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Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Pragmatic Branding


Were bulls and cows able to speak English, they would be likely to say "We do not like to be branded."  Unlike their enslaved ancestors who resented being branded, a few members of a certain African American Greek-letter organization in the 20th century thought branding a letter on their skin was an ultra-masculine act of love for fraternity.  We have no proof that this gesture is esteemed in our current century, but we have ample evidence that verbal branding is pervasive in American life.  It hurts.

Having a recognizable brand-name has long been a marketing strategy in American culture, whether one is talking about canned foods, condoms, or colleges.  Thus, it is not strange that Kelli Marshall, a teacher of film and television at DePaul University, should seek to persuade her colleagues that "Branding Yourself as an Academic" (Chronicle of Higher Education, 31 Jan 2017) is a smart move.   She has a point, one that calls attention to the  progressive  cheapening of intellectual standards  in the Age of Trump.  After noting that "branding and marketing seem to conflict with one of the jobs of academics: to teach students about the tricks of persuasion and to give them the language to discover what is real," Marshall hastens to trick readers who are willing to be tricked and who are anxious to discover what is the real road to profit in the academic market.  Her blog as an instance of pragmatic branding  would not be out of place in the Wall Street Journal.

Those who voted for DJT got precisely what they voted for: the disestablishment of democracy as usual.  Many of us who are willing  to believe that the advent of American fascism is a temporary affair are taking vacations from reality by reading or re-reading two novels by George Orwell ----1984 and Animal Farm --and pondering which of Umberto Eco's fourteen features of Eternal Fascism/Ur-Fascism aptly describe our moment of discontent. For some African Americans  who can't or do not want to forget where the branding of human beings fits in the unfolding of the American experiment with democracy, the effort to be "woke" is painful.  We suffer the wound of knowing what is still real and true in Michael A. Gomez's discourse on transformation of identities in Exchanging Our Country Marks (1998) and what is iron hot in The Racial Contract (1997) by Charles W. Mills, a book "dedicated to the blacks, reds, browns, and yellow who have resisted the Racial Contract and the white renegades and race traitors who have refused it."  The final sentence of Animal Farm is salt and turpentine for our wound: "The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which."

Jerry W. Ward, Jr.                            January 31, 2017

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Verbal Discontent


Comic errors count:

after Obama's lectures

tragedy arrived.

Mistakes of a certain kind evoke brief moments of laughter, and the English language is often a fine vehicle for vulgar laughter and regrettable mistakes.  The political tempest in the United States at the very beginning of 2017 has spun the word "trump" to new heights.  Everyone knows that "trump" functions as a noun and a verb in the context of card games, that when it is capitalized "trump" is a proper noun  and a brand.  Not many Americans, we can fairly guess, are aware of what "trump" as an intransitive verb denotes in British slang.  There the word takes us to the brink of scatology.

According to one website, "trump" in British slang means flatulence, "an audible discharge of flatus from a person's rectum, and its associated smell" (  To trump is to fart.  We can play a word game and combine this meaning with what "trump" as a transitive verb can mean: 1) to surpass or outdo and 2) to play a trump card in a card game.  Ordinary meaning and slang co-exist in linguistic harmony.  Nevertheless, their combination gives rise to verbal discontent.  Meek, genteel citizens are alarmed by the bawdy, the dirty underground implications.  Less pious citizens who care little to nothing about nuances in language are moved to scornful or nervous laughter. And citizens who are only functionally literate might ask what all the fuss is about and then cancel the opportunity for an answer by saying "Fuck it" or "Fuck you."  As far as contemporary political rhetoric is concerned, a significant number of Americans have embraced an Anglo-Saxon state of mind.

Some American citizens who know a bit of Shakespeare and a bit more of Swift may not be charmed by what we may be forced to recognize---Trump trumps quite too freely in public in the faces of his supporters and detractors and trumps many of our past presidents in trumping the American body politic.  So it has come to this.  Verbal discontent is just the higher frequency of deeper rumblings, the noises that signal inevitable political earthquakes in the United States of America.  In 2017, language is a complex metaphorical bitch.

Jerry W. Ward, Jr.                            January 28, 2017

Friday, January 27, 2017



How charming.  He confesses,

world prize in frigid hands,

the absurdity of his position,

dispensing reimagined gospels to his father's kin.

In Berlin.  How charming.  In Berlin.

The dearth of irony.  The crosshatched aesthetic

poisoned his blood. The pathos of platitudes

and purchased betrayals.

How charming.  The smoldering kitchen.

There his mother counts for nobody.

Only his father's class and color,

only his father's law and reason,

only his father's fatal finger

can trace the religion of his face.

How charming to relic and tribe ignorance.

Middle passage flesh, skin lampshades,

amputated foot, whip-branded back----

never existed, though they can.

How charming.  Denial informs

his flaring nostrils, his tattooed lips.

How charming.  Now the banal melodies.

Forget. Oblivion. Forgive.  Oblivion.

Justify.  Oblivion.  Canonize. Oblivion.

How charming to abstain from charm.

Optimism does no harm.

Death begs the sparrow to let his people go.

Jerry W. Ward, Jr.

January 27, 2017

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Cruelty is not New

Cruelty is not New

"This week's events," in the opinion of William Germano, "tells us what we've always known, that compassion and truth are our rights and our obligations" (Chronicle of Higher Education online, January 23, 2017).  Have we always known compassion to be an obligation and truth to be a right?  If we grew up African American  in Mississippi in the 1950s, we always knew truth was a desirable option and compassion was a virtue that Christians said they practiced.  The logic of Jim Crow did not certify that they were rights or entitlements.

This week's events send me a message that is contrary to the one Germano heard.  I am hearing that the new ethics of living American obligates me to be selectively cruel and to tell strategic lies.  Otherwise,  I will be tried and convicted in the courts of neo-fascist  opinion of being anti-American.  It is criminal to be kind.  Telling a truth is a felony.

It is cruel that Germano, Dean of Humanities and a Professor of English at Cooper Union, should remind us that once upon a time civic behaviors in the USA fell short of the business  standards ordained by "The Apprentice," reality television, and our new Commander in Chief.  As our nation progressively marches toward greatness, our leaders demand that we embrace Machiavellian wisdom with the same alacrity they have demonstrated.  They know that being compassionate rather than being cruel is evidence of virtue but law and order, the greater good, obligates them to be "indifferent to the charge of cruelty if [they are] to keep [citizens] loyal and united" (The Prince, Chapter XVII).

I thank Professor Germano for quoting line 163 of John Milton's monody Lycidas  at the beginning of his blog  "The New Cruelty"  ---  "Look homeward Angel now, and melt with ruth:" --- , because I now feel it is right to be ruthless, and to use Milton's The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates (1648/1649) as a symbolic  weapon in our sustained efforts to rescue democracy from tyranny.  We have always known that cultural memory and cultural literacy could be of service in a needful time.

Jerry W. Ward, Jr.                            January 24, 2017

Sunday, January 22, 2017

The rebirth of a romantic assumption

The Rebirth of a  Romantic Assumption

Let the martial songs be written, let the dirges disappear.  Let a race of men now rise and take control.

Margaret Walker, "For My People"

January 20-21, 2017, Trump Days #1 and #2

When I knew my mother was dying in 1992, I began to cry.  My mother, looking at me quite sternly, said: "When do you plan to grow up?  I never promised you I'd be here forever.  Besides, I am tired."

Aware that the mouth of D. J. Trump exercised its First Amendment right to be vulgar, divided Americans beyond reconciliation, and positioned his nation to implode, many  American citizens have suddenly grown up, minimized decency and civility in political discourses, and internalized profanity. Many Americans have consciously "normalized" profanity and embraced mauvaise foi (bad faith).  Others, who are not absolutely immune to bad faith,  have embraced the pieties of sacred and secular religions. American pragmatism  has come home again.

 American citizens should woman-up and man-up to the death of a  romantic assumption imprisoned in the signifying  language of democracy.  They should admit they are not political infants  and act accordingly. This assumption is a fantasy of natural superiority and greatness, and its essential irrationality condemns it to be romantic.  It is securely inscribed the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States, but it is treacherous.   It lends dubious legitimacy to the paradox of freedom, namely a socially constructed,  de jure reality of liberation and the de facto actuality of American daily life and rampant oppression. The paradox endlessly delays consensus about what it means to be an American; it gives aid and comfort to fascism, to systemic enslavement.

 As a psychic element in the evolving of the human mind, the fantasy of racial superiority advertizes itself  to be  universal.  Nevertheless, its narrative manifestations are not transcendent.  They are bound by time and space and are  fundamentally local. The assumption, however,   is a powerful determinant in shaping American  oral and written histories.  It is seductive.  It appeals to and  captivates the imaginations of  the ignorant as well as the intelligent, the obscenely rich and the obscenely poor.  Its "magic" properties  satisfy  everyone's perverse desire to be great.  Those who automatically proclaim the  assumption is a blatant fake ought to fact-check their roles in enabling Trump's ascent and recognize why and how he gambled and raked in all the electoral chips.  If the popular vote could veto the Electoral College, it is not unthinkable  that American citizens might begin a long and painful journey into approximate democracy, and emancipate themselves from the abjectness so beautifully described in Plato's allegory of the cave.

 If citizens man-up and woman-up (as some began doing on November 9, 2016) , they increase the likelihood of recognizing that, according to Leon P. Baradat,  "reactionary extremism did not die in 1945 with Hitler and Mussolini. It has reemerged from time to  time, most recently during the current decade in Europe and the United States." This extremism  is the linchpin in Trump's suspect plans to make America great.  His extreme narcissism  touched the lives of all American citizens before he took the oath of office, and it will burn their lives during his tenure as President and Commander in Chief.  Unless citizens admit the whole spectrum of belief and ideology is extreme, will they not author their death warrants? 

Praising Trump and demonizing Trump are First Amendment  acts of speech, but they  free no one from the death and rebirth cycles of a romantic assumption.  Words will not break the cycles, but cold ethical/ethnic  actions may produce the life-sustaining,  anti-romantic assumption that is needed in the twenty-first century.  It was prophetically brilliant that Gwendolyn Brooks urged her fellow Americans to "First fight. Then fiddle." Americans choose not to be subjects and objects of fascism will heed her admonition in actions more powerful than  tragicomic, rhetorical spectacles of protest.

January 22, 2017, Trump Day #3

To the extent that reading is a preparation for critical thinking , and thinking shapes  mind and body for crucial  "revolutionary" action,  reading gives us pause and minimizes our leaping madly and blindly into the romance of revolution.  Reading alerts us to the fact that the word "revolution" is used quite too loosely in the USA, to the fact that few American citizens distinguish,  in their haste to be debatably neo-progressive  or pristinely   neo-conservative or adamantly   neo-liberal, "revolution" from "rebellion."  The words are related but not interchangeable.

As was the case in 2016, a considerable amount of American  critical reflection  will be influenced by the legacy of Leo Strauss (1899-1973),  by the ideas he proposed regarding political philosophy, Jewish studies, and Islamic studies.  We have an opportunity to ponder how those ideas were transformed  into domestic and foreign polices during the two terms President Obama served in office and how they may be further twisted, with Machiavellian zeal, as the Trump administration struggles with odd phenomenological mixture : dread,  fear, terrorism, and the fallacy of greatness;  the ecology of the ego;  the denial of climate change, the increase of mental health  and drug addiction problems; the triumph of nihilism;   the irreversible widening of the gap between wealth and poverty in our nation. We can weigh the utility of tossing  faith, hope and charity into a black hole ---the post-human cultivation of  wretched  disregard for the sanctity of human life.  What matters in 2017 must truly be more than one's ability to persuade others that  lies are facts.

Reading all or some of the works listed below may help in the difficult task of making good choices about political action.

Alexander, Michelle. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. New York: The New Press, 2010.

Anderson, Carol. White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide. New York: Bloomsbury, 2016.

Bellah, Robert N. et al. Habits of the Heart: Individualism and Commitment in American Life. New York: Perennial Library, 1986.

Bok, Sissela.  Lying: Moral Choice in Public and Private Life.  New York:  Vintage, 1978.

Brinkmeyer, Robert H., Jr. The Fourth Ghost: White Southern Writers and European Fascism, 1930-1950. Baton Rouge: LSU Press, 2009.

Eco, Umberto. "Ur-Fascism." New York Review of Books, June 22, 1995.  Access online at

Faust, David. The Limits of Scientific Reasoning.  Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1984.

Guyatt, Nicholas.  Bind Us Apart: How Enlightened Americans Invented Racial Segregation. New York: Basic Books, 2016.

Isenberg, Nancy.  White Trash: The 400 Year Untold History of Class in America.  New York: Viking, 2016.

Katznelson, Ira. Fear Itself :The New Deal and the Origins of Our Time. New York: Liveright, 2013.

Kendi, Ibram X. Stamped from the Beginning.  New York: Nation Books, 2016.

Lasch, Christopher. The Culture of Narcissism: American Life in An Age of Diminishing Expectations. New York: W. W. Norton,  1979.

Machiavelli, Niccolo. The Prince (De Principatibus, 1513)

Murray, Albert. The Omni-Americans.  New York: Avon, 1970.

Nietzsche, Friedrich Wilhelm. The Antichrist: A Criticism of Christianity (1895). Trans. Anthony M. Ludovici.  New York: Barnes and Noble, 2006.

_______________________. The Will to Power (1906). Trans. Anthony M. Ludovici. New York: Barnes and Noble, 2006.

Obama, Barack.  The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream. New York: Three Rivers Press, 2006.

Parkinson, Robert G. The Common Cause: Creating Race and Nation in the American Revolution. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Pres, 2016.

Power, Samantha. "A Problem from Hell:" America and the Age of Genocide. New York: Perennial, 2003.

Rawls, John. A Theory of Justice. Revised Edition. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2003.

Reich, Walter, ed. Origins of Terrorism.  Washington, DC: Woodrow Wilson Center Press, 1998.

Resendez, Andres. The Other Slavery: The Uncovered Story of Indian Enslavement in America.  Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016.

Walker, David.  David Walker's Appeal to the Coloured Citizens of the World, but in particular and very expressly, to those of the United States of America. Ed. Charles M. Wiltse.  New York: Hill and Wang, 1965.

Wheelock, Stefan M. Barbaric Culture and Black Critique: Black Antislavery Writers, Religion, and the Slaveholding Atlantic.  Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2016.

White, James Boyd. Acts of Hope: Creating Authority in Literature, Law, and Politics. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994.

Jerry W. Ward, Jr.            January 22, 2017

Saturday, January 21, 2017

A romantic assumption

The Rebirth of a  Romantic Assumption

When I knew my mother was dying in 1992, I began to cry.  My mother, looking at me quite sternly, said: "When do you plan to grow up?  I never promised you I'd be here forever.  Besides, I am tired."

Aware that the mouth of D. J. Trump  has humiliated the indecency of democratic politics, divided Americans beyond reconciliation, and positioned his nation to implode, it is pragmatic to grow up.  American citizens should woman-up and man-up to the death of the romantic assumption and act accordingly. This assumption is an obese fantasy of natural superiority and greatness, and its essential irrationality condemns it to be romantic.  As a non-scientific element in the biocultural evolving of the human mind, it is universal; it is a powerful determinant in shaping histories; it is seductive in the sense that it captivates the imaginations of  the ignorant as well as the intelligent and satisfies everyone's perverse desire to be great.  Fact-check Trump's record in order to explain why and how he gambled and raked in all the electoral chips. If citizens man-up and woman-up, they increase the likelihood of recognizing that, according to Leon P. Baradat,  "reactionary extremism did not die in 1945 with Hitler and Mussolini. It has reemerged from time to  time, most recently during the current decade in Europe and the United States." It is the linchpin in Trump's plans to make America great.

Jerry W. Ward, Jr.            January 20, 2017

Friday, January 20, 2017

Anti-Fascist Words in New Orleans

Anti-Fascist Words in New Orleans

 It is Carnival Time in New Orleans, the pre-Lenten season of misrule.  This city, famous for many things, it not famous for having a robust tradition of left-wing thinking.  That is neither good nor bad; it is just a symptom of ideological minimalism.

Under the influence of carnival, the sincere effort of the Antenna/Press Street art space to organize an Anti-Fascist Reading Group is tainted by theatricality through no fault of its own.  The gravity of a peculiar Zeitgeist governs the turning of its moral compass.  It should not be dismissed as trivial that the address of Antenna is 3718 St. Claude Avenue, because it is located in a site of rampant gentrification.  Nor should it be overlooked that the organizing meeting occurred on the evening of January 19, 2017, the eve of the live birth of the Age of Trump.   The meeting belongs to a family of reactive national gatherings, all of them associated with fear of American fascism.  From the vantage of conservative or right-wing thinking, the Antenna  effort is a reactionary instance of sour grapes. From the vantage of what Hoke Glover calls free black thought, it is at once retarded and Caucasian, insufficiently indigenous or vernacular.  It articulated in a new key what a number of African American thinkers, who are intimate with struggles,  had been saying under the radar for many, many years. America was fascist before Donald Trump was born.  Add the probability that the "powers that be" in  New Orleans have been abetting vernacular fascism since 2005 and then try to deconstruct a nest of contradictions.

My participation in the meeting and my response to it was ambivalent.  I was dismayed that fellow participants (mainly white) evidenced little sense of what the pedagogy of the oppressed is.  I sensed that they were fearful and outraged; that they  possessed a sense of dread but lacked a sense of oppression quite as much as they lacked respect for local knowledge, the epistemology of indigenous peoples in the Americas. Even if I was misreading strangers  ---I had previous conversations with only one participant---I was not misreading their inability to acknowledge themselves as the Other. Carnival is a vacuum for good, well-meant intentions.  But I was heartened that they wanted to do the right thing. They are simply afflicted by what the Critical Ethnic Studies Association might describe as "the limitations of liberal multicultural institutionalization within the academy, which often relies on a politics of identity representation that is dilated and domesticated by nation-building and capitalist imperatives."  By virtue of Latinate rhetoric, the CESA statement secures a place in a nest of contradictions.  And my ambivalence does not exist outside the nest.

To return to the main point.  The Antenna/Press Street organizers suggested the reading group should have bi-monthly meetings to discuss themes derived from fiction, nonfiction, and film.  Knowing  by count of hands that the majority of the participants had read Umberto Eco's 1995 essay "Ur-Fascism," I recommended that we use his list of fourteen features of ur-fascism to generate themes and select readings  for future meetings ---

1.  cult of tradition

2.  rejection of modernism

3.  action for action's sake

4.  treason of disagreement

5.  fear of difference

6.  appeal to a frustrated middle class

7.  obsession with a plot

8.  people feeling "humiliated by the ostentatious wealth and force of their enemies"

9.  pacifism is trafficking with the enemy/ life is permanent warfare

10.  contempt for the weak/ popular elitism

11.  everybody is educated to become a hero

12.  machismo

13.  selective populism

14.  Newspeak   [ n.b., tweets constitute new speech]

The main themes that popped up were ecology, agriculture, regionalism, surveillance, and digital security.  I added in my second brief comment that terrorism and American evasion of cultural memory regarding indigenous peoples were crucial themes.  I wasn't familiar with most of the  titles that popped up ----Society Against the State: Essays in Political Anthropology by Pierre Clastres, Seeing Like a State by James C. Scott, The Fight to Vote by Michael Waldman, The Art of Cruelty by Maggie Nelson, The Next Revolution: Sustainable Activism for  the Twenty-First Century by Grace Lee Boggs and Scott Kurashige, but I did recognize White Noise by Don DeLillo, The Trial by Frantz Kafka, 1984 by George Orwell.  I left the meeting before a theme and the reading (s) for the next meeting were set, left wondering why no titles by right-wing  or neo-fascist intellectuals (other than those referenced by "Ur-Fascism" ) popped up.  I think it is obligatory for people who embrace anti-fascist postures to do what many African Americans have been doing for centuries: read the propaganda of the  enemies as well as the hymns addressed to the choir.  I shall attend the next meeting of this reading group to discover answers.

Jerry W. Ward, Jr.                            January 20, 2017

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

USA Kwansaba


Truth is not a product to consume,

a dim Leni Riefenstahl frame of things

falling, fallen apart in a stolid mind.

In sulking hearts bad blood freely flows.

Reason razors tissue to trump another card

as fingers ,  palms, and hands  play games

for which our sages have unholy names.

Jerry W. Ward, Jr.

January 18, 2017

Monday, January 16, 2017

Charles M. Blow and Integrity

Charles M. Blow and Integrity

Allah does not love that evil should be noised abroad in public speech, except where injustice has been done; for Allah is He who hears and knows all things.

The Qur'an, Surah 4, 147

Subtle. Urbane. Serious.  Down home wise.  Cool.  Alert.  Smooth.  Old School humorous. Rational.  These adjectives came to mind as I listened to Charles M. Blow speak at a "Conversation in Color" (Tulane University, January 16, 2017) with Dr. Kara Tucina Olidge, Executive Director of the Amistad Research Center.  Anyone who has read Blow's op-eds in the New York Times is aware he does not suffer fools.  Nor does he cheapen himself with the kind of correctness that provides absolution for the fake fuckery of neo-fascism.  His integrity is refreshing.

In principle, all forms of human culture, in its full global and historical diversity, are accessible to the identity of every human being on the planet.

Naomi Zack

The fact that he was speaking on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day about his life, the functions of contemporary journalism, and the Zeitgeist did not inspire me to have nostalgic visions of struggles for civil and human rights since the founding of the United States of America.  It inspired me to silently applaud his integrity as he spoke about why the moral virtue of  resistance ought to be complemented by affirmative acts, about the rightness of his saying that Americans should cease evading the obvious: empires rise and crumble.  I agree with him that we should create blueprints for moral argument and allow hatred (evil, vulgarity, barbarism or whatever) to hang itself.  Blow's rhetoric was affirmative, sobering and ethical.

Your integrity is more important than having commerce with correctness.

J. W. Ward, Jr.

I did disagree with Blow that what circulates on Twitter and in other social networks is news, although he has legitimate, professional reasons for believing trash talk is news.  In my opinion, universal  trash talk is only one symptom of the malaise that the news should interrogate, analyze, and interpret  for readers who don't have the means or the luxury of fact-checking 24/7/365.  As the designs of American neo-fascism become more transparent after January 20, 2017, it is possible for journalists who have integrity to take steps to make print journalism great again, to restore confidence in standards.  I treasure the conclusion of Blow's op-ed  "John's Gospel of Trump's Illegitimacy" ( NYT, January 16, 2017, page A21): Mr. Trump, I join John Lewis in asserting with full confidence and clear conscience that I, too, don't see you as a legitimate president.  Your presidency is illegitimate insofar as outside interference in an election violates our standards and principles.  You will wear that scarlet "I" on your tan chest for as long as you sit in the White House.  But agreeing with Lewis and Blow is the easy way out. And I am obligated, for the sake of my own integrity, to do more radical work by performing  acts of affirmation.

Jerry W. Ward, Jr.            January 17, 2017

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Spike Lee

SPIKE LEE: Chinese questions and American answers


1.  Is the racial problem in America still as tense as depicted in the films by Spike Lee?

  Yes.  In fact, we have to speak not of a single problem but of a range of problems.  The most intense problem, of course, is the division and distrust occasioned by the killing of unarmed non-white males and females by police officers and individual citizens. We should anticipate that racial problems will flourish under the leadership of Donald Trump.

2. Which part of America sees the tensest relation between black and white?

 Small and large American cities, areas that have histories of obvious as well as hidden (or underreported) discord between and among ethnic groups.  Discussion of relations between whites and blacks is too simple-minded; it prevents a truly critical understanding of how problematic America's experiment with democracy is in the 21st century.

3.  In the film Do the Right Thing, what do you think is the most significant cause of the tragedy? The hot weather, dirty words, or the racial discrimination?

 The primary cause is a combination of climate, language, and instances of racist behaviors.  Trying to identify a "most significant cause" is a reductive gesture, which fails to deal with the complexity of cause and effect.

4. In the film School Daze, do you think Jane should be responsible for her own tragedy?

  Yes.  Jane is a victim of male aggression and exploitation to be sure, but she is not bereft of the ability to make choices;  she makes a poor choice that leads to disgrace and tragic outcomes.

5. Do you believe America will be able to solve the racial problem in the near future?

 No.  The racial problem is complicated by the always changing demographics of the United States.

6. What exactly is the main purpose of Spike Lee's making so many films about race? 

I suspect the main purpose to expose the multiple facets of the concept of "race" as a national problem.  There are many subtle ways in which American films depict racial issues.  In the films of Spike Lee, we see the depiction and exposure more plainly than in films, especially some science fiction films, that seem not to deal with race as a central topic.

7.  Do you advocate Martin Luther King's belief that violence is not a way to solve discrimination, or Malcolm X's that violence is intelligence when used in self-defense?

 While I believe King's advocating non-violent resistance in the face of social injustice was admirable,  I believe that Malcolm X's championing of self-defense is the better course of action.  We must make choices between non-violence and violence on the basis of individual situations.

8.  What can we do to stop being racist and being discriminated upon when we come to the United States?   

This Chinese question has two unequal, dissimilar parts.  First, I will not presume that Chinese people are racist (until you provide proof that they are) and in need of eradicating their racist behaviors. Second, it is not possible to avoid being discriminated against in some form, whether one is a citizen or a foreign visitor.  The social dynamics of the United States may minimize discrimination against visitors, but our day-to-day politics cannot guarantee the absence of discrimination.

9. In seeing the movie about Malcolm X, I have a question about the authenticity of the Malcolm in the movie and whether it is the "real" representation of the real person Malcolm, especially his conflict with the leader of the Nation of Islam. 

There are a few elements of authenticity in the film, but as a totality the film deals much more Malcolm X as an American icon, as a projection of what Spike Lee thought was the way to make a film about an iconic, very controversial person.  Thus, we do not have an absolutely "real" representation.  We have an adjusted representation ( the film) of an adjusted representation (Alex Haley's decisions about how to configure  the life of Malcolm Little/ El Hajj Malik el Shabazz;  Haley's epilogue for the autobiography is crucial.  We need to examine how Malcolm's conflict with the Honorable Elijah Muhammed was first "represented"  in The Autobiography of Malcolm X  (and account for Alex Haley's agency in adjusting Malcolm's autobiographical narrative);  when we view the portrayal of the conflict in Lee's film, we have to recall that distortion is an element of film as a medium and that even minimally edited documentaries will provide us with distortions.  Lee's film is a biopic not a documentary. That fact may frustrate the expectations of some spectators.

10.  And I was confused in seeing the movie Do the Right Thing.  I'm just wondering what is the right thing to do?

 The right thing to do is to continue to ask the question "What is the right thing to do?". This is the most straightforward response I can make to the question, because all decisions about right actions are most often determined by the specifics of a given situation.


School Daze ----Spike Lee exaggerates the internal culture of the HBCU---preoccupation with ritual, preoccupation with "color" distinctions derived from the history of American slavery, sexual negotiations  in order to delineate why HBCUs are special institutions within the dynamic space of American higher education.

Do the Right Thing ---In the Internet ranking constructed by Vulture.Com, this film is judged to be "a triumph of craftsmanship and vision, with both Lee and cinematographer Ernest Dickerson delivering a powerfully atmospheric snapshot of life in late-eighties Bed-Stuy [Brooklyn] at a time of escalating racial tension in the city.  But the film's precise, funny characters and vivid, sweltering look would meant nothing without Lee's wise and ultimately sad vision of multicultural America as a place where good intentions and casual mistrust are as commonplace as the local pizzeria."  Moreover, the film is a decidedly New York vision of what is sad about multicultural America; Lee's films about New Orleans and Chicago give us slightly better visions of how American citizens co-exist.  Indeed, the portrayal  of Chicago in Chi-Raq (2015) illuminates Lee's uncanny ability to represent frustration, but it also reveals Lee's inability to provide social critiques without large doses of comedy.

Malcolm X  ---Vulture. Com ranks this film as Lee's second best. "Over its three-and-a-half-hour running time, Malcolm X tells a great American story of a great American character, and is that rare biopic that allows us not only to get to know and understand our hero, but to watch him change. Challenging, moving, and uncompromising, it also never forgets to be gloriously entertaining…."  When the actor Ossie Davis explained why he eulogized Malcolm X, he proudly asserted "that Malcolm  --- whatever else he was or was not ---- Malcolm was a man!"  I argue that biopics are less good than sustained examinations of a man's words as paths to understanding his place in world history.

Jerry W. Ward, Jr.            January 15, 2017

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Demons in America

As was the case in 2016, a considerable amount of our  critical reflection  will be influenced by the legacy of Leo Strauss (1899-1973),  by the ideas he proposed regarding political philosophy, Jewish studies, and Islamic studies.  We shall ponder how those ideas were transformed  into domestic and foreign polices during the two terms President Obama served in office and how they may be further twisted, with Machiavellian zeal, as the Trump administration struggles with odd phenomena : dread,  fear, terrorism, and the fallacy of greatness;  the ecology of the ego;  the denial of climate change, the increase of mental health  and drug addiction problems,  the irreversible widening of the gap between wealth and poverty in our nation. We shall weigh the pragmatic  desire to toss faith, hope and charity into a black hole , to use the  white nose to smell out false news, and to cultivate abject disregard for the sanctity of human life.  All that matters in 2017 is one's ability to persuade others that fake lies are true facts.