STARTING TOMORROW: The glass, extremely darkly!


Attempts at discussing race: Yesterday morning, it was our very first search.

The English actress Thandiwe Newton, a good decent person, had spoken to the New York Times about a once-famous discussion. More specifically, here's what the Times' Kathryn Shattuck says that Newton said:

James Baldwin is to be read by everyone, everything, all of it. Just the genius of him—his sexuality, how he thought about religion, race. My husband spent years trying to find, because it’s out of print, “A Rap on Race” by Margaret Mead and James Baldwin. I should put every page on Instagram, just to share with people.

Margaret Mead to me is like a rock star. Like super cool. I’m an anthropologist and an archaeologist by trade. And I do see the bigger picture, unfortunately and fortunately. I see what humanity is doing, and the fact that this is all in the last tiny blip of time, and we’re [expletive] it up so severely.

We conducted a search for A Rap on Race. Here's part of what we found:

The once-famous discussion between Baldwin and Mead seems to have taken place in August 1970. A transcript of the discussion was published in book form in 1971. 

The book has long been out of print. Copies can be purchased online, though only at a very high price.

It seems that the conversation, or parts of the conversation, were also released as a record album. When we conducted our search, we were whisked away to this YouTube posting

Apparently, the YouTube posting presents an hour and forty-five minutes of the conversation as it was excerpted and presented on that record album.

We haven't listened to the whole thing. Yesterday morning, we were struck by a reference made by Mead about six minutes into the conversation.

When we searched on what Mead had said, it turned out that the famous anthropologist had perhaps engaged, at least by our lights, in a poorly founded bit of historical twaddle. Baldwin was possibly being polite, or perhaps he assumed that Mead's remarks were historically sound.


Are we the humans capable of having a serious "rap on race?" Are we up to the challenge of conducting intelligent discourse on a topic involving so much emotion—a topic which, for obvious reasons, is so historically fraught?

We'll explore that question all week. As we do, we'll offer excerpts from that original "Rap on Race." We'll also feature current attempts to discuss such topics as the recent Virginia election and the Kyle Rittenhouse trial.

Are we the humans up to the challenge of conducting such discussions? We'd say the prospects aren't very good.  Consider a letter which appeared in yesterday's New York Times. 

The letter concerns an earlier report in the Times—a lengthy report about fatal shootings by police officers. The letter contained an obvious howler. But there the erroneous letter sat, in the Sunday Times:

To the Editor:

Your article refers to officer-created jeopardy, when the police unnecessarily take risks in dealing with a driver and then argue that the risk required use of force. Officer-created jeopardy does not occur only in traffic situations.

A well-known example: Tamir Rice was killed in 2014 after officers, who had been notified that he held a gun, drove up very near to him, exited their vehicle and then shot the 12-year-old boy at close range on the basis that he posed immediate danger to them. Officers in that situation should have parked and exited their vehicle at some distance and used the vehicle as cover while they told him to drop his gun.

Officers need not place themselves in such danger in these situations, even where the gun is real, which was not the case for Tamir Rice.

T— G— / Washington

The letter refers to "a well-known example" of a fatal shooting incident. It proceeds to make an inaccurate statement about the "well-known" incident, with the writer claiming that the officers "exited their vehicle" before the fatal shooting occurred.

This fatal incident is indeed "a well-known example" of a fatal police shooting. The incident has been widely discussed in the past seven years.

That said, no one has ever claimed that the officers "exited their vehicle" before [they] "then shot the 12-year-old boy at close range." Simply put, even in this "well-known" incident, that isn't what actually happened.

We agree with the letter writer's suggestion that this was an example of egregiously bad police procedure. But that just isn't what actually happened, as you'd think that almost everyone would know.

It's amazing to us, yet not amazing, that the New York Times would publish such a baldly erroneous letter. The absurdity becomes even more instructive when we consider the Times' identity line for the letter writer:

The writer teaches criminal law in the sociology department of George Washington University.

We feel sure that Professor G— is a thoroughly good, decent person. But, with amazing regularity, this is very much the way our modern-day "raps on race" have tended to go. 

In this instance, a professor at a major university made a baldly inaccurate statement about a widely-discussed incident. She sent her account to the New York Times, and the brainiac newspaper published it.

Nothing will turn on the obvious error the newspaper chose to publish. But this is the way our contemporary "raps on race" have tended to go, ever since our tribe began performing our deep concern in the aftermath of the shooting of Trayvon Martin. 

Listening to Baldwin and Mead, we thought we were possibly hearing a bit of historical bilge, roughly six minutes in. As it turned out, the famous anthropologist had perhaps been sketching a bit of a novel about a Roman emperor's reaction to some "angels." 

When we searched on Mead's remarks, it didn't turn out well. That said, our more recent discussions concerning race have tended to be built around the process we described, long ago, in a totally different context, as "the novelization of news."

The letter in yesterday's New York Time made police behavior in a "well-known" incident a bit more egregious. In all honesty, this is very much the way our tribe tends to play, especially on the highest academic and journalistic levels.

We've been playing the game this way ever since an egregious error in the Times triggered nationwide anger in the aftermath of the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin. (That egregious factual error has never been corrected.) 

In all honesty, there is absolutely no sign—none—that the wiring of our flawed human brain will permit our tribe to behave any differently as we pretend to move forward.

Are we able to conduct serious discussions concerning "race?" We'll examine the question all week. As we've long reported, major anthropologists other than Mead all tell us the answer is no.

Concerning such emotional topics, the wiring of our human brains tends to let us see "through a glass [extremely] darkly," these disconsolate experts all say. We'll offer examples all week, reminding you of what we've long said:

It's all anthropology now.

Yesterday's letter was factually wrong. The famously brilliant New York Times rushed the letter to print.

The letter came from a ranking professor. So it very much tends to go with our failing tribe's "raps on race."

Tomorrow:  In 1971, the New York Times reviewed the Baldwin/Mead book

Full disclosure: According to our own disconsolate scholarly sources, your lizard brain is telling you that mistakes of the type in yesterdays letter don't actually matter. 

You're being told, "It's the thought that counts." Or so our sources allege.


  1. "Are we up to the challenge of conducting intelligent discourse on a topic involving so much emotion—a topic which, for obvious reasons, is so historically fraught?"

    This is such bullshit, dear Bob, we're sorry to say.

    The only intelligent thing to do is to ignore this bullshit 'discourse' altogether. And that's all there is to it.

    1. What a gift to all humanity it would be to ignore a freakish waste of space like you.

    2. As always, we thank you, dear dembot, for reading, and for taking time from your busy dembot schedule to reply.

    3. Shoot more cops.
      They'll clean-up their act if they want it to stop.

  2. "The book has long been out of print. Copies can be purchased online, though only at a very high price."

    This is why we have public libraries. Remember them?

  3. "We haven't listened to the whole thing. Yesterday morning, we were struck by a reference made by Mead about six minutes into the conversation."

    And yet Somerby is discussing it anyway. He can't be bothered to listen (not read, listen) to the whole thing, despite it being about the length of a movie, but still he thinks he can discuss it here. That is typical, since he discusses books without reading anything but the first few pages, routinely. And he then talks about something he hears about 6 minutes in, just as he generally finds something to discuss in the first page or two of whatever book he is using as a rhetorical device.

    A conversation on race with James Baldwin, even conducted by Margaret Mead, deserves better than this superficial treatment!

  4. Thandie Newton has a bachelor's degree in social anthropology. That makes her as much of an anthropologist as Somerby is a philosopher. Generally, you don't go around calling yourself an anthropologist unless you work in that field or have earned a doctorate. Not as a matter of elitism, but because you don't learn how new knowledge is generated in a field until you are a grad student.

  5. "it turned out that the famous anthropologist had perhaps engaged, at least by our lights, in a poorly founded bit of historical twaddle."

    But Somerby doesn't tell us what she said or why he considers it twaddle. He just uses it to entirely discredit all of the rest of whatever Mead and Baldwin said to each other, based on something he heard 6 minutes into the recording.

    This isn't critical thinking. It is how a bigot discredits information he doesn't want to hear, using an undescribed remark about history as an excuse to do so. And we aren't allowed to know what his objection is -- we only hear that he dislikes Thandie Newton's recommendation and the entire conversation between Mead and Baldwin, because of an off-hand remark about history that that we aren't told about.

    And this is Somerby's basis for an entire post this morning. Talk about twaddle!

    I can't help wondering whether this would be different if Newton and Baldwin weren't both black. If this is how Somerby processes information on the important topic of race, there is something seriously wrong with him as any sort of "public intellectual" and he needs to go out and sit under his pear tree and stop wasting other people's time here.

  6. Here is an excerpt from the Justice Department's investigation of the incident:

    "Tamir began walking forward toward the passenger side of the approaching patrol. Meanwhile, Officer Garmback applied the brakes in an attempt to stop the patrol car, but due to the wet conditions on the ground the car did not stop where he intended and instead slid forward approximately 40 feet. As the patrol car came to a stop a short distance from Tamir, who by that point had stopped moving forward and was stationary, Officer Loehmann exited the still moving patrol car. At that moment, it appears that Tamir made movements of some sort with both his left and right arms. The positioning of the moving arms suggests that Tamir’s hands were in the vicinity of his waist, but his hands are not visible in the video. Officer Loehmann fired two shots within less than two seconds of opening the passenger door, striking Tamir once in the abdomen.

    As soon as Officer Loehmann exited the patrol car, he fell to his right and to the ground, toward the rear of the patrol car, resulting in an ankle injury. When Officer Loehmann got to his feet, he quickly moved to the rear driver’s side of the patrol car for cover while continuing to aim his drawn weapon in Tamir’s direction. Meanwhile, Officer Garmback exited the patrol car and began moving to the front of the vehicle, where he stood for approximately 15 seconds with his gun drawn and pointing in Tamir’s direction. Enhanced video stills show a dark object (the toy gun) appear on the floor of the gazebo within a few feet of Tamir approximately 7 seconds after the shooting, just as Officer Garmback reached the front of the patrol car and just after Tamir’s upper body moved to the ground (and out of view of the surveillance camera). Officer Garmback stood at the front of the patrol car for approximately 15 seconds with his gun drawn and pointed in the direction of Tamir, then moved into the gazebo and kicked the toy gun and magazine further away from Tamir.

    After Officer Garmback kicked the toy gun and magazine into the grass, he reported the shots fired and requested emergency medical assistance. "

    Note that it says that the officer had exited the car when he fired on Tamir Rice. This is not the same info as exists on Wikipedia, but I believe this to be a better source than a website that anyone can edit and where there is considerably less vetting of accuracy than occurs in a Justice Department investigation.

    Note that Somerby is wrong when he claims that the letter writer is incorrect. Note that all of Somerby's claims about vetting letters should apply to his own posts. Note also that the claims of the law professor are supported here and that the officers attempted to approach Rice less closely than they wound up doing.

    It took me less than 1 minute to find this information. Somerby could have invested the same amount of time in getting the facts, but he tends to stop with Wikipedia (or whatever confirms his beliefs and permits him to gripe about some professor). That isn't how information gathering should work, but maybe this passes for "research" in Somerby's world, where Hannity is considered a better source than anyone on MSNBC.

    1. Did the exact same thing. Primarily because Somerby is either deliberately omitting information or isn't editing his own posts for comprehension. As a long time reader of this blog, I believe the former. What used to be an interesting style has become sloppy commentary being deliberately coy.

      Furthermore, once I read official accounts of the event, instead of clarifying what Somerby is citing as an error, it completely supports the letter's assertions. So I have no idea what Somerby is talking about or taking issue with. I am very close to unbookmarking this blog.

    2. This blog lately is just reactionary and self hating.

  7. "we thought we were possibly hearing a bit of historical bilge"

    When you THINK you are POSSIBLY hearing a bit of bilge, the response should be to investigate first, then post about it in order to malign a long-dead but very famous anthropologist and a long-dead but very famous novelist and writer, both of whom cannot defend themselves from the grave.

    And then he doesn't tell us what that possible piece of bilge might be, so that we can ourselves investigate and decide whether it is Somerby spouting bilge or these two famous people.

    This is so massively unfair and inappropriate that it is unthinkable that anyone with any integrity would pull a stunt like this. But Somerby also maligned a professor who had not said anything wrong, based on what the Department of Justice investigation concluded, so why not also slime Mead and Baldwin too?

    Somerby needs to hang up his spurs. This is just not the purpose of free speech. Anyone who still believes that Somerby can be trusted without further investigation, needs to think again. His purpose here is just to throw mud at people with a lot more accomplishment than himself, and that is just sad, if it weren't so inappropriate, especially in someone who claims to be a former teacher.

  8. It is against police training to fire a gun from inside a car.

  9. "Tomorrow: In 1971, the New York Times reviewed the Baldwin/Mead book"

    How is Somerby going to talk about this review or the book itself without having read it?

  10. " As we've long reported, major anthropologists other than Mead all tell us the answer is no."

    They ALL tell us no? I think that is highly unlikely. And why is Somerby concerned about anthropologists and not other experts on race, such as the many people currently trying to have discussions about race?

    And what about these discussions by anthropologists about race:

    And the list goes on...

    Needless to say, Somerby is full of shit.

  11. Somerby apparently thinks he can discredit both Mead and Baldwin on the basis of unstated "historical bilge" while criticizing a professor using misinformation from Wikipedia. If only it were that easy to roll back what those concerned about racism have been saying! Somerby is about as effective at King Canute, who tried to hold back the tide. Unlike Canute, Somerby thinks he has the power to derail anti-racism. He doesn't, especially not by making a fool of himself with his performative virtue signaling to the alt-right, who will be along shortly to defend today's mistakes.

  12. “Listening to Baldwin and Mead, we thought we were possibly hearing a bit of historical bilge, roughly six minutes in. As it turned out, the famous anthropologist had perhaps been sketching a bit of a novel about a Roman emperor's reaction to some "angels." 

    Well, Bob, Mead talked about a Pope, not an emperor. The Pope’s name was Gregory I. Perhaps it would have helped if you had gotten that correct. Here is what Wikipedia says, all of which verifies what Mead says:

    “The Christian church seems to have used the word Angli; for example in the story of Pope Gregory I and his remark, "Non Angli sed angeli" (not English but angels).”

    ‘Non Angli, sed angeli, si forent Christiani.– "They are not Angles, but angels, if they were Christian".[65] Aphorism, summarizing words reported to have been spoken by Gregory when he first encountered pale-skinned English boys at a slave market, sparking his dispatch of St. Augustine of Canterbury to England to convert the English, according to Bede.[66] He said: "Well named, for they have angelic faces and ought to be co-heirs with the angels in heaven."[67] Discovering that their province was Deira, he went on to add that they would be rescued de ira, "from the wrath", and that their king was named Aella, Alleluia, he said.[k]’

    1. Mead was also criticized about her Samoan work, but then it turned out most of her critics were full of bunk and she pretty much had it right.

  13. Is there much more to say about "race?"

    The country is sick with racism. Has it changed at all since 1850?

    1. "Has it changed at all since 1850?"

      No, we still have slavery.

    2. We passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964. You know, the one Republicans have been fighting tooth and nail against ever since.

    3. If you by David's story, he's not only a racist, he's also a former actuary.

    4. Incidentally, dear David, we once heard reputable Mr Chomsky saying that chattel slavery back in the day might've been a less brutal form of exploitation than wage slavery nowadays.

      Y'know, the same phenomenon as people taking better care of the car they own than the one they're renting.

    5. That is not an accurate paraphrasing of Chomsky.

      It is closer to what Lincoln said, back when the Republican Party opposed wage slavery. Frederick Douglass was also opposed to wage slavery.

      Foundational to the Republican Party was not self reliance in and of itself, but self employment, as opposed to wage labor under capitalism. But then the Republican Party got corrupted, and racism played a large part in that. Now the Republicans' policies almost solely revolve around racism and corporatism. Which serves the other? Who is to say?

      When your politics and world views are as confused, incoherent, and contradictory as 5:35, you either are not playing with a full deck, or playing for giggles. Probably the latter, these types think life is but a joke, just check out the zombie response...

    6. Here's Chomsky, after a lecture, answerinq a question which we can hardly hear, talking about wage slavery:

      Here's a recent lecture:

  14. As bad as things are, there are a lot of topics that were the supposed subject matter of this Blog Bob could write about every day. Some involving the disaster of Trump, others important but less pressing. The foolishness he displays in ignoring them is striking.

    1. He can write about what he wants, not what you want.

    2. If you don't like it, start your own blog, where you don't repeat Right-wing bullshit on a daily basis.

    3. I agree with Greg. Somerby's blathering is a total waste of space and certainly a waste of whatever time someone invests before they figure out he has nothing to say.

    4. FDR, seems like you could say the same to Bob about most of his complaints.

      At any rate, I'll put you down on the side against discourse, fair enough.

    5. Corby and Greg are retarded idiots.

    6. Why would you want him to write about Trump? Another writer writing about Trump? Just go to Digby where every single article is about Trump. You weak idiots only want to bathe your retarded intellects in a warm bath of comforting confirmation bias. You're no different from Fox News watchers. Your resistance to what is written here is the inability to accept criticism and look squarely in the eye at the shortcomings of the power structures with which you identify. This blog is cold showers the kind of which you do not have the strength for. That could not be more blatantly obvious.

    7. Trump is yesterday's news.
      Republicans will find a WAY bigger piece of shit to nominate in 2024.

    8. 8:33,
      What is your problem with Fox News watchers?
      Please be specific.

    9. Fox News watchers turn to money grubbing charlatans for confirmation bias. Just like you idiots turn to low IQ blogs for the exact same thing.

    10. Is Fox News giving them bigotry to confirm their biases, or to win them over?

    11. Fox News watchers tune in to hear people who jumped the line to get the COVID vaccine, tell them not to get the vaccine.

    12. Do you think I give a shit what you think about it, moron idiot?

    13. I turn to Bob's low IQ blog to learn the Right-wing Grievance of the Day.

  15. Through a glass darkly is a film by Ingmar Bergman. It's plot is described as follows:

    "The film tells the story of a schizophrenic young woman (Andersson) vacationing with her family on a remote island, during which time she experiences delusions about meeting God, who ultimately appears to her in the form of a monstrous spider. Meanwhile, her author father attempts to use her illness in his work, and her brother struggles with sexual frustration."

    None of this has anything to do with Thandie Newton, Margaret Mead or James Baldwin, racism, or those cops who shot Tamir Rice.

    Somerby seems to have stopped explaining any of his references. I guess the word "darkly" appeals to him, but beyond that, it is hard to see why he might have made such a reference in today's essay. Perhaps he is becoming schizophrenic himself (or always has been), and that is the point of the reference. But who knows?

    This isn't clever. It isn't brilliant. A psychiatrist would call this "loose association" and it goes along with word salad in terms of having only private, personal meaning and being stream-of-consciousness in its organization. None of that is good, in terms of mental health. It is certainly self-indulgent, assuming Somerby has any sanity left.

    Of course, if he is being paid by the word, why not throw in the kitchen sink. The Russians won't know, and who cares if he confuses his readers? Cecelia will think it is another sign of brilliance and ooze praise while Somerby snickers at the lack of meaning in any use of language, and think snide thoughts about Godel.

    1. To see “through a glass” — a mirror — “darkly” is to have an obscure or imperfect vision of reality. The expression comes from the writings of the Apostle Paul; he explains that we do not now see clearly, but at the end of time, we will do so.

    2. Corby, yes, it just terrible for me to read a blogger who I admire and enjoy. Who shares a similar sense of where we’re headed.

      What I should do is to read him because I despise him. I should be calling him of no consequence and I should write ten-paragraphed screeds of personal insults and the same ole specious takes. I should daily declare him a waste of the world’s time because he has nothing relevant and true to say.

      Oh, but you’re not an operative. Oh, but you’re not paid by the word. Oh, it’s Somerby who is underhanded and deceptive in his intentions. It’s BOB who is mentally ill…

    3. Congratulations, Bob. Your fan club is nothing but Right-wing trolls.
      You totally deserve that for all the effort you put in.

  16. My lizard brain is telling me that Somerby is full of shit, and I think it's right.

  17. "That egregious factual error has never been corrected."

    But in fact it is Somerby that spreads misinformation about the Trayvon Martin case, as he has repeated false claims about what was testified to in court - namely, no the witness did not see Trayvon beating on Zimmerman.

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