At a Christmas party in 2004, a cousin asked me "Do you like Medea?" For a minute I was a confused, since it didn’t seem to be the occasion for sharing our impressions of Greek mythology. But it turned out she was talking about Madea, the massive, loudmouthed, pistol-packing black grandmother who Tyler Perry performs as in drag in a series of "chitlin' circuit" touring shows. Perry sells DVDs of the shows on line, and ten minutes after my cousin put one on I was hooked. I’m not alone. Madea was the biggest new phenom in black America until Obamamania.
I used to try to read every book that came over the transom. That didn’t last long, but there are always those amidst the flow that grab my attention, and among them, a few that really stick with me. Lately I have been struck by three. Marcus LiBrizzi exhumes the story of the tiny Atusville community on the outskirts of a small town in Maine (Lost Atusville: A Black Settlement from the American Revolution). Atusville was a black district – but not one of the grand old bustling commercial black meccas that thrived in most large American cities until the fifties like Chicago’s Bronzeville.
With the Obama Administration letting Green Jobs czar Van Jones resign, questions as to whether these people have any spine are becoming sadly legitimate. What, precisely, would have been wrong with letting Glenn Beck and the others keep screaming their heads off about Jones’ purported radical intentions? Why not do a Glinda and dismiss this nonsense with a breezy “You have no power here”? After all, we are faced here not with serious charges. There are no modern-day Whittaker Chambers in this crowd.
Last Sunday’s third episode of this season’s Mad Men was one of the best in the series on many levels, which was why for me, a frequent little problem with the show stood out more than ever. Namely, the show’s depiction of how people speak is less accurate than the loving exactitude with attire, cocktails, product labels, and the like. The most glaring example in this episode was what seems to have gone down as a memorable line from Peggy Olson, erstwhile secretary who is slowly climbing the corporate ladder.
Jan Freeman’s column Sunday, subbing for William Safire, on what Ambrose Bierce--along with others--considered “bad language” a hundred years ago was a delight. Ever been self-conscious about the difference between various and several?
The drifting changes in the links between cultural alignments and political ones over time are always interesting, such as the fact that Republicans were once more interested in black rights than Democrats. It’s equally true in black history. Culturally, Booker T. Washington was much more of what is currently recognized as “culturally black” than W.E.B.
So they had their beer. Teachable Moment. What have we learned? Something--but not what I sense will get much press in the aftermath. Directly from The Beer--not much. Gates and Crowley had an “exchange,” although about what we are not to know. And they intend to have more such exchange. Of some sort. All very civil. Gates has said he’ll be putting together a documentary about the profiling issue.
Gates-gate is the culmination of one of those occasional spates of race-related events that occur and flow into one another over a month or so. These spates are, in fact, precisely the “conversation” on race that Attorney General Eric Holder claims does not happen in America. What, after all, has all of this talk been from the Ricci decision through to the uproar over what happened on Henry Louis Gates’ front porch?
There is nothing glib to say, in any responsible sense, about Henry Louis Gates' arrest last week, which is this week's big race story. Its value is as an object lesson in why, with a black President, there remains a contingent convinced that America is still all about racism. Gates' belligerence--"Why, because I'm a black man in America?"--may not have been pretty. However, tarring him as a professional racebaiter is inaccurate.
Sonia Sotomayor’s “wise Latina” line is worth some comment beyond that which I ventured a while ago. Her record makes it clear overall that she will be a more than suitable justice on the Supreme Court. However, her defense of that comment this week has been logically hopeless. We all know it. We should also know, at this point in time when people of color of her generation are of the age to rise into top positions requiring serious vetting, why Sotomayor and others like her will have to, shall we say, dissimulate in cases like this.