(click to embiggen)
(Thanks to Maria Falvey for helping me get this one.)
So, it’s been a good week for me, or at least for my guilty pleasures. One of the greatest joys of the week has been watching my usual qualms about lefty crit-speak vanish in a puff of “Oh yeah, that’s what that means!” See, I have to admit, I’m not always down with the use of ‘whitesplaining’, ‘privilege’, ‘objectification’ in critical commentary. Some might suggest my hesitation is just what you’d expect from a middle-class white guy, but I can’t help thinking these get a little overused at times.
But then Dan Snyder made a true believer out of me.
This miracle of clarity came on Tuesday a charity event in which he answered a few questions, …badly. According to the Associated Press, Snyder simply declared that the team name is “not an issue” and that people need to “focus on reality.” And lo! The matter was settled. If you are like me, you might be thinking that’s a neat trick. When people keep telling you they have a problem with something you’re doing, you just declare it isn’t an issue, and like magic, it simply isn’t. Teenagers everywhere should try that with their parents and teachers.
…or maybe not.
Of course Dan Snyder isn’t a teenager; he isn’t challenging authority. Given his wealth and his power, and that his primary critics here seem to be an underprivileged demographic, the man is speaking down the social scale in some sense, delivering a pronouncement from on-high, one that others will struggle to challenge. If Snyder’s ex cathedra pronouncement seems to work, it is precisely because he has the power to make the story stick, and that power does not come from the clarity of his personal insight or the cogency of his arguments.
This isn’t someone speaking truth to power; it’s someone speaking power in the face of truth.
But of course Snyder isn’t just playing privilege, he also has an argument. That argument has something to do with addressing real issues affecting the lives of Native Americans rather than the symbolic issues associated with mascot politics. As Snyder says; “The real issues are real-life issues, real-life needs, and I think it’s time that people focus on reality.”
Now this little gambit almost has promise. You could make a plausible argument out of prioritizing material needs over symbolic politics, at least some people could under some circumstances. So, this argument seems like it might have some legs. Of course those legs might take his cause further if Snyder weren’t busy laying down a hundred thousand dollars to help a high school team change their football field to field turf, this after bragging up some coats and part of a backhoe given to Native Americans. Those legs stop walking altogether when one considers that any effort to actually help people in their real lives does nothing at all to answer questions about the name of the team. As Keith Olberman pointed out, it is quite possible to do both. And those legs sit down and kick up their feet for a smoke break when one considers just how outrageous it is for a non-native to simply declare that he knows what the actual issues for Native Americans really are in direct opposition to the stated position of so many of them. Mind you, the man isn’t making a suggestion, fielding a question, or even respectfully submitting any thoughts for folks to consider. He simply declares his own command of the issues once and for all. …adding that he and his folks have done their homework, “unlike a lot of people.”
I wonder who Dan Snyder thinks those other people who haven’t done their homework would be? Could it possibly be the people whose lives he pretend to want to help? Could it be the very people he is talking about? So, yep. Dan Snyder thinks he can simply tell the world what the real problems are in Indian Country, all the while ignoring the input, comments, criticism, and vocal outrage from indigenous voices all over the country, not the least of them appearing on the pages of Indian Country Today.
If I had to give an example of whitesplaining, I think this might just be the first one that came to mind.
But of course Dan Snyder had competition this week from rural Nevada where rancher and Tea Party hero Cliven Bundy opted to tell us a thing or two about the ‘negro’. …yep. Of course some folks might not be surprised to find a man with odd thoughts about federal authority (and the lack thereof) also had odd thoughts about minorities, but I prefer to give folks the benefit of the doubt.
…at least while there is doubt.
Here’s the quick and dirty version:
Now some folks seem to feel this shortened version of Bundy’s remarks reflects an unfair edit, so they present a larger version of the clip showing a bit more of Bundy’s thoughts on different people. Here it is:
If you watch this longer version of Bundy’s remarks, you can see quite clearly that he is not trying to spread hatred of or prejudice against anybody. No, he just believes a lot of terrible things about African Americans, at least, and he doesn’t seam to see that those beliefs are offensive and harmful to the people he claims not to hate. Bundy’s comments reflect common stereotypes about African-Americans and somewhat less common musings about the potentially benign effects of slavery. They may not reflect the kind of strident racism one would expect of the KKK (though we might have our suspicions about a few of Bundy’s supporters), but Bundy’s remarks do reflect a casual racism that tends to show up in some circles a couple beers into a good BBQ.
What seems most striking about this to me is the role that minorities play here as an object of contemplation for Bundy and his many defenders. Minorities present to Bundy and casual racists everywhere a source of material, so to speak, one tailor-made for commentary about where this damned world is going and where it really oughtta be. It’s a tired litany in which the real problems of the world can be found in the privileges of those with the least and with whoever is responsible for creating those imaginary privileges. Black folk aren’t the real evil of Bundy’s remarks. No, they are simply dupes of the Fed, fellow victims of big government who must be saved from it’s diabolical schemes. All the problems of the African-American community are thus subsumed under the interests of Bundy’s states’ rights agenda. They are simply one more reason to oppose big government, all for their benefit as well as his own.
The notion that the modern welfare state is just another form of slavery has been a favorite talking point of right wingers in recent years. It’s just one of the many ways in which the critique of welfare has long since jumped the shark in the echo chambers of America’s pseudo-conservatives and free market fundamentalists. So, I suppose it shouldn’t come as any real surprise to find Bundy reproducing this little yarn. It is a little bit of a surprise, I think, to find that people could be so thoughtless and so clueless about the realities of either slavery or social programs. The problem here is not malice (I will give Bundy supporters that much anyway); it’s ignorance, but it’s ignorance taken to 11.
One of the manifestations of that ignorance is a complete inability to conceive of minorities as anything but an object of casual consideration. Bundy’s past experiences are simply grist for the mill, anecdotes in a narrative about big government. The concerns, thoughts, and ideas of any actual minorities are quite absent from that narrative. So yet again, the key to minority problems turns out to rest in the hands of a random white guy whose principle concerns have little to do with them, who isn’t listening to them, and who has no real concerns for their welfare.
Like I said it’s been a good week for whitesplaining.
…and for nausea.
Okay we’ve all seen the original, and if you haven’t, then shame on you! Watch it 5.8 times and then come back.
What I don’t think we’ve all seen in the Nigerian version of the parrot sketch. Apparently, this is the result of a prank played on some 419 scammers. That said, I actually think they did the scene justice. The customer is particularly good.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…”
I wish I had a habanero for every time someone (usually a conservative) told me that passage was in the U.S. Constitution. My friends and coworkers would all eat really hot chili for couple of days!
Most recently, it was Jim DeMint who Declarified the Constitution, so to speak. That’s hardly an unusual mistake from right wingers, but it is a little uncommon from one who actually gets paid to sound like he knows what he’s talking about. Flat out getting the documents wrong is more common among the grunts of the culture wars, not their leaders at the Heritage Foundation. Usually, the talking heads just refer a constitutional question to the Declaration and hope you don’t notice the switch.
It would be easy to dismiss this as a mere accident, but there is a sort of logic to this, albeit a logic of deception. Usually the gambit facilitates a kind of scorched earth tactic in which all that is good and gooey about the Constitution becomes a direct consequence of Christianity (as evangelical Christians choose to understand it). See, the only mention of God in the U.S. Constitution is in the date, and that makes the explicit mention of a creator in the Declaration much more sexy for those who want their gods right up there behind the gavel of government. Now if you just ignore a few things about context of the Declaration (Jefferson’s Deism for instance), you can pretend that ‘creator’ means ‘Jesus’, pretend the Declaration is the Constitution, and pretend the whole point of the passages was not to say we have rights but to tell us where those rights come from, and voila! The Declaration is thus transformed into a speculative theological treaties and the constitution is taken along for the ride (whether by association or mis-recognition depends on whether the operative principle here is deceit or outright ignorance).
But of course such arguments are only meant for real O’Muricans! Us damned liberals aren’t expected to understand the miracles of Republican Jesus. DeMint only reminds us of the importance of God in passing, because this time he is trying to call attention to yet another of the great miracles of this document, the Declastution. This time DeMint was busy trying to convince us that constitutionalism amounts to belief in the power of small government, which is a truly miraculous transformation rivaling that of the Eucharist. This particular piece of conservative theology usually works by telling us about the importance of federalism, which is then defined as a need for balance between federal and state powers. Balance is such a magical word, because you can use it to describe the effort to increase Federal authority (which was clearly the point of the early Federalists) and then you can use it to describe the agenda of those hard at work weakening the Federal government (which is a common goal of contemporary ‘Federalists’). And you say this with enough faith and conviction modern voters won’t even notice the switch in emphasis.
Those that do can be dismissed as low-information voters!
Not content with such airy theological matters, Demint has proven himself a true charismatic, because he has performed a miracle in the name of Republican Jesus. Demint has enabled the Constitution itself and the conscience of good constitutionalists to end slavery without exercising the power of a big government. To hear DeMint tell the story, the move to end slavery was itself the work of those faithful to small government. They just willed it to happen. Some might think Lincoln had centralized our government and asserted Federal power over a states’ rights luvin’ Confederacy, but then again, some people believe in letting scientists define the science curriculum. There is just no accounting for the foolishness of liberal Apostates, but Republican Jesus will kick our asses on judgement day for sure.
And then Republican Jesus will transform water into Miller Lite.
Yeah verily, his miracles abound! In His name, phrases like “No person” or “all criminal prosecutions” will refer only to the rights of U.S. Citizens. Non-O’Muricans are just fucked! By His grace, the word “religion” appearing twice in the First Amendment will only mean ‘religion’ once. The other time it will mean “state-sponsored church.” Hell, it might even be more narrow still if Republican Jesus wants it to. He will delete the Federal Supremacy Clause entirely, or at least guide the eyes of Teapublicans safely past this passage without inflicting its terrible words upon them. In His eyes, the Fourteenth Amendment is but the scribblings of a small school-girl, and it has no more force of law than a doggie drawn with a crayon. The Ninth Amendment has been sent to the cornfield, but the police are searching your home in hopes of finding the Fourth. And by “no religious tests”, the Constitution of course means “more religious tests.” All these things are known to those filled with the spirit of Republican Jesus.
One has only to accept that the Constitution is first and foremost a half remembered paragraph from a completely different document produced by a different group of people for a completely different purpose. If you also half-remember the Second and Tenth Amendments you get to call yourself a constitutionalist.
“What is that?”
“That right there out on the ice, is that a Nanook?”
“Is that a bear!?!”
“Is that a bear?”
Is that a bear?”
“Oh hey, I see it.”
“Is it sitting down?”
“Did it just move?”
“Oh, yeah, it looks bigger now. It definitely moved?”
“I think it’s a bear.”
“I can’t zoom in enough without losing it.”
“That’s definitely a bear?”
“Do you see it? Is it a bear?”
“I think it’s moving?”
“Let me just snap the picture and see if I can see it more clearly afterwards…”
Philosophy buffs will already know about Sidney Morgenbesser, (September 22, 1921 – August 1, 2004). A Professor at Columbia University, Morgenbesser’s sharp wit has produced more than a few great stories. He is particularly known for a single moment of shear brilliance that outstrips the value of many published volumes. J.L. Austin, a prominent philosopher of language, had been giving a lecture, so the story begins. Austin claimed that two negatives could make a positive in many languages, but nowhere did two positives make a negative.
…to which Morgenbesser’s replied; “yeah-yeah!”
Someone really ought to take donations for the Washington Redskins. I hear they are in desperate need of team gear that isn’t racist or demeaning to Native Americans. Mind you, I say ‘Native Americans’ because I think that’s what Redskins owner Dan Snyder would want me to say. Dan clearly doesn’t think it prudent to go around calling real people ‘Redskins‘, but he does seem to think it’s appropriate to use that label for his football team. So, why on earth would Snyder continue using the name? I mean he cares, right? He cares enough to visit 26 tribes and start a charity for Native Americans, and he certainly cares enough not to call anyone this term to their face. So, why would he continue using the name for his team? I can only conclude that he and his organization can’t afford the costs incurred by the change of gear.
The conclusion is inescapable.
I know, I know, a lot of people might think rather poorly of Snyder at this point, but perhaps we are getting it all wrong. We don’t understand the scale of the problem Snyder faces. As Ross Tucker points out, the term ‘Redskins’ is so very divisive that the team name really must be kept. Hell, Tucker assures us that a lot of people would criticize Dan Snyder now regardless of any other consideration, just because he is Dan Snyder. Cause apparently there aren’t any real reasons to be concerned about Snyder’s team name or any of his efforts to defend that name in the public eye. People are just after Dan.
Man, that poor guy!
If Tucker’s point doesn’t show you just what a crazy pickle our poor man Dan has got himself into, then just consider the stories of Chief Dodson, Peter MacDonald, and now Gary Edwards, all figures Dan Snyder has promoted or honored through his organization. I mean Dan’s whole effort to establish relations with indigenous leaders seems to suffer from a bad case of fractal wrongness, because error raises its ugly head at every scale of the project. A more cynical person might suggest that Snyder has been cherry picking cooperative indigenous leaders for the purpose of misleading the public about indigenous support for his team. A more cynical person might suggest that Snyder’s charity was a straight forward bribe, and that he wasn’t all that serious about helping anyone. A really cynical person might even suggest that this kind of thing was part of a time-dishonored tradition of manipulating native leadership, and that such stunts could add real injury to the insult of the team name. A more cynical person might see in Dan Snyder’s efforts to sell his team name a message that he knows and cares even less about Native Americans than the simple racism of his actual team name would seem to suggest. But, well, that’s what a cynical person might think.
Bad cynical person!
For myself, I say the pattern here is obvious. Dan Snyder and his tiny understaffed organization are clearly struggling to keep up with events. Hell, they can hardly vet their people, and frankly, I think a few indigenous folks have taken advantage of Dan’s big heart. If that doesn’t bring a tear to your eye, then focus on the fact that struggling as they are Snyder has taken it upon himself to form a charity to help Native American communities. He and his charity even assisted with the purchase of a backhoe for Pete’s sake! A
whole backh…, well part of a backhoe anyway! It’s a giving man that gives part of a backhoe when he can’t even properly vet a PR stunt.
Think about that and try not to get a great big old lump in your throat!
We know one thing for sure, and that’s that Dan Snyder understands just how insulting the term ‘Redskins’ really is. I think it’s safe to say that he would do something about this if he could. I did a whole fact finding mission about this sometime ago, or maybe I just thought about doing it, but anyway I’m pretty sure I know at least 26 Redskins fans that can live with a change of names. Hell, I’m quite certain I bought a burger for one of them, or at least assisted in its purchase. I’ll send Dan a postcard about all this and we’ll call the whole matter confirmed. It’s definitely time to change the name folks. But the Redskins need your help. They just can’t do this on their own. They can’t afford to change their stationary.
So, please folks, won’t you help Dan Snyder and his unfortunately named football franchise? Send them sports gear that doesn’t suck. Send them helmets, jerseys, shoes, and used mouthpieces. Hell, send them a hockey stick if that’s what you have. After all, it’s the thought that counts, isn’t it? I mean Dan has obviously put a lot of thought into his efforts to help others so it’s only fair that the rest of us ought to help him. So, seriously folks, just dig into that old closet or rifle through the boxes in your garage and see what’s left from your high school days. Somewhere in that dusty attic, you know you have what Dan Snyder and his people need. Send them pair of sensible socks if that’s what you have. Every little bit counts.
Please help Dan!