RAPS ON RACE: "Everybody's talkin' at me..."

THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 18, 2021

Can't hear a word they're saying: As we've noted previously, Richard Elman didn't seem to like the 1971 book, A Rap on Race.

Elman, a figure of the left, reviewed the book for the New York Times. He didn't just dislike the book—the book almost seemed to make him angry. As we've noted previously, he began his review as shown:

ELMAN (6/27/71): No fuss. No bother. Eliminate dirty smudges on the fingertips, broken nails, and messy erasure marks. You don't need to revise, rethink, or rewrite. You don't even need to write. Just think of it, folks: No more bloodshot eyes, or coffee bowels, or angry friends you've stood up to work just a little longer, harder, more. Sealed inside your own angry mortal human vacuum, to be just as fatuous as Margaret Mead and James Baldwin about the crisis of our time—particularly race—all you have to do is talk and not listen, always avoid expressing your feelings openly, refer constantly to other times and other cultures with historical and/or pseudo-historical truths, interrupt whenever possible, call yourself a prophet or a poet, insist that you are being emotionally sincere and/or objectively rational, and record it all on tape, to be transcribed later as a book. 

To be as fatuous as Mead and Baldwin, all you had to do was talk and not listen! That was part of what Elman said, right straight out of the box.

A Rap on Race was the transcript, or at least the partial transcript, of a lengthy discussion between Baldwin and Mead from August 1970 The claim that their discussion had been "fatuous" may have been a bit surprising because of the stature of Baldwin and Mead as major, highly-regarded public intellectuals, and because they'd been conducting their "rap" about a subject which Elman called "the crisis of our time."

Mead and Baldwin were (and are) regarded as giants, and they were discussing a very important topic. It's always possible, of course, that the sheer importance of the topic may have contributed to the discussion's failure.

According to  Elman, Mead and Baldwin had engaged in "bilge," in "blather," even in "blah blah blah." As he described the provenance of the rap, he offered a few examples:

ELMAN: With their tape recorder, Margaret Mead and James Baldwin got together one steamy night last August. They had a mutual friend. So first they ate dinner and then they went blah blah blah in front of the recorder late into that night and then again the next day—about New Guinea, South Africa, Women's Lib, the South, slavery, Christianity, their early childhood upbringings, Israel, the Arabs, the bomb, Paris, Istanbul, the English language, Huey Newton, John Wayne, the black bourgeoisie, Baldwin's 2-year-old grand nephew and Professor Mead's daughter.

"We've got to be as clear-headed about human beings as possible," he said to her, poignantly enough, at one point, "because we are still each other's only hope." But, eventually, they got so angry and muddled that he was being accused of mouthing anti-Semitic nonsense and, as a final quid pro quo, he lumped her among his potential enemies and victimizers. Rather smugly, the anthropologist has said she could not possibly be a racist because of her impeccable upbringing and because she had once or twice coddled babies in Africa, Samoa, West Irian. Baldwin countered by asking how could he be an anti-Semite since one of his best friends was Jewish.

According to Elman, Mead had "rather smugly said she could not possibly be a racist because of her impeccable upbringing." Was that a reference to the exchange which is heard at the start of this YouTube tape, the exchange which starts like this?

MEAD: I learned about race when I was a child.

BALDWIN: How did you learn about that?

We admire Baldwin' courtesy at that point. To our ear, Mead proceeds to answer Baldwin's question with a strikingly self-satisfied, self-assured bit of autobiography—with a rap about her upbringing. 

Was Elman referring to that presentation? We have no idea, but we will carry this thought away from Mead's presentation:

For perfectly understandable reasons, people who were socially defined as "white" were sometimes eager, even back then, to say that they weren't racist. For perfectly understandable reasons, this tendency still obtains today.

Was this 1970 conversation "bilge," or was it defined by its brilliance? As we've noted, different people have stated different views. Having noted that, let us also note this:

A few months before this conversation occurred, Midnight Cowboy won the 1970 Oscar as the Best Picture of 1969. 

The film's theme song had been a big hit. Written and originally recorded by Fred Neil, it was performed in the movie by Harry Nilsson.

The song was called Everybody's Talkin'. Its lyrics started like this:

Everybody's talking at me
I don't hear a word they're saying

Only the echoes of my mind

People stopping, staring
I can't see their faces
Only the shadows of their eyes.

In the immediate aftermath of Midnight Cowboy's Oscar, Elman said that Baldwin and Mead were talking but not listening. According to Elman, the result was a lot of "blah blah blah" about the important subject of "race."

Right at the start of the YouTube recording, Mead asserts that she learned about race during her admirable upbringing. Fifty years later, we live in a world where the good decent people of our own liberal world are sometimes said to be eager to perform their lack of racism, or even their anti-racism, as Mead quickly did.

We can't help thinking that our own blue tribe can sometimes, in such forums, do a n enormous amount of talking but maybe a lot less listening. Is it possible that we don't hear a word some Others are saying—that we're only equipped to hear "the echo of our minds?"

This age-old question came to mind as we perused today's New York Times. We refer in particular to this lengthy opinion column by Farhad Manjoo, in which—or so it seems to us—Manjoo is making an effort, along the way, to be inclusive and fair.

We've been stunned by many things we've seen and heard, from our own tribe, over the past few weeks. In our view, our tribe can be ugly, cold-hearted, dishonest, cruel—and how we do love our scripts!

To our ear, Manjoo is trying hard today to be inclusive and fair, even as he argues a favored point about the uselessness of guns. Within a single sentence in this passage, he includes a talking-point of Fox News and a talking-point of our own. Perhaps you can pick them out:

MANJOO (11/18/21): The scene on the night of Aug. 25, 2020, had the makings of a classic gun-rights fantasy. An unruly mob had descended on private businesses. One such business was Car Source, an auto dealership with three locations in Kenosha. Rittenhouse, who was 17 at the time and a resident of Illinois (his father lived in Kenosha), said he had come with a friend to protect Car Source on the invitation of the owner...

"His father lived in Kenosha" is a bow to The Others. At the same time, It's a statement of a basic fact our own corporate stars disappear.

At the same time, "Rittenhouse was a resident of Illinois" is a bow to our own Storyline—to the memorized, irrelevant claim, peddled about by by our ugly tribe, that the lad in question had "crossed state lines" that night.

It seems to us that Manjoo is trying to be fair and balanced in this morning's column. Still and all, he's arguing a particular preferred claim about guns—a claim he starts to articulate in this fuller passage:

MANJOO: The scene on the night of Aug. 25, 2020, had the makings of a classic gun-rights fantasy. An unruly mob had descended on private businesses. One such business was Car Source, an auto dealership with three locations in Kenosha. Rittenhouse, who was 17 at the time and a resident of Illinois (his father lived in Kenosha), said he had come with a friend to protect Car Source on the invitation of the owner...

By the time Rittenhouse arrived, more than a hundred vehicles on a sales lot owned by Car Source had been set on fire. There were burning trash cans on the streets. Gunfire rang out often. Officers in riot gear and armed with tear gas were in control of much of the city, but there were sections where the police pulled back. It was here that the people with rifles took a stand against what they saw as a mob.

But as many witnesses testified, the rifles weren’t very helpful at all.

Is it true that the rifles in question "weren't very helpful" that night? 

The word "very" is an obvious dodge. That said, credit where due:

To his vast credit, Manjoo notes that "more than a hundred vehicles on a sales lot owned by Car Source had been set on fire" by the time Rittenhouse (and his colleagues?) arrived. Within our vile and ugly tribe, we constantly disappear such facts, pretending that Rittenhouse and the others had arrived on the scene of a mere "protest" (full stop).

Unlike the bulk of our attack dogs, Manjoo is willing to say, without using the words, that arson and mayhem were underway in Kenosha. But here's what he doesn't say:

He doesn't say how many cars on the lot were set on fire after the men with the rifles arrived. Setting aside what happened elsewhere during the "protest" that night, is it possible that the rifles actually were helpful in halting the arson at that location that night?

We've been struck by the ugliness and cruelty of our own liberal tribe as our corporate tribunes pretend to discuss that evening's events. 

We've also been struck by our blinding stupidity—by our devotion to Storyline and script. By our devotion to "motivated reasoning" as we mount out platforms and perform the (extremely limited) antiracism of which we suddenly seem so proud.

There's no false claim our corporate stars won't recite as we pursue this performance. Occasionally, we may lapse into unintentional humor, as when Manjoo says that "the people with rifles took a stand against what they saw as a mob."

Too funny! Exactly one paragraph earlier, Manjoo has explicitly said, in his own voice, that the car lot had been attacked by "a mob." Now, that becomes a mere perception on the part of the people with the rifles, as if the cars on that lot may have set fire to themselves.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep—and, for perfectly obvious reasons, discussions of race tend to involve vast stores of emotion. (For reasons our tribunes can explain, discussion of Rittenhouse's conduct that night has been framed as a discussion of race.)

Our deeply flawed species is strongly inclined to "motivated reasoning." That's true right from the jump. 

In the past week, the tribunes on our TV shows have been deeply ugly, stupid and cruel—and they've been cosmically "motivated" as they pretend to discuss this most important general topic.

On YouTube, Mead quickly frames herself, and her upbringing, in something resembling the way Elman described.

It's natural that people will want to do that. But oh, what kind of performance is this, which goes from bad to much, much worse? In which we keep talkin' our own talking points, keep hearing the echoes of our own deeply flawed minds?

Tomorrow: Scarborough? Givhan / McCaskill? William Cornell Brooks?


18 comments:

  1. Rittenhouse was in Kenosha defending racial hierarchies.

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  2. "We've also been struck by our blinding stupidity..."

    Why don't you just leave the cult, dear Bob?

    You don't need to be stupid, dear Bob. Or among the stupid.

    If one is to believe recent opinion polls, a lot of people (who aren't completely zombified yet) get fed up by your cult's stupidity.

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  3. "He didn't just dislike the book—the book almost seemed to make him angry."

    Elman described himself as a socialist, not a "figure on the left". He seemed to think that Baldwin and Mead were not being honest or genuine in their discussion.

    Elman accuses them of deflecting by referring to other times and places (although what else would you expect from Mead, whose work was focused on ethnographies of other cultures?). Somerby does that continually, by never stating his own opinions, but using (and misusing) the words of others to hide behind.

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    Replies
    1. Elman thinks these two should have put more work into their rap, more thinking and more careful writing. He seems to resent that they sold a lot of books without the work required for other authors to do the same, coasting on their notoriety. That has nothing to do with his (or their) opinions on race.

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  4. "We can't help thinking that our own blue tribe can sometimes, in such forums, do a n enormous amount of talking but maybe a lot less listening."

    Margaret Mead, as an ethnographer, spent her career listening to people from other cultures talk about their lives and societies. In what sense did she not "listen" in the rap? Somerby doesn't say. Elman refers to interrupting, but was there really more interruption than would occur in any spontaneous (unscripted) conversation between two people? Interruption happens a lot and people tend not to notice it while conversing. In fact, it can reflect a kind of finishing each other's sentences that shows simpatico views or agreement, not necessarily "not listening" as Elman suggests.

    The only solution would be to listen to the rap himself. Somerby doesn't do that and he is thus unprepared to discuss whether Elman's criticism is correct or not. Somerby only uses Elman to support his own opinions about people claiming to be anti-racist as performative virtue. Any regard for the truth of Elman's review is secondary to Somerby's assertion that people pretend to be non-racist on the left while nevertheless being racist because they talk so much about race (a conservative meme).

    I'd rather hear why Somerby thinks Elman is correct and see some examples of how Mead and Baldwin support Somerby's criticisms of liberal anti-racism. Instead, he grabs the lyrics to a song that barely had anyting to do with the film (Midnight Cowboy) and had nothing whatsoever to do with racism or listening. It is about the unlikely friendship between two marginal people inhabiting New York City's nightlife, one a naive confused actual cowboy who tries to become a gigolo. What on earth does that have to do with race or listening, except that these two are invisible to most of the people of the city and reflect the alienation of the counter-culture in the 1970s (which they are not members of).

    Somerby, of course, grabbed this song because of the phrase about not listening, not because it has any other relevance to anything being discussed by Mead, Baldwin or Elman.

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  5. "We can't help thinking that our own blue tribe can sometimes, in such forums, do a n enormous amount of talking but maybe a lot less listening."

    In such forums? What forums is Somerby talking about? Here Mead and Baldwin have closely similar political views and are two individuals talking to each other, without the left. Is Somerby suggesting that liberals don't listen to each other? On what basis? And how many are recording themselves in order to put out a book or album? I would suggest, none of them. Or is he complaining that liberal talk show panelists do not listen? That would be ridiculous since they are there explicitly to express their own viewpoints in response to questions from a host, not to talk or interrupt or listen. It is not the same format at all.

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  6. "he includes a talking-point of Fox News and a talking-point of our own."

    Here, Somerby implies by saying "our own" that he is a member of the left, liberal. He is not. This is an example of his dishonesty.

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  7. "At the same time, "Rittenhouse was a resident of Illinois" is a bow to our own Storyline—to the memorized, irrelevant claim, peddled about by by our ugly tribe, that the lad in question had "crossed state lines" that night."

    I don't believe that Rittenhouse's residence is a matter of storyline. I think it is a matter of fact.

    From Rittenhouse's own testimony during the trial:

    "Rittenhouse said he lived in Antioch, Illinois, just across the state line from Kenosha, in August 2020...He said his father, grandmother, aunt, uncle and a cousin live in Kenosha — an apparent attempt to push back against the prosecution portrayal of him as an outsider who went there looking for trouble."

    Why does Somerby portray the FACT that Rittenhouse resided in Antioch with his mother as "storyline"? Seems to me Somerby is working overtime to assert something bad about liberals, with scant evidence.

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  8. Manjoo says: "But as many witnesses testified, the rifles weren’t very helpful at all.

    Somerby says: "Is it true that the rifles in question "weren't very helpful" that night? "

    Manjoo is supporting the remark about guns being unhelpful to those who testified at the trial. Somerby can ask whether that is true of not, but his argument is with the testimony, not Manjoo who is reporting it.

    The assertion that more than 100 cars burned, despite the presence of armed men and boys to protect it, suggests that the presence of rifles wasn't achieving its purpose.

    If Somerby is going to ask whether Manjoo's statement was true, he needs some evidence to contest it. Instead, Somerby says:

    "He doesn't say how many cars on the lot were set on fire after the men with the rifles arrived. Setting aside what happened elsewhere during the "protest" that night, is it possible that the rifles actually were helpful in halting the arson at that location that night?"

    This is a ridiculous suggestion because (1) he doesn't say whether the cars were set on fire before the rifles arrived, only that Rittenhouse arrived after they were set on fire, to join those with rifles who were already there, and (2) he doesn't say how many cars were remaining undamaged on the lot that could be set on fire. How many cars did the lot hold? Somerby doesn't say.

    Personally, I find the assertion that so many cars were set on fire suspect, given that rioters did not have flamethrowers and cars are not that easily set on fire. I think there may have been some exaggeration going on.

    But this whole situation raises the very clear distinction between the right and life on the value of human life compared to property. A car on fire is an insured loss to the dealership, but does it really justify shooting anyone? A liberal person would unhesitatingly say no. Somerby seems to be siding with the Republicans, who consider Rittenhouse's defense of property over life to be heroic instead of despicable. This is the biggest rift between the right and left and Somerby doesn't mention it at all.

    Somerby keeps referring to ugliness and cruelty on the left, but where are Somerby's examples of anything fitting that description. Somerby even pretends that Manjoo's concern was that rifles were ineffective from a practical standpoint, ignoring the moral objection to use of guns to protect property. But where is the ugliness or cruelty in that?

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  9. How many cars were burned?

    "With each step Anmol Khindri takes at what's left of Car Source Pre-Owned Vehicles, he hears the crackle of broken glass. Surveying the lot, which contains the shells of more than two-dozen burned out cars, Khindri can only describe the sight as "heartbreaking." Reported by WKOW.com, Kenosha.

    "Posts shared on Facebook show an alleged screenshot of a Fox Business article with the headline “Kenosha car dealer kills himself after his insurance won’t cover a cent of the 2.5 million dollars of damages caused by the riots.” Created by a meme generator, this is a fake news story making a false claim." Fact Check

    WISN says this: "Witnesses said hundreds of protesters converged on the dealership.

    "It started with one car over there in the corner, then this first SUV here," Justin Hamilton said. "Then one Audi on the other side and then it pretty much, once they started that car, within 10 minutes, I would say these first five cars were up in flames."

    The owner said more than 100 cars in the lot and most were destroyed."

    So, is it two dozen or 100+? A later report has the lot owner saying 50 cars were damanged.

    Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports:

    "Two brothers whose family owns three car lots downtown told jurors in Kyle Rittenhouse's homicide trial they never asked his group of armed men to protect their businesses or gave them permission to do so.

    Some from that group have previously testified a friend of a friend of Rittenhouse's who used to work at Car Source had offered to help, and Anmol "Sam" Khindri accepted, and gave keys to get inside the repair shop and a ladder to get on the roof.

    Khindri told jurors Friday he had no such conversations, nor did he offer keys to the shop. He recalled that early on Aug 25, 2020, Rittenhouse was among dozens of people who spoke to him with sympathy and encouragement after the family's main car lot had been burned on the first night of unrest."

    So, Rittenhouse's testimony conflicts with that of the car dealership.

    How then does Somerby decide what is true? He seems to believe Rittenhouse and call anything that conflicts "storyline". Are these car dealership people all liberals? Is that why they disagree with Rittenhouse? Or has Rittenhouse perhaps manufactured some self-serving details to support his defense?

    What else has been "disappeared" from this story? First, the rioters were upset because police killed a black man. His name has never crossed Somerby's lips. Second, that dealership was attacked because it was next to the courthouse, where the protesters had gathered to protest that shooting. That doesn't justify the property damage, but it does explain why it occurred. Somerby, like the right, makes it sound like a mob was roaming all over the city menacing everyone. That isn't what happened.

    Somerby doesn't seem particularly interested in what did happen, except as it provides an opportunity to bash liberals, calling us vile, ugly, cruel for doing what? Discussing the truth?

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  10. "Tomorrow: Scarborough? Givhan / McCaskill? William Cornell Brooks?"

    Yesterday, Somerby slimed Givhan (calling her insane, vile, ugly) and said he would discuss her article today. Today, he mentions her name with a question mark, following the word "Tomorrow". I would wager real money that he doesn't discuss Givhan at all tomorrow or thereafter. It is enough for him to call her names (without explaining why), without any attempt to justify his attack on her.

    Robin Givhan, like most of Somerby's targets, is black and female. That is apparently sufficient reason to slime her.

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  11. “people who were socially defined as "white" were sometimes eager, even back then, to say that they weren't racist. For perfectly understandable reasons, this tendency still obtains today.”

    You mean, like all those white Republicans who assure us they aren’t racist?

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  12. Somerby says: “we live in a world where the good decent people of our own liberal world are sometimes said to be eager to perform their lack of racism, or even their anti-racism, as Mead quickly did.”

    The only quote from Mead Somerby offers is: “I learned about race when I was a child.” That isn’t an assertion of her lack of racism. She talks about how she learned about the concept of race.

    Besides, as Somerby must know, liberal concern with racism is not about affirming one’s own lack of racism, or about only pointing out conservative racism. Liberal concern with racism is about dealing with it wherever it occurs, without regard to political orientation, and involves being critical of oneself as well.

    But one way to shut down a “rap on race” is to do what Somerby does, which is to accuse liberals of being insincere virtue-signalers.

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    Replies
    1. Meh. In our humble opinion, "liberal concern with racism" is only about inciting hatred.

      ...in hopes of inciting so much hatred towards The Others that enough of the unfortunate zombified people would vote for scumbag liberal politicians, even though they have no real reason whatsoever to vote for them.

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    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

      Delete
    3. If the others want to stop us hating them for their racist actions, they can stop taking racist actions.

      Delete
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