Mark Naison @ NewBlackMan: The Tea Party’s War on Young Americans

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Tea Party’s War on Young Americans

The Tea Party’s War on Young Americans

by Mark Naison | special to NewBlackMan

During the last two years, a political revolt on the Right has changed the landscape of American politics. A movement which calls itself the Tea Party, overwhelmingly composed of white Americans over the age of fifty, has taken over the Republican Party, and with it the House of Representatives, with a program calling for drastic curbs on government expenditure and a moratorium on new taxation. The startling growth of this movement is in large measure attributable to racial fears triggered by Barack Obama’s election as president. But those fears are connected to demographic shifts which have made school populations majority minority in many states, and prefigure a future when whites are no longer the nation’s dominant group. Economic anxiety and racial fears have produced a truly vindictive approach to politics on the American Right. To put the matter bluntly, the Tea Party has declared war on American youth by trying to cut school budgets, library budgets, publicly subsidized recreation programs, and access to college scholarships.

Until quite recently. young people in the country, who do not vote in the same proportions as their elders, ( the 2008 Presidential Election excepted) have mounted little no significant resistance to the Tea Party offensive and showed few signs of dissatisfaction. But this could change with startling rapidity A wave of protest in other nations, starting in the Arab World, spreading to continental Europe and most recently taking the form of massive riots in England, all have originated among young people using social media to spread their message. It is not difficult to imagine that this wave of global protest, both non-violent and violent, will soon spread to the US, taking forms uniquely adapted to American conditions.

Some of this protest has already started; It is significant that the most important recent youth protests in the US have taken place in our prison system, a sector which dwarfs its counterparts in the Arab world or Europe. There have been two huge hunger strikes in prisons in the last six months, the first in Georgia, the second in California, in each case ending when authorities made concessions. Since a significant portion of the American working class lives in communities where people move in and out of prison with startling frequency, such protests are a sign of growing discontent among that section of the US population steadily being beaten down, not only by Depression imposed job losses and foreclosures,, but by the budget cuts Tea Party activists have helped negotiate.

Another sign of this discontent is are electronically organized commodity riots which the media have called “flash mobs,” groups of adolescents from poor neighborhoods, who, with the help of cell phone communication, suddenly descend on a downtown business district, or a store, and rob everyone in sight, disappearing as quickly as they’ve congregated. Incidents of this kind have taken place in Cleveland, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Maryland, prompting moral panic among politicians and religious leaders who view these outbursts as a consequences of faulty childrearing and parental neglect.

But while it is hard to endorse indiscriminate acts of violence which put forth no program and make no demands, it is also naïve to condemn them without referring to the increasing poverty and isolation of the young people responsible for these actions , or to the blithe indifference to their plight among urban elites and young professionals whose prosperity has been untouched by the recession. Can you really expect young people to stand by and suffer in silence while libraries and recreation centers are shut, while food becomes scares, while many among them are being forced into homelessness, and when schools become test factories, especially since their older siblings in prison are starting to organize and protest against their plight. As conditions worsen among the working class and the poor, expect more flash mobs, more school takeovers and walkouts, and more actual riots, especially when and if police over react to these other forms of protest.

Continue reading@ NewBlackMan: The Tea Party’s War on Young Americans.

White Boy Remixed: Whiteness and Teaching Race

White Boy Remixed: Whiteness and Teaching Race
| special to NewBlackMan

This summer I have dedicated to reading that stack of books I have been wanting to read. The 4th installment (I will write about the other three books on my blog) was Mark Naison’s memoir – White Boy. Naison, a professor of African American Studies at Fordham University, chronicles his personal, political and academic journey, responding to those who have ubiquitously asked how he as a white man became a professor of African American Studies. With a tremendous amount of honesty, openness, complexity, and vulnerability, Naison explores his own history as a teacher, activists, and source of community empowerment. While the book chronicles a powerful story of the 1960s – the anti-war movement, the Panthers, Columbia, identity politics – it is a story of a dynamic man whose life and insights teach us just as he has taught his students for several decades. In telling the story of the “white African American Studies professors, Naison offers a narrative that highlights how whiteness matters but how it does not define or over-determine the arch of his life or career. It is a story that resonates with me on so many levels, leading me to want to share my own story.

Like Mark Naison, I have been consistently asked about my entry into Ethnic Studies. In my first class at Washington State University, I had a student that constantly wanted to know my story. The student could not understand why this White guy was teaching African American film – what had lead me to be me – In the course of the class, he asked “How I can to be the Eminem of Ethnic Studies?” While the class oohed and aahed, some thinking it was a slight against me and others thinking it was a point of celebration, I saw it as a good question, one that could lead (and did) into some important conversations. Another day I had a group of students who came to my office asking me to settle a bet about how I came to Ethnic Studies, each having a different theory – (a) I grew up in the Black community; (b) I had a Black girlfriend or a Black wife who had taught and encouraged me to learn; (c) I was just down. In fact, I have been asked several times if I have a Black girlfriend who educated me about blackness, taught me to be committed and down, and pushed me down my educational and career path.

On another level, I have been asked if I am a “culture vulture,” in the tradition of Elvis, in that I am “taking” and “impersonating” something that I am not, in my educational and professional choices. I have also experienced much celebration being a white guy in ethnic studies. Most often such comments reflect desires for colorblindness as a presumed end goal; that is, my presence in Ethnic Studies supposedly embodies the fulfillment of King’s dream or a sign of progress. A student once sent me an e-mail that said that world was changing racially, for the better, because the best rapper was white, best golfer is black, best basketball player was Asian …and their ethnic studies teacher was white. Not to be outdone, a student cited my presence in Ethnic Studies as evidence of colorblindness, to discount our discussions about racism and inequality. However, what the student failed to see is whether or not their teacher was White, or the president is Black, racism remains a constant.

I am certainly defined by my whiteness, whether teaching ethnic studies or driving through Colfax; yet my relationship to Ethnic Studies, social justice struggles, my scholarship, my pedagogy, my ideology, my gaze upon the world, and my understanding of racism/privilege/inequality is not overly determined by a monolithic white identity formation. As Bakari Kitwana argues in Why White Kids Love Hip Hop, “Each Person has a unique story that brought him or her to hip-hop. Looking at the micro reasons as well as the macro ones helps us make sense of a contemporary hip-hop scene in which a new generation is affected by America’s racial history and in the process is constructing a new politics.” In others words, my arrival to and place within the field of Ethnic Studies (or a larger racialized discursive field) reflects a myriad of factors and experiences, ones that are neither defined exclusively by nor immune from the realities of whiteness, racism, and contemporary racial politics.

I grew up in Los Angeles in a middle-class family that spent most of its income on schools, not so much because of concerns of “safety” or even the quality of education available in the public school system. I went to an elementary school founded by Hollywood Communists, including Charlie Chaplin. During my life, I have never gone to school where we did not call our teachers by their first name; I did not receive “grades” until the 9th grade. More instructive, both detention and the pledge of allegiance were completely foreign concepts to me until high school. This educational background clearly established a foundation but this only tells part of the story.

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