotent people of color are in this country. we don't really have the power or resources to change some of the bigger issues, so we latch onto minutiae to make it seem like we can make some sort of change.

17/8/05 14:08  
Blogger simone said...

that's the dopest post on a blog i've read yet.

yes, it's so true that there tends to be a huge wall that is up when it comes to truly and deeply investigating issues in the black community, not just amonst white people, but (in my opinion, more importantly) with black folk.

here's to being and living truth, no matter how uncomfortable or unbearable it may seem!

thank you so much. i look forward to reading more.

17/8/05 14:28  
Blogger Lee said...

Summer--I agree that the Memin Pinguin thing amounts to bread-and-circuses, as far as the American reaction to it goes. But I don't think it's completely right to object to those reactions on the basis that he belongs to a different "context." One of the things I like best about Walter Benn Michaels's work is that he exposes the idea of cultural difference as something that's often used to stop debate about genuine intellectual differences. In other words, one person says "hey, that's offensive," and the response is "you don't belong, so you don't understand." Not that this is what you're saying, but that's where it can lead.

So I'm with Harold on this. The character's appearance is pretty obviously derived from racist American cartoons. Looking at it, I don't think it would be possible to place it in any other tradition of drawing. And, yes, the mascot analogy is pretty apt. I lived in Champaign-Urbana for two years, and the Chief defenders used exactly the same logic and language to defend it as Mexican defenders of Pinguin: it's part of our culture, we don't think it's demeaning (even though we've never met an actual Indian), and we respect him. If it's actually a demeaning racial caricature, though, those just aren't good defenses.

Now, that said, I don't think Pinguin is as racist as the American cartoons upon which he was based. The best analogy I've heard so far was actually from a Mexican man interviewed by NPR. He compared it to Speedy Gonzales--that seems right on to me. The point here is that Pinguin is an offensive caricature, but not one designed specifically to mock or demean or dehumanize the racial group it represents. More of an ignorant mistake than insidious propaganda.

So for my money, the issue is Speedy Gonzales. The U.S. has pretty well rid itself of outright racist propaganda (no more Fagins, no more Sambos), but our popular culture is brimming with ignorant stereotypes. Telling Mexico to stop selling those stamps is kind of like holding our noses and claiming our shit doesn't stink.

Sorry to ramble. Summary: it's a distraction from issues that actually make a difference in the U.S., but it's still a racist caricature.

17/8/05 15:28  
Anonymous rocksteady said...

summer, sometimes i think we have the same brain. i'm feelin you on minister farrakhan's comments. when presidente fox made his comments about immigrants working the least desirable jobs that even black folks won't take, i agreed. he was taking a shot at US race relations if you ask me.
as far as memin pinguin goes, different culture, different view. not to say mexico doesn't have it's own messed up color and culture hierarchy (anyone see how the native mexicans are rollin?), but i just can't be so quick to condemn that image.

anyway, like farrakhan says black and brown folks need to get it together! i'm going to join the noi right now! peace.

17/8/05 15:57  
Blogger Morcy said...

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18/8/05 00:25  
Blogger Morcy said...

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18/8/05 00:27  
Blogger Morcy said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

18/8/05 10:43  
Blogger Morcy said...

Summer: though I'd love to someday be called "professor," I don't think I wanna be anyone's Professor Griff.

[the prev 3 comments were mine, but there were some editing fuckups]

Lee: The wikipedia article on Memín grants that he was based on characters encountered by the creator among US comix, so, in that sense, his heritage is marked by that sort of trouble.

I also agree (and, as you know, said during the first Vicente situation) with Summer's point about this being about the US avoiding its own racist past by criticising its imagined racism in other nations.

And I'm willing to cut the context angle some slack, but it's still weird, since racial thinking never exists in a vacuum. It is always tied into other factors, like economics (er, class) (also WBM's point). Furthermore, racial thinking changes over time--going from non-existent to ubiquitous to covert. What this suggests is that there has to be an account for variability.

Brazil is a really weird example of this. Now, my interaction with Brazil is rather limited, but I've always noted how racialised language quite obviously means something rather different there. An example: on the, um, 2000 Brazilian Olympic women's soccer team, there was a player who went by "Pretinha." Now, a direct translation of that is "Black" with a feminine diminuitive--let's say, "-ette."

Can you imagine a player in the US taking the field with a similar name--especially given that it's a nickname? I guess we settle for "White Chocolate," or whatever...

Are all Brazilians irremediable racists, that someone would end up representing the nation with a name affixed upon her like this? With a name like this on her back in front of the world? With a name like this that, subsequently, she'd port over to the WUSA? Somehow I doubt it.

So the point is, to totally rule out context is crazy. Brazil (and Mexico, and England, and Canada) had a different history regarding race, so the current result must necessarily feature differences. There are similarities, of course, but there are also differences. What the critics of Pinguín and of Fox do is paint with far too broad a brush and assume a static universality. That's a bigger devil, imo.

18/8/05 10:46  
Blogger fuss said...

My cousin went to Jefferson Davis Middle School in Hampton, Virginia and my aunt still teaches there. They have been trying to rename it forever, and it has never taken. If they change the name to Allen Iverson Middle School (another alum) is that going to change what goes on within those hallowed halls? I can see both sides of the issue, but there are much bigger fish to fry with regards to addressing the racist legacy of our great nation, starting with the fact that it is so ingrained in all of us that we can't get shit done without getting bogged down in dumb stuff.

And about the single! black! men! hysteria: I hate the fact that this "crisis" of the black family is always addressed using the same outdated, outmoded racist, patriarchal attitude that "destroyed" the black family in the 1st place and ain't doing all that much for the white family either. I am suspect of any entity who thinks it's more effective to make black women feel guilty or undeserving for "overachieving" and black men feel resentful and emasculated for "underachieving" and then the come up with actual (read: progressive, feminist, radical) solutions to the "problem." Talk about denial.

18/8/05 10:47  
Blogger Lee said...

Moacir--I agree (and think I indicated this) that the Memin stamp controversy is a convenient distraction from actually important issues, and it kinda sounds like "hey! we've banished such images from our conscisousness! how dare you remind us?" And it's not really Mexico's job to ensure our disavowal of our own past. My point is just that this doesn't mean "it's not that big a deal."

And I wasn't trying to "rule out" context altogether, just wanted to point out that contexts overlap. Mexico and the U.S. share a lot of history and many people spend time in both countries every year. I don't think the U.S. should get to tell the Mexican postal service what to do, but I do think Mexican citizens stand to benefit from knowing how that image looks to Americans. And to know how often people have tried to defend offensive images (confederate flag on the Georgia statehouse, for instance) by saying "it's part of our heritage."

18/8/05 11:36  
Blogger Morcy said...

Lee: I guess we agree. Anyway, there's a difference between "part of our heritage" and "emblematic of how we see the world today," though I think it's a subtle one. But yeah. Let's not fight.

18/8/05 13:43  
Blogger Harold Gibson said...

fuss: thank you for helping me see the clear validity of Summer's point. Allen Iverson(?) that's too funny.

I understand that perhaps in the scheme of things this is no big deal, but there is power in these symbols and they serve as not-so-subtle reminders of the power of the opressors. This why cartoonish version of a "yankee" as opposed to "indians"

And their power is so pervasive that we get hung up in silly fights ala the Vincente Fox affair where we are trying to show who is the lowest of the low, while the oppressors have got to be laughing their asses off.

But Fuss brings it clarity to futility of the erasing the past argument, if the good people of Hampton are trying to name a school after a fading basketball player whose play is best described as self aggrandizement then just leave it the way it is.

19/8/05 08:03  
Blogger rrrrrrrachel said...

so, sum --- what's your investment in defending fox/mexican sambo comics? what are the stakes for you? (yeah, i sound like an ass, but i'm serious. and not an ass.)

and i just said i was surprised they left the flag on there. maybe all these schools should be like lefty married couples or like the ATL airport and hyphenate. Davis-Iverson Middle School. Lee-Cosby High. hhe hhee.

19/8/05 08:18  
Blogger Amadeo said...

I think they shouldn't change anything that way we won't think that things are sweet now. Plus I should be allowed to punch rednecks in the back of the neck so give them something.

19/8/05 09:29  
Blogger Jdid said...

I think we get caught up in arguing silly stuff sometimes. The Ebony article is silly to be dealing with the lack of black men on campus from the viewpoint of sistas cant find dates or whatever. really trifling.

p.s: i'm having mad problems with accessing your blog these days, keeps crashing mozilla.

19/8/05 09:35  
Blogger summer m. said...

sorry for the delayed repsponse, folks, but a nig had to get her ass whooped by german.

@simone: thanx for reading. i appreciate the compliment.

@morcy and lee: if there's anyone i wanna see fight on my blog--especially over race--it's you two.

@rocksteady: back from lurking i see.

@fuss: amen.

@rachel: there are really no stakes for me i suppose. though it comes off this way, i'm not really trying to defend fox, but my points are:

1) i'm sorta glad somebody is willing to give the u.s. the middle finger.

2) i think the black people are just as invested in this exceptionalist rhetoric, so when folks start talking about race and racism, our/their first reaction is to think folks are talking about african americans, and i think that's really problematic. i mean, despite the whole 400 years of being oppressed and shit, what gives us the right to run around the world putting the 'racist' stamp on things? it's even more important for african americans to race works in different ways throughout the world, and that there are more than just black people who live in the ghetto, and black people starving in africa. that there are black folks in europe and in latin america. and so, when we look at memin or perere, and say 'that's racist,' we're not only saying that to folks like vicente fox, we're also saying that to those black folks in places like latin america who, as far as i can tell, don't have such a problem if at all with such images (correct me if i'm wrong), you don't know what racism is, and we're here to point it out to you. which to me negates their experience in the new world.

3) it also keeps us in a black-white, us-them dynamic, and with our population shifting the way it is, that sort of thing isn't going to get us very far. though i do believe that the experience of other persons of color is in many ways much different than african americans, at the same time i believe there are ways in which the experiences overlap, and if anyone is going to get any sort of justice--we won't, but i'm just saying--it's more important to pool those resources rather than continue to stand off in the corner trying to get our piece of minority pie. so while folks are off using their energy trying to demand apologies and such, the bush administration is over figuring out more ways to continue to fuck mexicans and african americans.

4) apologies don't mean much--to me at least. i think the whole "my bad for lynching" thing is a prime example of this. i mean, why aren't these black leaders still shitty about the elected officials who didn't show up for the vote? i say we demand an apology to those not voting for the apology, goddamnit!!!

5)i suppose what i'm tried to do is use fox as an instantiation of the ways in which black people get distracted from what i believe are more pressing issues. and further, if we're going to be distracted, will someone please let it be a worthy distraction? if anything, i would think this showed arrogantly stupid our black leaders can be. but instead of thinking about this a little more, black people just got the holy ghost and started testifying. we're so damn predictable. i just want us to think harder, get to the real core of some things. i'm not saying i have the answers, but i am saying i'm not willing to just fall in line behind my so-called black leaders. when jesse jackson and the rev. al demand an apology, i assume that's it's not just for the reverend al and jesse. i truly believe that when they do such things they think they're doing it on behalf of black people (in america), and frankly, i don't want those niggas speaking on my behalf in just about any situation. like i said in an earlier comment, i think some of that has to do with this idea that black folks in the u.s. are so impotent that we have to go after fox to see if we can make even a small amount of change. but i'd rather gather more troops for the war than participate in these little battles.

i hope this made sense, because it's too damn long for me to proofread. oh, and, i hope i answered your question.

btw, i think the hyphenated thing is genius. really i do.

19/8/05 09:39  
Blogger summer m. said...

@jdid: thanks for the heads up. i'm removing the music from my page, so hopefully that will help. let me know if the problem continues.

19/8/05 09:48  
Blogger Morcy said...

Summer: the music has always been troublesome on Macs, because it uses the windows media player. But it's, at least, never crashed my machine. So take that as a data point.

19/8/05 10:29  
Blogger rrrrrrrachel said...

what a fantastic response to my high-falutin-toned question! see, this is why i think (know) you're full of shit when you try and tell everybody you're looking for another hustle.

thanks re:hyphenation. i have my moments.

did you know that there are 100,000s more people all over the world enslaved right now than there were during the entire course of sanctioned slavery in the americas? you know i'm someone who thinks that shit ended yesterday in the u.s., but how come you don't hear anybody pissed off about that? esp. since most of them are women and children? (did i just answer my own question?) ok, the list of more important issues could go on forever. that just occurred to me.

and to mr. amadeo --- if you're gonna be punching "rednecks" in the back of the head for being racist pricks, you might as well get to punch most white ceos (and perhaps a few black ones), and a whole lot of white lefty intellectuals too.

19/8/05 10:39  

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