News, thoughts and comments on civil rights and related issues.
Thursday, July 10, 2003
Gambling with Indians
Rick Heller at Smart Genes has beed musing over the wacky world of the politics of being Indian. The story of a made to order tribe has inspired him to write fiction about the topic.
As someone of Native American ancestry, Rick's subject engenders the ambivalence I often feel about Indian issues in me. The Pequot story is reasonably rare. However, profiteering Indians who convert funds intended to lift reservations out of poverty to their own use are not. If I had a grand for every tribal leader who has enriched himself, his family and his friends at everyone else's expense, I could score some nice Northwest Portland real estate.
My ambivalence about casinos is similar to Rick's. As a last resort, in areas where there are neither natural resources nor service industries that can exist without them, I guess casinos are justified. But, I place casinos near the bottom of the list of businesses I want to encourage. They take advantage of people's weakness. And, the folks more likely to gamble, the working and lower-middle classes, really need the money they invariably lose. There is little help for those who become addicted. Furthermore, the skills employees learn are mainly not transferrable to other fields. (A problem with many military occupational specialties, as well.) Of most significance, casinos do not produce anything. Society is no better off for their existence. Though I don't demand that everything be utilitarian, I usually prefer businesses that provide needs over those that provide wants.
Indian Country reports the casinos are economically successful so far.
However, there are clouds on the horizon.
I also wonder what will happen if the market for a given casino dries up. Will the tribe be just as poor as it was before the casino opened?
Writer and lawyer, not Indian chief
Being Indian in America sometimes seems more about myth than reality. One decision I've made about this blog is to focus on all people as objectively as possible. That means including material that does nothing positive for a minority group's image in some of my entries. I have also decided not to play Lil' Indian Princess dispensing alleged Native American lore for a mainly white readership. That is because I believe embracing such a stereotype is demeaning. Most contemporary Indians live the same sorts of lives other Americans do.posted by J. | 3:14 PM
Monday, July 07, 2003
Herbert brings it on home
Herbert is talking about the dichotomy that is the reality of African-American life today. The black middle-class, even measured by white standards, is larger than it has ever been before. The economic setback of the bourgeoisie is a lack of inherited assets moreso than wages, despite the continuing income differential for all non-whites. At the same time, the proportion of African-Americans mired in poverty, ignorance and violence has, in the first two instances remained disproportionately high, and, in the third, increased astronomically.
Herbert describes that contradictory reality.
He gives an example, the paralysis of a Boston toddler by gunfire when a man in a shouting match went off in front of her home.
In my not particularly long life, I have disarmed two people, one white and the other African-American. In both situations, I told the young male to place the handgun on the floor pointing away from everyone. I then picked it up and removed the bullets, calling the police afterward. The white fool had taken the gun to a party in the condos where I lived to show off and as a way to gain admittance since he wasn't invited. I was never able to figure out the black fool's behavior. Looking back, I am surprised by my own response. Perhaps people are right when they say I have a lot of nerve, though I don't think of myself that way. I don't believe I would try to disarm anyone now. If anything, people are worse than they were a decade ago.
In my opinion, ending gun violence will be the hardest part of stopping the decline in civil or even reasonable behavior by too many African-Americans. (And, Native Americans. Reservations have an even greater problem with violence than ghettos.) I have encouraged legal solutions to the dilemma at Silver Rights. But, Bob Herbert is absolutely right. The movement to eliminate excessive violence among minority people must start at home.
So must efforts to stop the ignorance that leads to such behavior in the first place. A thinking person does not believe he needs to shoot someone to make his feelings known. There are other options, including explaining oneself in clear terms or severing relations with the object of one's ire rather than have the situation escalate. Teaching children critical thinking skills could make a world of difference.
Herbert is hoping the new leader of the National Urban League will confront the problems, despite the criticism that is likely ensue, and do something about them.
Morial, the parent of a daugher who is a young adult, should be familiar with the tribulations that haunt her generation. Perhaps he and other relatively youthful minority leaders can begin the processes that will cleanse black, brown and red communities of carnage.posted by J. | 8:56 AM
Sunday, July 06, 2003
Summer time is blues time
Do I even need to say that it's blues time? Summer is always the ideal time to hear the best blues and jazz acts in the country and this year is no exception. I listen to and think about the blues a lot. Eventually, I hope to write a blues novel. I particularly muse about the blues this time of the year because it is when the three or four-day blues festival sponsored by the Cascade Blues Association takes place in Portland. This year it is called the Safeway Waterfront Blues Festival and is July 3 through 6 at, you guessed it, Watefront Park.
The roster has included legendary acts as well as local and regional bluesmen and women, with a special focus on women. Among the big names appearing are Taj Mahal, Etta James, Steve Miller, Susan Tedeschi, Roy Rogers and Norton Buffalo. The rest of the 100 or so performers are worthy souls, too.
Whenever I talk about the blues with a general audience, I make sure to define what I mean by blues and correct some misconceptions.
Music historians trace the history of the blues from the late 1800s in the South to the 1900s in other regions as African-Americans migrated to the Midwest, West and North. Modern blues echoes the themes of traditional blues -- romantic relationships, the hard work of the laboring classes and the vicissitudes of fortune. Contemporary popularizers such as Keb Mo, Mem Shannon and Robert Cray have made a full circle with the music, bringing the influences of jazz and soul back to a genre that was the roots of both.
A common misconception about the blues is the music is always sad. The mood of a blues song can range from joyous to dolorous, from high as a Georgia pine to lower than a worm's belly. Blues lyrics reflect the full panoply of the human experience.
Mem Shannon has mastered the tongue-in-cheek blues song.
Hear "SUV" here.
Or listen to any album by Portland bluesman Lloyd Jones, one of the most clever songwriters and versatile guitarists I'm aware of. His career has been built on on a grasp of the variety inherent in the blues. "Trouble Monkey" is a good example.
You can't go wrong visiting the masters either, whether original or covered by contemporary blues singers. Sometimes, I like to listen to "Drop Down Mama" by Sleepy John Estes, Lloyd Jones and Curtis Salgado back to back. They all do the song differently, but each does it well.
A couple of other unfounded myths are that the blues are for black people and old people only. In reality, most modern blues fans are white. The music has very strong followings in many European countries as well as in the United States. I believe it takes a mature mind to truly grasp the subleties of blues and jazz. But, by mature I don't mean old. By the time people who like music reach their late 20s or early 30s many are looking for something more meaningful than the Top 40 and discover blues and jazz.
Like I said, it's blues time. If you haven't been listening to the blues perhaps it is time to start.
Note: Some of the material in this entry is from the World Book Encyclopedia for Mac OS X.posted by J. | 12:17 AM