Sunday, February 25, 2007

Obama's Slippery Blackness

Obama's Identity: Where Do We Start?
By Patricia Williams, The Nation.

Posted February 16, 2007.

Barack Obama's pursuit of the presidency has caused the media to obsess over exactly how black he is, bringing into debate America's slippery notions of race, culture and ethnicity.

I mean, you got the first sort of mainstream African-American who's articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy. I mean, that's a storybook, man. -- Senator Joseph Biden, in faint but unfettered praise of Senator Barack Obama

Recently the New-York Historical Society and the Studio Museum of Harlem curated "Legacies," a fascinating show at N-YHS in which contemporary artists reflected on slavery. One of the commissioned pieces that accompanied the display was a short film by artists Bradley McCallum and Jacqueline Tarry. It featured McCallum, who is white, and Tarry, who is black, configured as a "twinning doll" -- a nineteenth-century toy that has two heads, one at each end of a common torso. At the doll's waist is attached a long skirt or a cloak. Held vertically, the skirt falls and obscures one head. Flipped one way, it becomes a white doll. Turned upside down, the skirt falls the other way and suddenly it's a black doll.

In the film, McCallum and Tarry, joined at the waist by some feat of pixilated trickery and dressed in nineteenth-century clothing, flip head over head down a long dark marble corridor, first a white head, then a black head, first a white man, then a black woman, first a Thomas Jefferson, then a Sally Hemings. As they describe it, "the races are joined head to toe ... continuously revealing and concealing one another." Such an interesting metaphor for the state of our union.

When I inquired further, McCallum told me that there was an old children's song about the dolls: "Turn you up/Turn you back./First you're white/Then you're black." I tried Googling those words in hopes of finding a recording. Instead I turned up a satirical piece by rocker Lou Reed, "I Wanna Be Black," in which a (presumably hypothetical) "I" desires "to be black" as an escape from a neurosis of whiteness. Actually, the word "white" is never used in the song. It's alluded to in the chorus -- obliquely but with crystal clarity nonetheless: "I don't wanna be a fucked-up middle-class college student any more." According to these lyrics, whiteness is a dull preserve defined by respectable class status, college education and world-class angst; black people have ever so much more fun, what with having "natural rhythm," "a big prick," a "stable of foxy whores" and "get myself shot in the spring" "like Martin Luther King."

The jolly entertainment of switching identity from white to black and back again is not the exclusive province of frat boys slumming around as pretenders to ghetto life. "Jungle parties" are still good clean fun at country clubs, at Halloween parties down at the precinct and in the unfortunate confusion that is Kevin Federline. The inverse -- switching from black to white and black again -- is more freighted. Blacks who present themselves as clean and articulate and sober and important risk being viewed as false, elitist or duplicitous. "Acting white" has all these connotations. Whites "acting black," on the other hand -- i.e., any coded masquerade of down and dirty -- tend to be read as cool or maybe disaffected or, at worst, stuck in some stage of rebellious adolescence.

Frankly, what I found most unforgivable about Senator Biden's recent remarks was his utter failure to learn from a past in which he was intimately implicated. He was, after all, chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee when our spectacularly inarticulate President's father nominated Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court. As every last minority graduate of Yale -- whew, ten or fifteen at least -- came forward to weigh in about whether Thomas or Anita Hill was more believable, media forces expressed shock and awe that there were -- gasp -- just so many black people who could string a whole sentence together! Astonishing sequences of subject-verb-object! A few years later, it was Colin Powell who was perceived as shockingly articulate; then Condoleezza Rice.

The persistence of this narrative is not limited to Biden. On MSNBC's Chris Matthews Show, Matthews hosted a discussion of Obama's decision to run for President. "No history of Jim Crow, no history of anger, no history of slavery," Matthews opined. "All the bad stuff in our history ain't there with this guy." Not true, I thought. The "bad stuff in our history" rests heavily upon each and every one of us. It shapes us all, whether me, Matthews, Obama, Biden -- or Amadou Diallo, the decent, hard-working Guinean immigrant without any American racial "history," who died in a hail of bullets fired by New York City police officers because he looked like what the officers, groaning with racial "baggage," imagined to be a criminal. Some parts of our racial experience are nothing more or less than particular to our accidental location in the geography of a culture.

If, for example, I migrated to South Africa and were greeted as an exciting, exotic black American prophet (we "articulate" blacks are inescapably "exotic" when we travel abroad), I'd be no less implicated in the complexities of that country's racial struggles -- even if I were entirely ignorant of those struggles. At a more complex level, however, American identity is defined by the experience of the willing diaspora, the break by choice that is the heart of the immigrant myth. It is that narrative of chosen migration that has exiled most African-Americans from a substantial part of the American narrative -- and it is precisely his place in that narrative that makes Obama so attractive, so intriguing and yet so strange.

Obama's family history is an assemblage of elements of the American dream. His late father migrated from Kenya to the United States; his mother was from Kansas. Before him, the archetypal narrative of immigrant odyssey had been an almost exclusively white and European one. I suspect that Obama's aura stems not just from a Tiger Woods-ishly fashionable taste for "biracialism" but from the fact that he's managed to fuse the immigrant myth of meteoric upward mobility onto the figure of a black man.

Back on Chris Matthews, Cynthia Tucker, a black woman who writes for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, responded, "He truly does seem to transcend race because his mother, after all, let's not forget, was white." Matthews agreed: "His grandmother he went to visit in Hawaii is white. Yeah." This, to me, was a baffling exchange. Obama's mother's being white is supposedly what allows him to transcend this thing called race? He looks black but he really isn't? Is blackness really only defined by Jim Crow, anger and slavery? If American-ness, at least in this equation, is defined by patronymic immigrant hope, is racial transcendence then to be defined by maternity, relation to whiteness, biology? "Transcendence" implies rising above something, cutting through, being liberated from. What would it reveal about the hidden valuations of race if one were to invert the equation by positing that Barack Obama "transcended" whiteness because his father was black?

Senator Obama has many attractive attributes -- he's smart, a great writer and speaker, a skilled tactician, full of fresh vision, youthful, with a good-looking Kennedy-esque appeal. Yet there are many people to whom his appeal rests not on what he is but on what they imagine he isn't. He's not a whiner; he's not angry. He doesn't hate white people. He doesn't wear his hair like Al Sharpton. He is not the whole list of negatives that people like Chris Matthews or Joe Biden or a whole generation of fucked-up middle-class college students identify as "blackness." Indeed, part of the reason I am anxious about the trustworthiness of Obama's widespread appeal is this unacknowledged value placed on his ability to perform "unexpected" aspects of both whiteness (as in, proud immigrant stock) and blackness (as in, his remarkable ability to discern that the sterling fish knife is not a shoe horn).

This is not just about the dualism of black and white, of course. Obama's family raised him in diverse locales -- Hawaii, Indonesia, the world. Does the perception of his identity change if we think of him as our first Hawaiian presidential candidate? To paraphrase, is he the first mainstream Hawaiian-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy who wouldn't be caught dead in a grass skirt holding a ukulele? Or the first mainstream Indonesian-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy who had the interesting experience of going to a Roman Catholic school in a largely Muslim country, which might provide lots of useful cultural insights for a President to have in this time and place? No, unfortunately, as there are those at Fox News who can't tell a Roman Catholic school from a madrassa.

Worse yet, a lot of the analysis of Biden's comment has skimmed over his patronizing of Obama's substance. Rather, it has focused on whether the comments destroyed Biden's chances to run for President. Who, after all, even knew Biden had his hat in the ring?

But back to Senator Obama, a presidential candidate of profound decency, extraordinary smarts and great eloquence. He was president of the Harvard Law Review, a position that requires not just the highest grades in the entire universe but also the unanimous acclaim of a band of viciously competitive students and a famously divided faculty. Those who make Law Review are immediate stars, and fabulously fast-tracked. Those who have served on the Law Review include a stunning and stellar array of familiar names: Supreme Court Justices Felix Frankfurter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Antonin Scalia, Stephen Breyer and Chief Justice John Roberts; Dean Acheson, Alger Hiss, Archibald MacLeish, Judge Richard Posner, Michael Chertoff and New York Governor Eliot Spitzer. It is, in the secretly assigned world of global power, an even better ticket to the top than being sealed in a coffin at Skull and Bones. It was acknowledged as such when Jews first joined the Law Review, when Democratic political pundit Susan Estrich became the first woman president of the Law Review in 1976 and when Obama became its first black president. It is a position whose credentializing power has never been questioned as far as anyone knows -- at least till a few weeks ago, when the New York Times published an article in which Ron Klain, informal adviser to Biden's presidential bid, wondered if being president of the Law Review really and truly required the same skill set as being President of the United States. As a cabdriver recently expressed it to me: "Maybe the mirage in the desert is no more than a benchmark constantly being moved out of reach." (He too was articulate, and quite poetic, that cabbie. Made me wonder what benchmarks had been moved beyond his reach to leave him ferrying me around at midnight.)

Of course, the crown of the Law Review presidency is not the only aspect of Senator Obama's "authenticity" that's being refigured as a mess of thorns. If no one doubts his blackness when it comes to the uniqueness of his accomplishments while on the Law Review, he's apparently not "black enough" in other contexts. In another article in the Times, perpetual contrarians like Stanley Crouch, Debra Dickerson and Carol Swain were quoted as questioning whether he truly was a brother beneath the skin. It is surely ironic that Obama -- one of the very few Americans of any stripe who has actual first-degree relatives in Africa -- is being figured in some quarters as an imposter of African-American-ness.

At the same time, Obama's identity reveals the complex blindness and slipperiness of American conceptions of race, culture and ethnicity. There's a lovely quote from Saidiya Hartman's remarkable new book Lose Your Mother: As she wends her way through Ghana on a Fulbright Fellowship, she notes, "I was the stranger in the village, a wandering seed bereft of the possibility of taking root. Behind my back people whispered, dua ho mmire: a mushroom that grows on the tree has no deep soil. Everyone avoided the word 'slave,' but we all knew who was who. As a 'slave baby,' I represented what most chose to avoid: the catastrophe that was our past ... and what was forbidden to discuss: the matter of someone's origins."

As I read Hartman's words, I wondered how familiar that sentiment felt to me, or to the many African-Americans -- whether they've never left our shores or traveled the world -- so relentlessly in search of "home." I wondered how familiar that passage must feel to recent arrivals to our peculiarly dubbed "homeland." Just today I met a Swedish woman who is phenotypically "Asian." When she was a student at the University of California, she went to the hospital with stomach pains -- and was almost committed as insane before she ever got to see a doctor, because the administrative gatekeepers simply could not reconcile her appearance with her assertion that she was a Swedish citizen.

And in this moment of unprecedented diaspora, I wonder how familiar all these sentiments must feel to Barack Obama just now. Flipped endlessly down a hall of mirrored images of blackness and whiteness, he is no less celebrated than Frederick Douglass was as one whose entire identity is mired in the exhausted exceptionalism of the "surprisingly" hyperarticulate African phenotype; yet simultaneously embraced as one who has transcended the embodiment of a troublesome past and emerged on the other side -- bright as a newly minted coin, "cleansed" of baggage, of roots, of the unacknowledged rupture that is, paradoxically, our greatest national bond.

Patricia J. Williams, a professor of law at Columbia University and a member of the State Bar of California, writes The Nation column "Diary of a Mad Law Professor."

Sorority Committed to Old-Time Femininity

Sorority Evictions Raise Messy Issue of Looks and Bias
New York Times

'The national officers of the Delta Zeta sorority told 23 members at DePauw University to leave, including every woman who was overweight.');

Published: February 25, 2007

GREENCASTLE, Ind. — When a psychology professor at DePauw University here surveyed students, they described one sorority as a group of “daddy’s little princesses” and another as “offbeat hippies.” The sisters of Delta Zeta were seen as “socially awkward.”

Worried that a negative stereotype of the sorority was contributing to a decline in membership that had left its Greek-columned house here half empty, Delta Zeta’s national officers interviewed 35 DePauw members in November, quizzing them about their dedication to recruitment. They judged 23 of the women insufficiently committed and later told them to vacate the sorority house.

The 23 members included every woman who was overweight. They also included the only black, Korean and Vietnamese members. The dozen students allowed to stay were slender and popular with fraternity men — conventionally pretty women the sorority hoped could attract new recruits. Six of the 12 were so infuriated they quit.

“Virtually everyone who didn’t fit a certain sorority member archetype was told to leave,” said Kate Holloway, a senior who withdrew from the chapter during its reorganization.“I sensed the disrespect with which this was to be carried out and got fed up,” Ms. Holloway added. “I didn’t have room in my life for these women to come in and tell my sisters of three years that they weren’t needed.”

Ms. Holloway is not the only angry one. The reorganization has left a messy aftermath of recrimination and tears on this rural campus of 2,400 students, 50 miles southwest of Indianapolis.The mass eviction battered the self-esteem of many of the former sorority members, and some withdrew from classes in depression. There have been student protests, outraged letters from alumni and parents, and a faculty petition calling the sorority’s action unethical.

DePauw’s president, Robert G. Bottoms, issued a two-page letter of reprimand to the sorority.

In an interview in his office, Dr. Bottoms said he had been stunned by the sorority’s insensitivity.“I had no hint they were going to disrupt the chapter with a membership reduction of this proportion in the middle of the year,” he said. “It’s been very upsetting.”

The president of Delta Zeta, which has its headquarters in Oxford, Ohio, and its other national officers declined to be interviewed. Responding by e-mail to questions, Cynthia Winslow Menges, the executive director, said the sorority had not evicted the 23 women, even though the national officers sent those women form letters that said: “The membership review team has recommended you for alumna status. Chapter members receiving alumnae status should plan to relocate from the chapter house no later than Jan. 29, 2007.”

Ms. Menges asserted that the women themselves had, in effect, made their own decisions to leave by demonstrating a lack of commitment to meet recruitment goals. The sorority paid each woman who left $300 to cover the difference between sorority and campus housing.The sorority “is saddened that the isolated incident at DePauw has been mischaracterized,” Ms. Menges wrote. Asked for clarification, the sorority’s public relations representative e-mailed a statement saying its actions were aimed at the “enrichment of student life at DePauw.”

This is not the first time that the DePauw chapter of Delta Zeta has stirred controversy. In 1982, it attracted national attention when a black student was not allowed to join, provoking accusations of racial discrimination.Earlier this month, an Alabama lawyer and several other DePauw alumni who graduated in 1970 described in a letter to The DePauw, the student newspaper, how Delta Zeta’s national leadership had tried unsuccessfully to block a young woman with a black father and a white mother from joining its DePauw chapter in 1967.

Despite those incidents, the chapter appears to have been home to a diverse community over the years, partly because it has attracted brainy women, including many science and math majors, as well as talented disabled women, without focusing as exclusively as some sororities on potential recruits’ sex appeal, former sorority members said.“I had a sister I could go to a bar with if I had boy problems,” said Erin Swisshelm, a junior biochemistry major who withdrew from the sorority in October. “I had a sister I could talk about religion with. I had a sister I could be nerdy about science with. That’s why I liked Delta Zeta, because I had all these amazing women around me.”

But over the years DePauw students had attached a negative stereotype to the chapter, as evidenced by the survey that Pam Propsom, a psychology professor, conducts each year in her class. That image had hurt recruitment, and the national officers had repeatedly warned the chapter that unless its membership increased, the chapter could close.

At the start of the fall term the national office was especially determined to raise recruitment because 2009 is the 100th anniversary of the DePauw chapter’s founding. In September, Ms. Menges and Kathi Heatherly, a national vice president of the sorority, visited the chapter to announce a reorganization plan they said would include an interview with each woman about her commitment. The women were urged to look their best for the interviews.T

he tone left four women so unsettled that they withdrew from the chapter almost immediately.

Robin Lamkin, a junior who is an editor at The DePauw and was one of the 23 women evicted, said many of her sisters bought new outfits and modeled them for each other before the interviews. Many women declared their willingness to recruit diligently, Ms. Lamkin said.

A few days after the interviews, national representatives took over the house to hold a recruiting event. They asked most members to stay upstairs in their rooms. To welcome freshmen downstairs, they assembled a team that included several of the women eventually asked to stay in the sorority, along with some slender women invited from the sorority’s chapter at Indiana University, Ms. Holloway said.“They had these unassuming freshman girls downstairs with these plastic women from Indiana University, and 25 of my sisters hiding upstairs,” she said. “It was so fake, so completely dehumanized. I said, ‘This calls for a little joke.’ ”Ms. Holloway put on a wig and some John Lennon rose-colored glasses, burst through the front door and skipped around singing, “Ooooh! Delta Zeta!” and other chants.

The face of one of the national representatives, she recalled, “was like I’d run over her puppy with my car.”The national representatives announced their decisions in the form letters, delivered on Dec. 2, which said that Delta Zeta intended to increase membership to 95 by the 2009 anniversary, and that it would recruit using a “core group of women.”Elizabeth Haneline, a senior computer science major who was among those evicted, returned to the house that afternoon and found some women in tears. Even the chapter’s president had been kicked out, Ms. Haneline said, while “other women who had done almost nothing for the chapter were asked to stay.”

Six of the 12 women who were asked to stay left the sorority, including Joanna Kieschnick, a sophomore majoring in English literature. “They said, ‘You’re not good enough’ to so many people who have put their heart and soul into this chapter that I can’t stay,” she said.

In the months since, Cynthia Babington, DePauw’s dean of students, has fielded angry calls from parents, she said. Robert Hershberger, chairman of the modern languages department, circulated the faculty petition; 55 professors signed it.“We were especially troubled that the women they expelled were less about image and more about academic achievement and social service,” Dr. Hershberger said.

During rush activities this month, 11 first-year students accepted invitations to join Delta Zeta, but only three have sought membership.

On Feb. 2, Rachel Pappas, a junior who is the chapter’s former secretary, printed 200 posters calling on students to gather that afternoon at the student union. About 50 students showed up and heard Ms. Pappas say the sorority’s national leaders had misrepresented the truth when they asserted they had evicted women for lack of commitment.“The injustice of the lies,” she said, “is contemptible.”

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Chastity Belts for Malaysian Women?

Khaleej Times Online >> News >> THE WORLD

Women should wear chastity belts to prevent sex crimes

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia - Women should wear chastity belts to prevent rape, incest and other sex crimes, a prominent Islamic cleric in northern Malaysia was quoted as saying Friday.

Abu Hassan Din Al Hafiz, speaking in the northern state of Terengganu, said chastity belts could protect women from a growing number of sex crimes in Malaysia, The Star newspaper reported.

The best way to avert sex perpetrators is to wear protection,’ Abu Hassan told a crowd of followers. My intention is not to offend women but to safeguard them from sex maniacs.’

The cleric said sex crimes had increased in the region of late. We have even come across a number of unusual sex cases where even senior citizens and children are not spared,’ he said.

Figures on sexual assaults in the northern state were not immediately available.

Religious leaders in Malaysia’s conservative north have in the past blamed sexual attacks on women wearing provocative clothing and make up. Local Islamic women’s groups and other organizations have routinely criticized those views.

Abu Hassan was not immediately reachable for comment.

Muslims make up about 60 percent of Malaysia’s population. The remaining 40 percent are Buddhists, Hindus, Christians and a small minority of indigenous people who practice animism.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Gayness vs Homoerotic Heterosexuality

Slate Magazine

The Loneliness of the Gay Basketball Player. John Amaechi's Man in the Middle, the memoir of an NBA misfit.

By Kevin Arnovitz

NBA journeyman John Amaechi's coming out has already spawned hundreds of rote conversations about homophobia and sports. Beat writers have probed players about how they'd deal with a gay teammate, producing few revelations other than that Shavlik Randolph probably hasn't attended many LGBT barbecues. Whether it's a mark of progress or the triumph of collective cynicism, Amaechi's confession has mostly been seen as either an attempt to sell his memoir, Man in the Middle, or an irrelevant, self-indulgent gesture. Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel, for one, squawked that Amaechi's coming out was "so '90s"—a response that might've been appropriate if a former NBA player had proclaimed his love for MTV's Real World-Road Rules tandem. Then, on Wednesday, former NBA star Tim Hardaway finally cut to the chase. "I hate gay people," he told radio host Dan Le Betard. "I am homophobic. I don't like it. It shouldn't be in the world or in the United States."

Amaechi responded by calling Hardaway's rant bigoted. "But it is honest," he continued. "And it illustrates the problem better than any of the fuzzy language other people have used so far." Hardaway's loud-and-proud prejudice is also a reminder that beat writers needn't bother asking straight players how they'd respond to a gay teammate. The more interesting question, and the one Man in the Middle tries to answer, is: How would a gay man react to a teammate like Hardaway?

Most of the time, Man in the Middle reads like a conventional sports memoir. An awkward, fat, working-class kid finds refuge in basketball. After learning the fundamentals, he emerges from his shell. With the encouragement of his courageous single mother, Amaechi makes it big and sees the world.

In the latter half of the book, Amaechi tentatively delves into his own sexuality. Early in his career, the closest he comes to announcing he's gay is introducing his Orlando teammates to the wonders of Earl Grey tea. Little by little, he affords himself allowances in, of all places, Salt Lake City. During his final season with the Jazz, he invites queeny friends to the family room at the Delta Center and starts hanging out in the town's gay enclave. This leads to one of the book's most affirming moments, when young Jazz forward Andrei Kirilenko urges Amaechi to attend a party at his home: "You are welcome to bring your partner, if you have one, someone special to you."

Amaechi doesn't soft-pedal the NBA's homophobia, but he believes it's more "a convention of a particular brand of masculinity than a genuine prejudice." A team bus ride past a billboard reading "SOMEONE YOU KNOW IS GAY," for example, launches a "cacophony of shock and horror." Rather than rant about his teammates, Amaechi points out the locker room's sexual ironies. "They checked out each other's cocks. They primped in front of the mirror. … They tried on each other's $10,000 suits and shoes. … And I'm the gay one. Hah!" While cocks were being checked out, Amaechi says, he "stood in the corner in baggy clothes or wrapped in an oversized towel."

That scene—Amaechi, standing alone, as his hetero teammates engage in homosocial behavior—is the book's lasting image. Unlike, say, Juiced—Jose Canseco's homoerotic steroids homage—Man in the Middle doesn't revel in titillating erotica. Other than a few anonymous encounters with a volleyballer in the locker room at Penn State and a short relationship when he played in the British Basketball League, he seems to have led one of the most celibate existences of any athlete since A.C. Green. (Amaechi self-deprecatingly ascribes this to personal incompetence as much as intolerance.)

Amaechi doesn't speculate what percentage of the league is gay, and he doesn't name any names. One gets the sense that this is partly by design—innuendo just isn't his style—and partly a consequence of the distance he keeps from his fellow jocks. Amaechi's alientation from the culture of the NBA was not merely sexual. Surprisingly, his disaffection seems to be as much a product of his literacy as of his homosexuality. In Man in the Middle, Amaechi comes out as an intellectual—a creature almost as alien in the NBA as a gay man. He frequents art galleries on his off days, loves poetry, and is one of the first pro athletes to author a blog. The guy is smart enough that he can make something as dull as a fondness for Twinkies—"I loved their spongy richness and I devoured them by the dozen"—into a thoughtful disquisition.

Twinkies are just one of many things that Amaechi loves more than basketball. He writes with the most zeal—and at the most length—about mentoring, a passion that culminated in his official adoption of two teenagers in Orlando. (In passing, he reminds us that it's illegal for gays and lesbians to adopt in the state of Florida.) The more involved he gets with his off-court charity work, the less he cares about hoops. "Nobody could make me love something I picked up more or less because I was tall," he says.

The most interesting revelation in Man in the Middle has nothing to do with homosexuality. The profoundly isolated Amaechi says he finds common cause with other players on at least one matter: seeing sports as a means to an end. He writes that the pros play the game for a lot of reasons—money, fame, groupies, self-esteem—but that very few NBA players love basketball.

"The fan sitting at home … wants us to love the game like he does," he writes. "If he knew why we really play the game, for the most part, he might not love the game. He might not even watch it." The average fan, gay or straight, will probably find that contention more troubling than a former player's homosexuality.

Blood on the Tracks?

Is this Village Voice cover illustration racist?
by Carmen Van Kerckhove

What do you think of this image? (for image click this link)

It’s supposed to be Bob Dylan mowing down Kyp Malone from the band TV on the Radio. Martín Perna, who’s associated with the band, wrote a long letter to the Voice criticizing the image.

Reactions to the letter that I’ve seen on other blogs are typical:

This is bullshit… if that was a picture of Dylan running over a member of the Artic Monkeys or some other white band no one would give a shit, they would be raving on how witty it was.
and my favorite:

Only a Rascist would find that Rascist!

But here’s Perna’s letter. Interesting parallel he draws to the ghetto party phenomenon:
Looking at this week’s cover of the Voice, I see a caricature of Bob Dylan in an electric mobility scooter, running over Kyp Malone, guitarist/vocalist of the band TV on the Radio. The drawing, I imagine, was supposed to comically illustrate Dylan’s new record edging out TVOTR’s “Return to Cookie Mountain,” in the paper’s 34th Annual Pazz & Jop poll [February 7–13]. This drawing is racist, unfunny, mean-spirited, and inaccurate.

Even in the post-Chappelle era of it being hip and edgy to discuss and portray ideas about race, there are still wrong, tasteless ways and this was one of them. Nowhere in the consciousness of Voice editors or illustrator David O’Keefe can we find memories of James Byrd, a black man who was dragged behind a truck to his death by white racists in Jasper, Texas, in 1998, or Arthur “J.R.” Warren, who was run over four times and killed for being black and gay in West Virginia in 2000, and all the other lynchings that happened in the U.S. before and since. These events are still fresh in the minds of black people, as well as in the hearts and minds of the rest of us who may not be directly victimized by these particular lynchings but who are nonetheless endangered by racism and committed to social justice and healing America of its sick racist condition.

O’Keefe and his colleagues may not have meant to intentionally be racist. They probably meant to be funny, like the University of Texas law students, Clemson University undergrads, or white college students nationwide who plan and publicize their blackface or “ghetto parties,” then act surprised that people find their actions offensive and unacceptable. That this picture could be drawn and not questioned or vetoed by any of the people who saw it prior to publication shows the level of ignorance and racism that persists in leftist institutions like the Voice that continue to posture as hip and progressive. It reveals that among decision-makers at the paper there is not one single person with any sort of racial consciousness or sensitivity who had the power or courage to send that picture back to the drawing board.

Racism aside, the drawing is snarky and simpleminded. Where is the love? Why such a nasty way to portray two fantastic musical entities who made award-winning records last year? Why only portray Kyp, when TV on the Radio is composed of four other equally talented core members plus a small army of extended family (including myself) who have contributed to the indescribably ecstatic sound of TVOTR onstage and on record. We struggle defiantly to collaborate and work in non-hierarchical, positive environments and this portrayal of one of our people strikes a blow against our collective dignity.

Every time our likenesses are used outside of our control—especially in stupid ways like this—it fosters false perceptions of who we are. We struggle on a daily basis (those of us with high media exposure much more than others) to be our true selves and not what the media creates of us. Inevitably, Kyp will have to respond to an endless stream of questions about this cover from scores of journalists over the next week when he’d probably rather be doing something else.
Intentionally or not, this cover sends the all-too-familiar message to people of color: Make something too unique, make something outside of your assigned place-role, and get run over by a white man. I could go on about it, about how wrong it is to create false competition between musicians; the headline “Blood on the Tracks!” gives the very false impression that there is serious beef with Dylan and TVOTR. I could complain about how you drew Kyp outfitted like the Nutty Professor rather than his true fly stylish self. All other criticism, however, would draw attention away from the more serious and sinister latent racism present that makes this cover possible to begin with. I pray that you will wise up and check yourself and get some people with some sense and sensitivity among your editorial staff.

Martín Perna
Baritone saxophone, flutes
Antibalas/TV on the Radio
Austin, Texas, and Brooklyn