Leonce Gaiter

The White Right TAPP Dances Black Truths Out of American History

The right’s strength is its ability to immerse itself in tribal warmth of sexist, racist, homophobic waters, while simply sprinkling the rest of us with their refreshing mists. And they are refreshing. Admit it. Who hasn’t been pricked by the odd racist thought--when you glimpse the black face behind the wheel of the car that cuts you off, or your male ego takes a hit from a woman. ‘Nigger.’ ‘Bitch.’ They explode like little bombs. Like splinters from the stairwell banister, their sting is sudden, unexpected, and a bit disconcerting.

And then you go on your way. You shake it off, forget it happened. The right’s gift is their ability to reference the embers of all those little bombs, all the perceived slights, the learned and latent bigotry absorbed during our American upbringings. They reference them and, like tiny bellows, reignite the embers to a subtle glow. Just enough to remind us of the root cause of the epithets we mutter in our heads. Just enough to remind you that "they" deserved, if only for reminding you that such ugliness lived inside.

That’s how they seduce the beloved “moderate” voter, convince him or her to pay no heed to that
declaration in favor of “Confederate History Month,” or those racist newsletters published under their names. A trip to a black school, a photo-op with some black faces while listening with bwana-like condescension to their plight is enough to convince the soccer mom to ignore the fact that you never condemned your supporters’ bleating insistence that the first black President has no right to hold the office, or that you belong to a church that has yet to repudiate the belief that blacks are cursed by God. Once the embers of contempt are smoldering, it takes very little to convince the majority. The smell of offal isn't so strong when you wear the taint yourself.

With new tactics, the battleground has shifted. Paul Krugman wrote:

”Today, however, the big threat to our discourse is right-wing political correctness, which — unlike the liberal version — has lots of power and money behind it. And the goal is very much the kind of thing Orwell tried to convey with his notion of Newspeak: to make it impossible to talk, and possibly even think, about ideas that challenge the established order.

Thus, even talking about 'the wealthy' brings angry denunciations; we’re supposed to call them 'job creators'. Even talking about inequality is 'class warfare'.

And then there’s the teaching of history. Eric Rauchway has a
great post about attacks on the history curriculum, in which even talking about 'immigration and ethnicity' or 'environmental history' becomes part of a left-wing conspiracy. As he says, he’ll name his new course 'US History: The Awesomeness of Awesome Americans.' That, after all, seems to be the only safe kind of thing to say.”

Follow the Eric Rauchway link and you’ll notice the attempts to institutionalize what I call “The American Past Perfect,” or .“the TAPP dance” The TAPP dance is the white right’s attempt to absolve itself (and the America it claims as its alone) of all sins. The TAPP dance insists that America’s literal and figurative white heart is inherently pure, incapable of committing mistakes, sins, or evils, and if it did, well, they should not be mentioned, for to do so is to deny the American Past Perfect, which is un-American, and concomitantly and perhaps more importantly, un-white.

You’ve heard the paeans to America’s halcyon days of the prosperous 50s and early 60s. This was also the era of unquestioned white, male privilege, before the Civil Rights and Women's Right Movements. The privilege part is conflated with that era’s prosperity while conveniently ignoring the economic realities:
  • Back then, over 20% of the nation’s workers were unionized (versus today’s 11%)
  • Back then, the top marginal tax rate was 91% (versus today’s 35%)
  • Back then, capital gains were taxed at 25% (versus today’s 15%).
  • Back then, dividends were taxed at near 90% (versus today’s 15%)
If we can just return to those days of blessed exclusion, the right suggests, we can again realize the American Dream of prosperity for all. In fact, a more equitable tax system enabled robust public investment while a strong labor pool protected workers’ rights—all things against which the right fights vociferously.

Today, history is the battleground. How do you convince a populace that up is down, that history isn’t what it is? As conservatives insist that history curricula TAPP dance, black history and therefore black culture, disappear. Slavery was a mere historical “oops” moment, a slip of the historical tongue, nothing to get het up about. American apartheid through the latter-part of the 20
th century? Oh, pooh! Instead, let history texts celebrate the majority for gallantly granting blacks our constitutionally guaranteed rights and praise them for gallantly acknowledging us our status as humans.

If they succeed, we will watch the history that built our culture, as wrapped up in pain as in joy... we'll watch it disappear. If we endured nothing of note, then the results of our endurance are not noteworthy. Our culture can, therefore, comfortably be omitted. Note
Mitt Romney’s discomfort on being consistently reminded of black America’s past (and white America’s shame) on our present.

We are an historical people. Our cultural being is shot through with American history. It's been clear for a while that the right's contempt for us has a lot to do with the lie we put to their white, Christian self-image and "American Exceptionals," pure of heart and intent. Our skin and our history prove that Americans are as capable of sub-animal viciousness as any other people on earth. Maybe they can't erase our skin, but they're working hard on erasing the history of which it so unforgivably reminds them.

This is a strange form of cultural ethnic cleansing—one made more onerous by black America’s passivity in preserving and passing on our own culture. The majority is slowly seduced by a whitewashed version of our past, and we, with no codified, independent means of passing it to future generations, follow along. We, too, will eventually believe the lie. We, too, will believe that the past had little effect on us and is unworthy of investigation. We, too, will believe that the horrors from which we often culled greatness were of little note. We’ll believe that the greatness can also be ignored.

Who would have thought that there was another way back to the “Invisible Man.”

Chutzpah! Obama's Shameful Black Caucus Speech

President Barack Obama told blacks on Saturday to quit crying and complaining and "put on your marching shoes" to follow him into battle for jobs and opportunity. AP

Follow him? If the President wants anyone to follow him, he had better start leading -- something he has consistently failed to do since his inauguration. He did not lead while the health reform debate devolved into a national joke and coughed up a bill that Americans still do not understand. He did not lead the march for job creation when the economy proved to be in much worse shape than his economic advisors had forecast. As a matter of fact, he did the opposite: he publicly made the Republican case for job-killing austerity measures while trumpeting his willingness to weaken entitlements on which the middle class depend.

Read the rest at Huffington Post.

With Traditional Publishing Dies the Passive Writer-Victim

It had been a longtime dream; I had thought about it and wanted it since childhood. But then, with my dream in hand, my only response was a small nod and a sotto, "oh, alright." Akin to a tepid "how nice." My book was to be published by a well-regarded NY publishing house, and I couldn't even muster a facade of enthusiasm. I assumed I was numb; that it hadn't sunk in yet. So I went about my business and I waited for the thrill to fill me up.

It never did. The process had been long—a cryptic agent who condescended to take my once-a-month call, a fake chuckle to hide her irritation as she complained about having to hold clients' hands. It was on one of my monthly calls that she told me that I had sold a book. I wonder if she would have bothered to mention it if I hadn't phoned. I guess I'll never know.

The production process was—subliminal. I spoke with the book's ostensible editor for a grand total of about 5 minutes—in my entire life. A proof showed up with a picture of a flirty, naked black woman on the cover—when the only black female character died before the beginning of the book and she wasn't the flirty type. It was a nice cover, but it had little to do with the book beneath it.

The publicist sent the requisite press release to the usual suspects, who probably gave it the attention it deserved (They ignored it). Gamely, I stepped into the breach, purchasing some cheap online ads, hawking the book to reviewers, etc., all to middling success, but infinitely greater satisfaction than I got from any other stage of the process save the writing. Finally, I had some control, and I began to suspect that I was a sophomoric cliché of the passive writer-victim—passively awaiting my agent's actions; passively awaiting publisher response; passively awaiting for someone to design my book, passively awaiting critical and commercial reaction. Yes, I began to suspect... but I was still to programmed and scared to do anything about it.

As the next novel hit editors' desks (from a new, and altogether more suitable agent) and I passively awaited reaction, my agent received notes like these:

"It’s an impressively gripping story, and a fascinating story about a time and topic I knew little about."

"I can see what you mean about the strong pacing of Gaiter’s narrative, and the novel’s strong sense of place, which seems to stem from deep research into and thorough knowledge..."

"I thought this was a really well-written and fascinating story.  I loved the historical details and enjoyed the book on a personal level."

Each of these statements preceded a "pass." One editor told my agent that "the market" was telling her that only frothy, "feel good" books have a chance at sales success today. This was an odd statement, considering that it presupposes that the publishing industry has a good idea of what "the market" wants. I quote author and business writer Michael Levin from Forbes Magazine:

...the books that publishers choose are almost entirely of zero interest to actual book-buyers.  After 9/11, there were a ton of books about 9/11, which nobody bought.  Same thing with the Iraq War, the rise of Obama, the economic meltdown... Or the books are rehashed business lessons, religious truths, sports clichés, motivational babble, exercise fads, weight loss techniques, or pandering to the political left or the right.  Who wants these books?  Almost no one.Most of the major publishers today are owned by international conglomerates who, at some point, will awaken to the realization that English majors in their employ are spending millions of dollars on books that no one wants to read.

Levin further points out the antediluvian hilarity of the publishing "business model," in which "the publisher bears the entire risk of buying, editing, printing, and shipping copies of the book to bookstores all over the country on a 100% returnable basis.  If your local Barnes & Noble doesn’t sell a particular book, it goes right back to the publisher, at the publisher’s shipping cost, for a full refund.  Especially in the Internet era, you can’t make money putting books on trucks and hoping someone buys them."

After my first book was released, I was scheduled for a radio appearance. The day prior, I was informed that Amazon was out of my book. Publicity can generate sales. It's bad form to generate publicity for a product, and then inform prospective buyers at a primary outlet that the product is unavailable. When I screamed loudly about this to my agent and editor, the editor said, and I quote, "If they want the book badly enough, they'll wait for it or find it." My jaw dropped. Apple Computer can afford to be that lazy and arrogant. James Patterson can. Leonce Gaiter and Carroll & Graf Publishers could not. This man was so clueless to business realities, he expected people to seek out or wait for a product about which they knew little or nothing from someone they had never heard of. To him, the reader had to do all the work. Our job was to look pretty while we sat back and waited for them to do it.

I read reports from one of the large book conferences in which a major editor insisted that the "intrinsic value" of a book justified their exorbitant price tags. ($12.99 for an ebook? Fuck you! Even Amazon wanted to sell them for $9.99.) Again, the ignorance is blinding. In a market economy, no product qua product has "intrinsic value." Suggesting that it does stinks of the arrogance of decay drenched in decadence. See also this
shamefully smug op-ed.

With respect to my own work, I had to realize that some NY Editors are sufficiently egotistical to believe that they are so advanced in their educations and outlook that a book they find "fascinating" could not possibly engage a more general audience (unless it includes vampires or comes with pictures, of course). That, and the fact that their marketing sense and infrastructures are as outmoded and inefficient as the rest of their business, so they only have the ability to sell books that run the gamut from A to C to audiences that are equally diverse.

Finally, I had to accept both the death of my romantic vision of publishing and the gross facts of the corporate publishing reality. With my agent's help and blessing, I found the tools and mustered the will to do things differently.

Ingram, the major book distributor, owns Lightning Source, which gives authors access to distribution channels similar to those the publishing houses get, and at reasonable prices; your book can be available for print-on-demand from any bookstore, online or off. That takes care of the physical books. Ebooks, of course, are also within any author's grasp; between Smashwords and Amazon's Kindle Direct Publishing, you can pretty much cover the territory. This time, I chose my own physical book's format, dimensions, and I laid out the text within the appropriate template myself. A wonderful designer I know provided the marvelous cover art. The novel is mine, soup to nuts. I feel an ownership and pride that never even teased me with my traditionally published book. From an economic standpoint, if the book sells as well as my largely-ignored traditionally published novel, I will make three times the money from it. Carroll & Graf put a $24 price tag on my first book. Consumers will be able to buy this one for less than $10.

How can you not recommend this option to authors? With today's tools, the idea of waiting for approval from the minions of a multinational sounds as lazy and self-defeating as a band that won't burn CDs until they get a major label record deal. Just as musicians have to know their way around a sound board, writers need facility with the layout and design software used to create books, the ins and outs of formatting for ebooks; they need design sense enough to guarantee that their book looks good inside and out.

We used to wait passively for the pearly gates to open and then gratefully pass our manuscripts through to hallowed ground. In music and in books, those days are gone forever. And good riddance.

Obama's Presidency Can't Be "Transformative;" He's a Democrat

Frank Rich wrote a progressive line that is becoming as clichéd and hilarious as the conservative’s “I am not a racist, but…”

The line is:  “
If Obama is to have a truly transformative presidency…”

The line assumes (or accepts the statement that) Obama wants to provide a transformative presidency.  It’s time to face the fact that he really doesn’t.  “Change” was his slogan, but his taste runs to slow sips of consensus-fueled incrementalism.  As Rich himself points out, he has a shocking faith in the powers-that-be, and an unhealthy respect for the status quo.  There is nothing transformative about him—except his skin color in contrast to the house he inhabits.

Running for the presidency with a slim resume and black skin was a bold move.  We assumed it bespoke a bold temperament, but it did not.  It was a bold
personal move.  The decision to run for President challenges no entrenched interests save those of other candidates and only in the abstract (you might prove a great challenger, or no challenge at all).  Simply running for president does not diminish any group’s power or purse.  It is a totally personal move.  Governing, on the other hand, is a public, political process in which there are numerous winners and losers earning and suffering in real time. 

Obama’s running represented a bold, outside-the-box political calculus. Winning was audacious, even against a seemingly developmentally challenged opponent who chose a fame whoring cretin as his running mate.

By now, however, it is obvious that Obama’s personal boldness does not cross the blood/brain barrier into governance.  By all indications, he simply does not (a) have a taste for upending existing preconceptions or institutions and (b) does not believe he has the right to do so even if he believes it should be done. 

Bush, Reagan, Cheney and their conservative ilk govern with a zealot’s belief in their own Divine rightness.  It lights them from within.  They impart a sense of their own leadership destiny.  ‘God wants me in charge,’ they seem to say.  That’s the “Daddy” aspect that glows to many like a lighthouse beacon.  It animated much of the early thrall with the simplistic George W. Bush.  Such men believe that their own best interests are inherently the country’s.  Even if they plan to represent only the top 1% of wage earners, they fervently believe that enriching that group is the right thing to do; and they will move heaven and earth to do it.  (Imagine the yowls if Barack Obama likewise decided that enriching a much larger group­—say, African Americans—was in the pressing national interest.)  This is not politics.  It is religion, and conservatives will lie, cheat, steal, and impoverish to forcefully convert us all (see 2000 election recount.  See Bush tax cuts).

Obama, on the other hand, displays no such sense of noblesse oblige—no self-regard bathed in the Divine Right of Princes.  He knows that he’s not “supposed” to be President and therefore does not grant himself the right to impose his view on a nation.  He simply can’t do “Daddy.”  Race plays into this but it is not all.  His political team (despite their insulting bullshit that race never plays into their political calculations) know that Obama will face a telegenically white, less-insane-than-McCain “Daddy” candidate come 2012 (think Romney).  They dare not upset the applecart too blatantly and have their rich, establishment sponsors abandon their ironically hued White House occupant.

But that’s only part of it,
A recent poll showed Obama’s disease to be shared among the majority of Democrats, who, unlike Republicans, want their politicians to compromise with their political opponents.  Democrats, it seems, do not want transformative change. 

In early 2007, right after Democrats had retaken Congress,
Pew found (PDF, page 16) that self-identified Democrats preferred politicians who compromised, while self-identified Republicans preferred politicians who stood by their beliefs:

Three and a half years later, in a poll released yesterday, Pew has confirmed this finding.  
Republicans do not like politicians who compromise, but Democrats do (emphasis mine):

Democrats simply don’t share the conservatives’ ideological evangelicism.  We doubt our own political prescriptions and are not willing to stand by them despite opposition.  We’re just chronically not sure.    

Thus Obama’s and his team congratulate themselves on passing a health care “reform” bill that does more for the insurance industry than it does for Americans.  It simply means that if you happen to be poor or lose your job, not only will you be unable to afford health insurance, you’ll be fined for the privilege of being unable to afford it—while the insurance industry gets a vast new pool of mandatory customers to rip off.  Yipee!  (and I can’t resist, [and let’s face it, neither can you]… all together now….)
Change We Can Believe In.   Yes We Can!

For those of us who never bought this man’s bring-us-all-together/MLK schtick, this is not surprising.  It’s been there since the beginning, most just let the Obama campaign’s
beatific visions of magic negritude dazzle them.

Time has passed and it’s time to deal with it: Obama ain’t “transforming” shit.  Never wanted to.  Never will.  He accepts that some progressive ideals are beneficial, but hasn’t sufficient conviction to fight decidedly for them.  In that, he represents his party.  In that, he is a typical Democrat.

The Legacy of White Christian Chauvanism in Arizona's Ethnic Studies Bill

As I sat in a pew in Catholic church, I stared up at the enormous crucifix suspended from the ceiling on which a distinctly white man gazed theatrically toward the heavens. I looked around at the other black folks sitting around me in the pews, and realized that even then, in the heyday of the Civil Rights Movement, even as Martin Luther King used the language of Christianity to shame the majority into treating other men as men—I realized that, for black Americans, Christianity was like the atom. Tearing it apart might heat your house, but that doesn’t lessen its potential lethality.

Arizona’s outlawing of ethnic education revived this memory. Just as black Americans have historically ignored the more toxic aspects of the Christianity foisted upon us by our former slave masters, that toxicity continues to infect not only us, but the descendants (literal and figurative) of those who enslaved us.

Mainstream Christianity rests on the belief in an historical Jesus. By any American standards, this living, breathing man would have been classified as “white”—swarthy yes, but white. Of course, Europeans recreated him in their own image, blond and blue-eyed. But even when historical reality crept it and Jesus’ skin took on a bit of a taint and his hair a bit more curl that was strictly Nordic, it was not that much of a stretch. “White,” he remained.

God chose a ‘white’ man to bear his image on earth. Thus, white men are clearly closer to God, dearer to God, more in his image than any black-skinned being with nappy hair. Christianity has always borne this toxic underpinning of white supremacy due to its historical pretensions. Jesus is not an allegory who can be effectively transformed to suit the occasion. He is both the son of the One True God and an historical fact—and he is white.

Europeans used this aspect of Christianity to justify varying forms of brutality and enslavement. Americans used it in the founding of this nation, in drafting its Constitution, and in its official governance for most of her history.

That history of violence is not easy for some white Christians (most of whom would call themselves “conservatives&rdquoWinking to accept. The Godliness of their image precludes the possibility of centuries of monstrous behaviors. God has singled them out as most like Him and he has granted them dominion over the earth and its creatures. The idea that they lustily participated in butchery, rape, murder and dehumanization vicious enough to give most historical perversions a run for their money… that simply cannot stand.

So they deny. They declare certain sections of the past off limits even as they revel in others. It is fine to dwell on the past of the confederacy, but off limits to dwell on the past of slavery and Jim Crow. The former is considered healthy respect for one’s forebears, the latter an incitement to resentment against white people.
Clearly, shame and arrogance comingle here. It is the shame of those who know the facts paint them unkindly. It is the arrogance of those who believe themselves inherently superior in the eyes of their God; who believe that lesser men have no right to shame them, who believe somewhere deep down that they had the right to commit those heinous wrongs.

If Arizona’s white legislators want to erase ethnic-specific education, they should close every school in the state, for most of their curricula are white-specific. But of course, the goal is to ensure that black and brown children continue to see the world only from the majority’s point-of-view, continue to see the majority through the traditional American Christian prism—closer to God, good and pure—clean and right.