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Saturday, January 03, 2009

Fear of a Successful Black Man

George Will's latest article may make you dizzy, so I've tried to distill his point for the loyal Stave It Off readers. He claims that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. By way of example, he depicts a civil rights issue.

Forty years ago, in an attempt to prevent racist discrimination in the workplace, the Supreme Court made it very difficult on employers to use aptitude tests during hiring and promotion processes. After all, many of these standardized tests had been shown to have cultural biases. The result (according to Will) was that employers could no longer directly gauge your intelligence, and had to use college degrees as evidence instead. This wound up being even more discriminatory, since the college system had built-in cultural and economic barriers for African Americans. I guess millions of smart young blacks were being told "Sorry, we'd love to hire you, but you've got to go get a degree first!" Will seals his point with an alarming statistic... between 1970 and 2005 the total college attendance nearly tripled in America! This is somehow a bad thing.

Will then concludes his essay with a poorly executed paragraph pointing the bony finger of doom at the incoming Obama administration. Using this half-assed example from the 70's (which really just shows that affirmative action is still needed in both work and education sectors) Will suggests that Obama's reform plans will have the same sort of disastrous outcomes. When are we going to learn NOT to have good intentions!? Apparently "wealth redistribution" just causes greater hardship on the poor, environmental regulation causes a hastening of global warming, and supporting labor unions causes greater abuse of the working class.

Be wary progressives, lest someone forty years from now cherry pick some data and sort of prove that you weren't quite as successful as you tried to be. But George Will is not a stupid man, nor does he live in Bizarro World. So what is really going on? Why is he casting such meager aspersions? And why did he choose to use the example of intelligent blacks being discriminated against to demonstrate his point about unintended consequences?

Well, first of all, George Will is an unapologetic racist. In his book Men at Work - The Craft of Baseball he chose Cal Ripken as his exemplar of defensive skill. In an era where Ozzie Smith (a black man) was destroying Ripken in every defensive metric imaginable, there is no excuse for this. And what token black did he choose for his book? Tony Gwynn. Tony freakin' Gwynn... with his squeaky little voice and his astonishing lack of power... he was the Urkel of baseball.

It seems quite obvious to me what Will's underlying message is here. If Barack Obama could have gotten a high-paying job without having to go to college, we'd all be a lot better off right now. We wouldn't have uppity Negroes with college degrees trying to bust down the doors of power in Washington. That could be reserved for white men of privilege... like it had been for the 43 previous administrations.

What we're really talking about here is the fear of a fully-realized black man. The old rules were: If you're going to be sexy, be dumb. If you're going to be smart, be effeminate. We didn't want to see black role models that were both sexy and smart. And frankly, that's a fear that we all need to face. God knows I can't watch too many Will Smith movies without starting to feel woefully inadequate myself. But now there's a new bench mark. Barack Obama has raised the stakes. Just take a look at the checklist George Will:

He's better at sports than you are. Okay, lots of black men are better at sports than you are... but usually that's okay because you're better at other things. It's important to note that he still has skillz though. This is no Carlton Banks we're talking about here.

He's smarter than you are. He hangs out with a higher class of college professors, has published better books than you and probably finishes the Saturday NYT crossword puzzle every week. He was even the first guy to pronounce Pakistan correctly.

His smile is brighter than yours. Good lord that's a winning grin. I mean, how do you compete with that. You're certainly not going to win with that grimace.

He seems to genuinely love his wife and children. Compare that to the usual slew of mistresses, divorces and catty Clintonesque power games usually going on in Washington. And compare his class act children to the typical parade of troglodytes farting all over their 4-8 years of spotlight. This guy even has family values locked down.

He did better drugs than you when he was a kid. Sure, you and Clinton may have tried some "grass" that your roommates were smoking, but Obama was trippin' balls on LSD and tootin' coke off of Studio 54 bathroom mirrors. He didn't squander his youth attending William F. Buckley summer camps.

He's lived and traveled all over the world. Kinda leaves that whole, "I spent a summer studying in England" thing in the dust.

And now there's this. This. THIS. THIS is what's haunting your dreams George Will. This is what white male America wasn't expecting and is still staggered by. You knew he was smart. You knew he had Chicagoan bad-boy charm. You knew he was poised. But you were not prepared for the glistening abs and pecs of our new president elect. You weren't prepared for the photoshoot of the century as Obama frolicked in the Hawaiian surf. It has rocked you to your soul, and you pray each night that Mrs. Will isn't having fantasies of Barack in her dreams.

Well, deal with it instead of writing crooked finger posts on your blog.



At 1/03/2009 03:11:00 PM, Blogger molly said...

Fucking priceless. Best. Closing. Paragraph. Ever.

At 1/06/2009 10:46:00 AM, Blogger lowcoolant said...

So which successful black man are you talking about? All I see are references to a white guy and a half-white guy.

At 1/07/2009 12:46:00 PM, Blogger molly said...

There's apparently a "one drop" clause. You remember the fight to claim Tiger Woods?

At 1/09/2009 11:03:00 AM, Blogger lowcoolant said...

Oh yeah. I almost forgot. The "one drop" clause. My bigoted 90-year-old grandmother was talking about that last week at lunch. I didn't realize the Party Of Change was still throwing around antiquated stuff like that. :)

I remember when the Chinese initially claimed Tiger Woods, because he was 25% Chinese. But then Thailand's government pointed out that he was really Thai, because he was 25% Thai. The Chinese were so dumbstruck that they released him.

If Obama really wants to be cool he should start calling himself "gray" and infuse the race-color nonsense language with something novel and sensible.

At 1/11/2009 06:27:00 AM, Blogger molly said...

How about "puce"... or lets make up another name for a mix of colours, like... um... "slubbly" or "blarb". I'm sure someone with a higher lexicographical sense of humour could do better than me.

At 1/15/2009 06:56:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yeah, speaking as an actual black man which I'm sure none of you are, President-elect Obama has said he considers himself "African American." Unless you've actually been touched by "race" (or are different) in this culture it's very easy to take lightly the experiences of someone else. Obama could be half Martian and the fact still remains that he’s had trouble catching a cab because of his appearance. It's very difficult to keep an open mind about who you're supposed to be when society forces you into a special box designated "black/African American."

In President-elect Obama's mind I'm quite certain he knows what people think he is—BLACK--and that his white mother is little more than window dressing in the unconventional personal history of the 44th president of the United States. His blood vessels could be filled with vanilla ice cream but in the end it’s not what people see on the inside that gets judged.

At times, perhaps all too frequently the truth of a person’s genetics is trumped by certain cultural realities. Don't get me wrong I'm dusting off my dustiest hope because of the results of this historic election, but real and lasting change doesn't come in quietly, and most times it's precipitated by great social upheaval. In my humble opinion America still hasn't proven it's anything more than skin deep.


At 1/26/2009 10:43:00 AM, Blogger John said...

Clay, Thanks for your thoughtful comments. I was wondering how to state a similar response, but I'm glad you did it for me! :)

I think I've learned the lesson that white folks like myself ought not to presume what other people have experienced, or what race means to them.

In that sense, calling people like Obama and Will Smith "white, or half white" can be unintentionally hurtful. I think Low Coolant is trying to be "post-race" about this, but it never seems to work for a white man to tell minorities to "get over it."


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