Thursday, June 26, 2008 How Korean B-Boys Took Over The World Rivers Crew in the flow. Photo by the incomparable magnificent Joe Conzo. Biters will be beheaded.
My piece on R16 and the evolution of Korean b-boying is finally done and up. Big big big up to the super-supreme Joy Yoon, the R16 lifers in Seoul and New York (you know who you is), my patient fixers/translators James, Erica, Anna, and Joe and all of the dancers, producers, and rappers, whom I met but couldn't include, especially Sean II Slow who hosted us for an evening at his studio in Hongdae.
A teaser here:
This summer, the United States is reaching new heights of dance fever as TV shows like Fox's "So You Think You Can Dance" and MTV's "Randy Jackson Presents: America's Top Dance Crew" have returned to the airwaves. MTV's runaway hit is considered especially cutting edge, showcasing hip-hop dance groups from across America. But if MTV really wants the best dance crew, it should be looking in South Korea.
"Of the top six or seven crews in the world, I'd say half of them are from Korea," says Christopher "Cros One" Wright, 33, an American dance promoter and b-boy who was recently in Suwon, South Korea, to judge the second annual global invitational hip-hop dance competition, called R16, that was held at the end of May.
The development of South Koreans' hip-hop dancing could be seen a cultural parallel to their sharp global ascendance in electronics and automaking. A decade ago, Koreans were struggling to imitate the Bronx-style b-boy and West Coast funk styles that are the backbone of the genre. Now, a handful of these crews are the safest bets to win any competition anywhere.
Certainly no country takes its hip-hop dance more seriously. The Korean government -- through its tourism board and the city of Suwon -- invested nearly $2 million in this year's competition. Two of the most successful teams, Gamblers and Rivers, have been designated official ambassadors of Korean culture. Once considered outcasts, the b-boys now seem to embody precisely the kind of dynamic, dexterous and youthful excellence that the government wants to project.
Although hip-hop dance goes back at least 35 years, the top Korean b-boys trace their histories back just 11 years, to 1997, the Year Zero of Korean breaking. By 2001, the first year that a Korean crew entered the Battle of the Year -- the world's biggest b-boy contest -- they won "best show" honors and a fourth-place trophy. Every year since, a Korean crew has placed first or second. Says Battle of the Year founder Thomas Hergenrother, "Korea is on a different planet at the moment."
The full thang is here. If ya dig, then Digg. If ya buzz, then Buzz.
And it's the topic on the table for the cover of Harper's Magazine this month, as conservatives Kevin Phillips, Scott McConnell and others weigh in under the banner headline: WHY THE GOP MUST DIE.
The upshot is that the party of Bush and Rove have led conservatives into a blind alley with the wars and the economy because they insisted on governing from the Right with a paper-thin majority.
It's fun to see conservatives putting their own party on blast. Here's Phillips: "A major Republican weakness that doesn't get noticed is their inability, despite all their macho muscle-flexing, to bring foreign wars to a successful finish." Zing!
And it's also great to see folks who really understand that demographic changes force Democrats to forge a new majority not merely to pander to soccer moms and angry white men. Of course, these guys don't work for the Democrats. They're way too smart for that.
So before Democrats get too happy, some words of warning from Phillips, the most compelling conservative ever:
PHILLIPS :: ...the public showed that it can produce a significant swing in 2006, in electoral terms. But the issues on which they suppopsedly voted are not being addressed. How do you vote to get everybody out of Iraq for example? Vote for the Democrats? That hasn't worked so far.
MCCONNELL :: And it cuts both ways. The people who have been voting Republican for the past thirty years on cultural rather than class issues--i.e. culturally conservative Reagan Democrats--have gotten nothing for their votes either. But there is no evidence whatsoever that they are going to stop voting Republican.
KEVIN BAKER, Harper's Magazine contributing editor :: It's like you have this weird inversion of Tammany. They don't get you out of jail, they don't give you a turkey at Christmas, they don't do anything for you, and yet somehow they keep winning.
THOMAS SCHALLER, professor University of Maryland :: The irony is that today the government has far more power than in the past. It is a much larger part of the economy, and so when it moves a lever, it can expect a dramatic effect.
PHILLIPS :: And yet people increasingly seem to believe that their votes don't matter, that these parties aren't any different from each other. It's all just a big game. Democrats are the not-Republicans and Republicans are the non-Democrats. And if None Of The Above could be on the ballot, it would scare the bejesus out of everybody. What a choice that would be!
I was writing about communities of color expecting a certain kind of "change" in Obama's message, that is, a greater push for racial justice.
Here's Minha Husaini, an Muslim American in her 30s now working in the Obama campaign:
“He gives me hope,” Ms. Husaini said in an interview last month, shortly before she joined the campaign on a fellowship. But she sighed when the conversation turned to his denials of being Muslim, “as if it’s something bad,” she said.
In fact, the article reports, the campaign is even stricter about regulating Obama's appearances--and even the appearance of subordinates--at Muslim American events, culminating in last week's resitting of two young women wearing hijabs. Obama himself called the young women to apologize.
Truth be told, for many Muslim American activists and other grassroots progressives, the Obama campaign can be, at best, a big buzzkill machine and, at worst, a wheel-shattering brake on "change" and "hope".
Throughout the primaries, Muslim groups often failed to persuade Mr. Obama’s campaign to at least send a surrogate to speak to voters at their events, said Ms. Ghori, of the Muslim Public Affairs Council.
Before the Virginia primary in February, some of the nation’s leading Muslim organizations nearly canceled an event at a mosque in Sterling because they could not arrange for representatives from any of the major presidential campaigns to attend. At the last minute, they succeeded in wooing surrogates from the Clinton and Obama campaigns by telling each that the other was planning to attend, Mr. Bray said.
The most frustrated surrogate of all is Minnesota Democrat Keith Ellison, the nation's first Muslim congressman, who has seen efforts to bring the Muslim communities in greater contact with Obama stopped dead by the campaign.
It's hard not to notice that this is where the "change" message gets run over by the still largely white mainstream Democratic party operatives who control Obama's campaign. Again, to all those who want to complain about allegedly coalition-fragmenting "identity politics", here are the real identity politics at work.
Muslims, like other communities of color, confront this problem: Do you trust the candidate to do right once elected or do you accede to the reality of the campaign and sit it out?
Which leads to the second thread I've been talking about: the fact of formerly marginalized communities becoming (re)energized in the electoral process over the last 8 years--whether the young, women, communities of color, or non-Christians.
These minorities are facing the difficulty of moving their vote from emergent to insurgent, from one that can get ignored or vaguely patronized to one that can make things happen.
Here's the article again on the Muslim American vote:
American Muslims have experienced a political awakening in the years since Sept. 11, 2001. Before the attacks, Muslim political leadership in the United States was dominated by well-heeled South Asian and Arab immigrants, whose communities account for a majority of the nation’s Muslims. (Another 20 percent are estimated to be African-American.) The number of American Muslims remains in dispute as the Census Bureau does not collect data on religious orientation; most estimates range from 2.35 million to 6 million.
A coalition of immigrant Muslim groups endorsed George W. Bush in his 2000 campaign, only to find themselves ignored by Bush administration officials as their communities were rocked by the carrying out of the USA Patriot Act, the detention and deportation of Muslim immigrants and other security measures after Sept. 11.
As a result, Muslim organizations began mobilizing supporters across the country to register to vote and run for local offices, and political action committees started tracking registered Muslim voters. The character of Muslim political organizations also began to change.
“We moved away from political leadership primarily by doctors, lawyers and elite professionals to real savvy grass-roots operatives,” said Mahdi Bray, executive director of the Muslim American Society Freedom Foundation, a political group in Washington. “We went back to the base.”
In 2006, the Virginia Muslim Political Action Committee arranged for 53 Muslim cabdrivers to skip their shifts at Dulles International Airport in Northern Virginia to transport voters to the polls for the midterm election. Of an estimated 60,000 registered Muslim voters in the state, 86 percent turned out and voted overwhelmingly for Jim Webb, a Democrat running for the Senate who subsequently won the election, according to data collected by the committee.
By itself, these kinds of elections are transformative. They will help build lines of access to change for the communities. No one who is serious about gaining power can ignore the electoral process.
But what happens when groups turn out, get their candidate elected, but still can't influence the process?
If Obama wins, this is a problem Muslim Americans, communities of color, and all those minorities who took the mantra of "hope" and "change" to heart may find themselves in by the middle of 2009.
That's about when the new majority that the Democrats didn't really want and certainly didn't know how to create starts making its claims.
posted by Zentronix @ 2:18 PM1 commentslinks to this post
The headline was "3 in 10 Americans Admit To Racial Bias". According to this poll, when asked the useless question of whether one experiences "feelings of personal racial prejudice", Blacks (34% of respondents) rate worse than whites (30%). (I say Black respondents are more truthful. Meanwhile, yellow and brown apparently are still not worth polling at all.)
But the piece really focused on some obscure "racial sensitivity index" whose methodology apparently couldn't be fully disclosed for fear someone might actually call b.s. on it. According to this fantastical statistical invention, whites who have a Black friend on speed-dial, just bought a brownstone in Harlem, and have downloaded a Weezy mixtape in the last 3 years are about 20% more likely to vote for Barack Obama thank their Lil Abner cousins.
(In the fog of a rowdy Saturday night wedding reception, I watched Sunday morning pundits making big hay of this "fact". Not to stereotype unfairly, but White Northeastern pundits shouldn't be so self-congratulatory. If I was a Southern white, well, I guess I wouldn't hate 'em any less than I do now. You see? I don't stereotype unfairly.)
So after creating a thoroughly bunk way of measuring how racist white American voters actually are--the numbers go: 21% "congratulations you're not racist", 50% "you're pretty much not racist or probably you are a little", and 29% "you're embarrassing to us so please stay home unless John King needs to interview you"--much of the poll's conclusions are completely useless.
Or just plain tiresome. Of the racially insensitive 29%, the Post intones, "Obama has some convincing to do..." Yes, colored folk--when your boss calls you a terrorist-fist-bumping radical Muslim baby daddy, you must excuse him and tell him nicely no, he's wrong, would he like to have a conversation about it. (Please excuse us if we spit instead.)
What was news to me was that the gaps in perceptions of race relations are as bad as they were on the eve of the 1992 Los Angeles riots.
More than six in 10 African Americans now rate race relations as "not so good" or "poor," while 53 percent of whites hold more positive views. Opinions are also divided along racial lines, though less so, on whether blacks face discrimination.
After Katrina, No Child Left Behind, Incarceration Nation, and two oil wars, it's apparently more difficult than ever to find any consensus that race relations aren't so great and racial discrimination still exists.
That's not just depressing, it's "two Americas" depressing to both of my consciousnesses.
But wait it gets worse.
Many think Obama has the potential to transform current racial politics. Nearly six in 10 believe his candidacy will shake up the racial status quo, for better or worse.
African Americans are much more optimistic than whites on this score: Sixty percent said Obama's candidacy will do more to help race relations, compared with 38 percent of whites.
Is it possible that Blacks--and the great, underpolled mass of Latinos and Asian Americans (who will likely vote Obama in much greater majorities than whites)--place too much faith that Obama can reverse the national course on institutional racism?
And why are whites--who say they are overwhelmingly ready to elect a "Black president" (one almost hears the caveat "if he's qualified" being attached like a reflex)--less likely to believe that race relations will get better if Obama wins? Do they know what's in the Kool-Aid? Or are they are sober about what may happen if Obama actually challenges white privilege?
It's impossible not to appreciate the kind of Jackie Robinson-like line Barack Obama must walk right now in this campaign. All of this comes in the face of the growing list of white pundits who would presume to lecture Obama on just how to win white voters, from the soccer moms to the lunchpail dads. Yes, forget all you've heard about angry feminists and people of color and feminists of color, because here are the real identity politics at work.
For as unilluminating as this poll is, it poses a key question for Obama's supporters and anyone concerned with racial justice, not just "feelings of racial prejudice": how do you find and engage those who don't want to know what change really looks like?
posted by Zentronix @ 10:57 AM1 commentslinks to this post
Tuesday, June 17, 2008 Marc Bamuthi Joseph's "the break/s" Opens In The Bay!!!
I've been honored and privileged to follow my man Bamuthi around the Bay and across the country to Louisville and Minneapolis as he has brought this brilliant work to life. It's his very personal take on hip-hop's roots and future in the age of globalization, and it's a masterful performance. It's already drawn rave notices and sold-out crowds at the prestigious Humana and Spoleto Festivals this year, and at its world premiere at the Walker Art Center.
the break/s is a mixtape for the stage, and Bamuthi's performance is blessed with live music by DJ Excess and Tommy Shepherd aka Soulati, choreography by Stacy Printz, multimedia visuals by Eli Jacobs-Fauntauzzi and David Szlasa. It was dramaturged by Brian Freeman, and directed by Michael John Garces. I really think it's a new level of hip-hop theatre.
You might hear Bamuthi say that he was inspired by Can't Stop Won't Stop, but the truth is that large portions of my book were inspired by his lyricality and vision. In fact, my upcoming book project was catalyzed by his trilogy of plays--Word Becomes Flesh, Scourge, and now, the break/s, as you'll see...!
If you're in the Bay, you get three chances to see it this weekend on Bamuthi's home turf. Click above or here to get tickets before it sells out. After that, it's on to the Kennedy Center in D.C. and the Skirball in NYC and beyond...
Here's what they're already saying...
"Mr. Joseph is a naturally captivating dancer, moving with transfixing grace at any number of speeds. The performance is gloriously eloquent. . ." --The New York Times
"Marc Bamuthi Joseph’s world premiere the break/s, a "mixtape for the stage” as the subtitle describes it, is an impressive extension of hip-hop as an art form. Wheeling through speech, rhythmic spoken word, dance, beat-box, and mixed beats and mixed film, is a story at once personal and universal, a story about identity, race, and love—an important story for our time." --Minneapolis/St. Paul Magazine
"...many have written about it. But I’ve never seen the paradox of double consciousness expressed in theatrical form the way that Marc Bamuthi Joseph did with the break/s, which ended a mere three-show run at the Spoleto Festival USA over the weekend. Like Amistad, it cut to the quick of the American soul. But unlike Amistad, it’s fresher and far more touching." --Charleston City Paper
2G2K Circus Returns! :: Talking Michelle + Affirmative Action
Our man in Brooklyn Ferentz LaFargue is back, after forswearing these crazy elections as bad for his health. Nope, Fox's "Baby Mama" drama has pulled him off the fence.
Isn't it funny--wrong word hmm--that their actual attempt at a humor show failed so miserably? Kinda like the Democrats for most of the past three decades. When you get a choice between fake humor and faker humor, you choose the fake.
While we're on the topic of Michelle, Jalylah pointed out Linda Hirshman's stupefyingly bad reading, as in so bad it seems deliberate, of Kimberle Crenshaw's idea of intersectionality. Jalylah and others see Hirshman as trying to redefine feminism as a privileged white women's thing, so they don't find it suprising that Hirshman and others have had nothing to say about about the Don Imusing of Michelle Obama.
This election has been fascinating in the way it's revived all of the passionate debates of the 90s around identity. So the affirmative action debate is back like neon breakers' jackets.
A few weeks back there was an article on Obama and race in which the author--let's just say his background makes him likely part of the Lieberman constituency--gratuitously called on Obama to completely disavow affirmative action as a way of winning the white vote. He won't need to, polls show him doing exactly what he needs to do to win the election. (See the post below...) But I don't doubt Ward Connerly's efforts to eradicate affirmative action in Colorado, Nebraska, Arizona and Missouri (swing states all with the exception of Nebraska...yes, even Arizona) will keep the issue live going into November...
posted by Zentronix @ 9:09 AM1 commentslinks to this post
Does McCain Have A Chance?
Sure, it's only June. We're only halfway through the 3rd quarter. But things don't look good for the senator from Arizona.
Obama is consolidating. He hired Clinton's former campaign chief and got Al Gore to endorse him yesterday. McCain is out on the stump fighting off comparisons to George W. Bush.
The latest poll shows Obama winning the election 49% to 45%.
Previous polls had Obama leading McCain amongst all the groups Hillary Clinton warned he might be soft in--women, Hispanics, Catholics, working-class voters. This latest poll confirms some of those numbers.
Obama leads among men by 7 points and women by 6. True, he trails McCain among whites overall by 12 points, but Kerry lost by 25 and Gore lost by 24.
Historians--people who get paid to think about this stuff for a living--don't rate McCain's chances at all. Look at who he gets compared to--Adlai Stevenson in 1952, Hubert Humphrey in 1968, Jimmy Carter in 1980, folks who just got murked at the polls.
McCain is ahead 20 points among married white women, and splits the independents. But independents are clearly against the war, and feminists are solidly supporting Obama. Obama's "50-state strategy" is aimed at winning over folks on the fence with old-school community organizing-style person-to-person appeals in their neighborhoods.
Meanwhile, the biggest worry for McCain is that he can't seem to get folks excited about his candidacy. That's a long-term problem: he won't be able to raise the money he needs or develop a sufficient ground operation if he can't rally his base. On the other hand, dismissed Republican candidate Ron Paul's supporters are preparing a huge rally in Minneapolis the week that the GOP formally nominates McCain there.
Wednesday, June 11, 2008 Idle Hands :: Why The Candidates Must Focus On America's Youth
This summer could be the worst ever for teens looking for work, according to experts. Less than one in three youths may find summer jobs.
In recent years, the youth jobless rate has soared to record highs. In cities like Chicago, three in four teens, including seven in eight Black teens, did not work in 2006. But this summer could mark the highest level of youth joblessness since the end of World War II.
The shrinking economy and rising unemployment rates are to blame, as laid-off workers compete with young people for shrinking piece of the pie. Budget cuts have led to the ending of federal, state, and city youth jobs programs.
But the biggest problem is a lack of political interest.
"We need something really attractive to engage the gangs and the street kids," the Justice Department's administrator was quoted as saying. "Golf is the hook."
Dozens of other effective programs were denied. Many grants were disbursed via affirmative action for friends of the administration, the domestic equivalent of handing out no-bid work to firms for "Iraqi reconstruction".
It was still more proof that politicians have neither a clue nor a care as to how to really address the needs of young Americans.
The team at Northeastern University's Center for Labor Market Studies has been trying to call attention to the historic rise in youth joblessless. But in a recent shocking, but sadly not-yet-influential report, they posed the question right in the title: "Does Anybody Care?" The issue has not been raised in any of the presidential debates.
But the Center's researchers say the developing trend represents nothing less than "the collapse of the teen job market". They sketch the problem in starkest terms for youth of color. Even the poorest white teens are more likely to find work than the wealthiest Black teens. Wealthy white teens are two and a half times more likely to be employed than the poorest Black teens, whose employment rate was merely 18.9% last summer.
They write, "Low income, Black and Hispanic teens face the equivalent of a Great Depression."
There are four million or more of these so-called disconnected youths across the country. They hang out on street corners in cities large and small -- and increasingly in suburban and rural areas.
If you ask how they survive from day to day, the most likely response is: "I hustle," which could mean anything from giving haircuts in a basement to washing a neighbor's car to running the occasional errand.
Or it could mean petty thievery or drug dealing or prostitution or worse.
To the hip-hop generation--and the authorities charged with containing it--this is all hardly news.
Violent crime rates, which have taken disturbing leaps in some inner cities over the past few years, tend to rise during the summer. Idle hands are the devil's tools. But this is an extreme--and simplistic--way to understand a deep problem.
Experts make an economic argument. Idled hands mean less productivity for the nation. Idled minds mean decreased competitiveness in the global economy now and in the future.
There is another argument: youths who want work and cannot find it are being sent the wrong message. Is this a country that really respects hard work if it places no value on creating work?
Indeed, what message does this nation want to send its young?
John F. Kennedy famously implored a new generation not to ask what their country could do for them, but to ask what they could do for their country. In 1963, he followed up with a wide-ranging address outlining the nation's responsibility to its young. In it, he discussed the creation of the Peace Corps, a National Service Corps, and a youth jobs program. He said, "The future promise of any nation can be directly measured by the present prospects of its youth."
What does it mean that, almost a half century later, young Americans face record rates of joblessness?
Since the '60s, youth policy has less often been discussed in terms of harnessing energies, than in terms of suppressing problems. There has been a massive shift towards harsher criminal and juvenile justice policies. The stunning rise in youth joblessness is a symptom of a larger national neglect, a neglect that is interrupted only by--ironic at best, disingenuous at worst--episodes of hand-wringing over young people's corruptibility and directionlessness. Punishment, it seems, has been the only coherent national youth policy since Kennedy.
Senator McCain, perhaps unsurprisingly, has been mostly silent on these issues, save vows to clean up the student loan mess. But even Senator Obama, who has clearly benefited by the enthusiasm of the young and who understands perhaps better than any politician youths' skepticism toward politics, has not yet outlined a place for them in his vision of America.
He supports focusing closely on job development and student achievement in 20 impoverished areas, what he calls "Promise Neighborhoods". More intriguingly, he backs a program of green-collar jobs for inner-city youths first pioneered by hip-hop activists in the Bay Area. But even these worthy programs are hardly more than a drop in the bucket, and don't by themselves add up to anything close to a national youth policy.
Senator Obama knows that the creative energies of young people can never be underestimated. In his interview with Vibe last year, he noted that hip-hop is a vast make-work project, a way of harnessing and channeling vast energies of young people. (This is partly why the up-by-the-bootstraps mythology--a narrative easily twisted into a celebration of consumerism that demagogues are then quick to criticize--has become so deeply interwoven into hip-hop culture.) But how could hip-hop be enough to reverse Great Depression-sized problems?
After four decades of the politics of abandonment and containment, now is the time for the presidential candidates to recognize young Americans are more than just a vote to be courted through late-night TV, more than a wellspring of videos, posters, music, and art, more than just an enthusiastic rally crowd.
Inspiration has been good, hope has been good, but both are not good enough.
The candidates must put young America to work, and involve the rest of us in taking full measure of the future promise of our nation.
posted by Zentronix @ 8:01 AM1 commentslinks to this post
Speaking to a group of businessmen at his office, Mr. Lee gave his first comment on the massive rally against his four-month-old government that brought at least 100,000 people into the streets of Seoul on Tuesday and prompted his entire cabinet to offer to resign.
The beef protests have dealt a sharp blow to Mr. Lee, who was elected in December championing a new “pragmatic” approach to ties with Washington.
He made rebuilding South Korea’s political and economic alliance with the United States his top priority, while taking a much harder line on North Korea than his predecessor, Roh Moo-hyun.
Bush administration officials have expressed hopes that Mr. Lee’s firm stance on North Korea’s nuclear program, which reversed South Korea’s previous policy to embrace its neighbor, could persuade the North to end its nuclear program. North Korea promised to dismantle its nuclear weapons facilities under an international accord that has yet to achieve lasting results.
Both Mr. Lee and President Bush also hoped that Mr. Lee’s decision in April to end the five-year ban on American beef would help win support in Congress for a free-trade agreement struck between the governments last year, thus improving relations while helping to revive the sluggish South Korean economy.
But some South Korean analysts say Mr. Lee may now come under pressure to take a less accommodating line with Washington.
Mr. Lee was himself a former student activist imprisoned by the country’s then military regime. During the current protests, many student protesters called Mr. Lee “authoritarian” and in his comments Wednesday the president appeared to have understood the irony.
“As a former participant in a pro-democracy student movement myself, I had many thoughts watching yesterday’s demonstration," Mr. Lee was quoted as saying by his office. "My government intends to have a new beginning with a new resolution."
Seoul reverberated with antigovernment slogans until well past midnight. While people marched by candlelight, loudspeakers blared the songs South Koreans used to sing during their struggle against the military dictators of the 1970s and 1980s.
The protests Tuesday took place on the 21st anniversary of the huge pro-democracy demonstrations that helped end authoritarian rule. Overhead, balloons carried banners that said "Judgment day for Lee Myung-bak" and "Renegotiate the beef deal." One widely distributed leaflet said, "Mad cow drives our people mad!"
The agriculture minister, Chung Won-chun, visited the protest site to offer an apology in a speech, but protesters quickly surrounded him, chanting "Traitor!" and he was forced to leave.
Mr. Lee urged the police and protesters to avoid clashes. He promised to be "humble before the people’s voices" and called for national unity to overcome an economic crisis spawned by stagnant growth and surging prices for oil and other raw materials.
Bomb Magazine's website features an interview with Ned Sublette by the great Jamaican-American journalist Garnette Cadogan. It's an amazing read, offering Ned's bracing worldview via the history of New Orleans.
It's a taster of the complete argument he lays out in The World That Made New Orleans: From Spanish Silver to Congo Square, a red pill of a book that reframes the entirety of American history and music. Fuck what you know about John Adams or Bob Dylan. (Understand: no disrespect intended at all, but I believe with a convert's zeal that Ned's works ought to be as widely known and debated as Greil Marcus's.) In fact, forget even the notion that America is defined by what Chuck D has called the "48 state box". Ned's outside-the-box thinking begins with an expansive definition of "America" that points directly to a post-George W. Bush world.
Ned has been one of the most influential intellectuals on me over the past few years, transforming the way I understand hip-hop's music, its history, and its future. If I had written CSWS after digesting Ned's works, it likely would have been a much different book.
Garnette ...New Orleans is both a place and idea. Moreover, as place and idea, people like to think of it as difference. You, however, insist that it’s both a peculiar and representative American spot.
Ned Not merely a peculiar spot, but the logical outcome of competing international forces.
GC Your argument, then, is that New Orleans is at the crux of America’s…
NS At the absolute crossroads of American history! Over and over again. Including now.
GC New Orleans—distinctly American and singularly un-American!
NS I use the word “American” in its larger sense, always, so I think it’s extremely American. It’s the most American city in a lot of ways.
GC Other cities can justifiably make that claim. Your fellow New Yorkers, among others, will surely take you to task. How is New Orleans the most American?
NS The most fully realized, in that it participated in all of the waves of culture that rolled across the hemisphere, practically. The French, the Spanish, the Anglo-American, each of which was associated with a different black wave: the Bambara, the Bakongo, the Baptists. From 1769 to 1803—that was a transcendental moment in history, the last third of the 18th century—Spain held Louisiana during the American, French, and Haitian Revolutions, three events of maximum impact on world history, and each of which affected Louisiana vitally. During the Spanish period, New Orleans became a city. It became a port of importance. I think that there are a variety of reasons, which I discuss in the book, why the Spanish years in New Orleans have been so consistently underplayed in importance, but I see them as absolutely crucial to understanding the town.
GC And New Orleans itself is crucial to understanding America. After all, its history is replete with the perennial American themes and struggles: self-making, liberty, equality, immigration, pluralism, religion, the tension between Europe and America, the influence of the South, and so on. And, of course: frontier.
NS New Orleans was the Wild West! In many ways, it never stopped being the Wild West. A place where you might see a gunfight on a main street. You still might see that. It had that image from very early on. When Thomas Jefferson annexed it, it went from being El Norte, the northernmost edge of the Saints and Festivals Belt, to being the West. We often think of it as the South, but you have to think of the Civil War in terms of both the South and the West, because a primary determinant in forcing the issue of civil was whether or not slave traders could expand their markets into the new western territories, the ones beyond New Orleans. DeBow’s Review, the Fortune magazine of the slaveowning South, published in New Orleans, was DeBow’s Review of the South and the West. New Orleans was the South and West.
Garnette: Picking up on your idea of perception…there are few ideas as central to the American character as renewal and transformation—as Ted Widmer brilliantly shows in Ark of the Liberties: America and the World, “[W]hat idea has been more powerful in [America’s] history than the hope that something wonderful…waits over the next horizon?”—and what is New Orleans if not a place of renewal and transformation? (Though I can already hear a host of people objecting that this Babylon of a place is anything but!) In your book you emphasize how music is crucial to the city’s formation and renewal; for you, music is a skeleton key that unlocks New Orleans’s history and reveals its character.
Ned: Absolutely. I look at music as a key to understanding history. In my books I use music as a tool for reading history, and vice versa...
Wednesday, June 04, 2008 Obama, The New Majority, And The Race (Card) Ahead
Last night Barack Obama won the Democratic nomination with grace and poise, a history-making achievement that neither John McCain or Hillary Clinton could bring themselves to recognize.
One hundred thirty six years after Frederick Douglass became the first African American on a presidential ticket (as vice presidential candidate for the Equal Rights Party) and 36 years after Shirley Chisholm's path-breaking Democratic presidential run, Obama attained the necessary number of delegates to become the first African American presidential candidate for the Democratic Party.
He dedicated the night to his grandmother. He has described her as a white woman not immune to the prejudices of an earlier era but who now lives comfortably with multiracial brood in Hawai'i. Surely she would understand the historical significance of her grandson's victory.
On the other hand, Hillary dedicated her night to her 18 million voters, many of whom chanted "Denver!" as if they wanted to fight on until the Democratic Convention in August. If Hillary's speech was meant to be a tribute to those who helped her in a hard-fought campaign, the images of her rabidly desperate followers reduced it to something like a shocking display of vanity.
Obama won only after one of the most racially divisive election seasons in history. Despite his desire to remain Jackie Robinson-like, his opponents raised race as soon as he began to rack up a series of surprising wins.
Progressive feminists like Gloria Steinem suggested--without much evidence--that the wave of support for Obama's candidacy was a sign that gender discrimination remained more immovable than racial discrimination.
Later, former President Bill Clinton dismissed Obama's win in South Carolina by comparing it to failed presidential candidate Jesse Jackson's wins in 1984 and 1988. Black voters vote for black candidates, after all, he suggested.
And in the last two months, as the contest shifted to states where Appalachian voters play a key role, Hillary Clinton suggested that she was the candidate of white working-class voters.
Newsweek's cover story, "Memo to Senator Obama", cites surveys showing 45% of white voters hold unfavorable views of Obama, as opposed to 35% for McCain. (Non-whites' unfavorable numbers for Obama are half as much.)
So author Ethan Thomas gives Obama a primer on how to win back white voters. He writes that despite Internet lies--Obama is Muslim, he believes the national anthem conveys a warlike message, he's sympathetic to terrorists, etc.--Obama should play it soft on race:
It's hard to think of what would turn off whites quicker than playing the thin-skinned victim.
Thomas seems to have already forgotten that, in the middle of a racialized firestorm not of his own making, Obama delivered one of the most nuanced and sensible speeches on race in decades.
Thomas also urges Obama to take a position "that plays against prejudice or typecasting": to oppose affirmative action as "a powerful signal" to white working-class voters allegedly enraged at black privilege. For his part, Obama has said he is for affirmative action, but has expressed doubts about whether his own daughters should benefit from such policies.
Thomas may be correct that white, working-class voters will remain a key battleground in the general election. Polls have shown that as much as one-third of Hillary's base may desert Obama in the general election by voting for McCain or staying home.
But Obama may only need to win a portion of those voters, some are lost to him in any case, and it's not clear that reversing himself on the wedge issues of the 80s and 90s gains anything for him as much it loses his base.
Much of the mainstream media's attention has been on the "ignored" white working-class voters of the heartland. They may be the most documented "ignored" demographic in history. You might remember this media-homogenized group as the Silent Majority, the Reagan Democrats, the NASCAR electorate, the Kansas voters, etc.
But Obama's candidacy rests on a new electoral landscape.
Obama has reaped the benefits of demographic shifts that Jackson foresaw over two decades ago in plotting his own campaign--the emergence of sizable communities of color and a progressive, multicultural generation of voters. In 2050, more than half the U.S. will be of color. But 2008 may be the year that this electorate arrives.
Urban gentrification in the West has led to an African American exodus back to the South, forming emerging majorities of long-time residents and new urban migrants. Obama's stunning primary victories may portend part of the South's swing back to blue.
Although Latinos voted largely for Clinton in the primaries, and Asian Americans appeared split, there are still few indications that they may shift to McCain. To his credit, McCain recognizes that we are a country that remains pro-immigrant. But after years of race-baiting campaigns, McCain's party has thoroughly alienated Latinos and Asian Americans. At the same time, the war, the environment and the domestic politics of abandonment and containment have made young voters the most Democratic-leaning in generations.
McCain clearly faces a tougher time making his case than Obama, whose own story parallels the immigrant story and whose energy has inspired the young. With an uninspired Republican base, it seems McCain needs the race card more than Hillary ever did, yet he plays it only at his--and his party's--future peril. Over the next four decades, the demographics are hardly with them.
As much as the Clintons depended on an old majority, Obama could be handing Democrats the new majority. But the Democrats aren't much different than the record industry: give them a sure thing and they'll always figure out how to screw it up.
As Marjorie Valbrun of TheRoot.com wrote in the same issue of Newsweek this week:
A woman educated at Yale and Wellesley who can afford to lend her campaign $20 million becomes the standard-bearer for working-class white people? She's clearly not a coal miner's daughter. So how did she do this? She appealed to their most base racial fears and resentments. It's worth remembering that Clinton started the race with a large base of black support. Then she made it easy for black women to abandon her.
Obama is the son of a white working-class family from Kansas, and a Black farming family from Kenya. Only in America, he has said, a new America.
If the Dems don't want to be abandoned by the new America, they would do well in the coming weeks to bring closure to the divisive primary season not by pandering to old resentments, but by waking up to the future.
If you hadn't heard already, here's how it went down:
Best Show: Top 9 (Russia) Battle Semifinal: Riverz (Korea) vs. Top 9 (Russia), Winner: Top 9
The video is here, but warning to the purists out there...it's edited. (Not sure if it was edited for TV or by the Youtube poster.) This starts about 2-3 minutes into the battle right after Russian B-Boy Robin's controversial chinky-eye taunt--he's the b-boy with the cap and stripes--although it does get C-4's response--he's the b-boy in the black tee. The incident that preceded this included a little dustup between Korean b-boy Physics and Russian b-boy Flying Buddha. Physics entered the cypher before Flying Buddha was finished.
Battle Semifinal: Gamblerz (Korea) vs. Brasil All-Stars, Winner: Gamblerz
4th Place ($1000): Riverz 3rd Place ($4000): Brasil (Check the battle here.)
2nd Place ($10,000): Top 9 Champs ($15,000): Gamblerz
Gamblerz announced they will be going next to do some benefit performances in China and will be donating their winnings and a portion of their earnings this summer to the victims in Myanmar and China.
In other news, the success of Benson Lee's indie "Planet B-Boy"--which opened last week in Canada on its continuing run--may have helped seal a $25 million Hollywood signing for the Young Films production company project, "Hype Nation". Gamblerz, who played prominent roles in Planet B-Boy, will be featured as the chief dancefloor opponents of teen idol Omarion and his crew, B2K.