Silver Rights

News, thoughts and comments on civil rights and related issues.

Thursday, August 14, 2003  

Polls tell as much about bloggers as villains

John Hawkins at Right Wing News has presented his lists of who liberal and conservative bloggers consider the worst persons in American history.

Liberal bloggers who responded favored miscreants in government.

Honorable Mentions: Boss Tweed (5), Roger Taney (5), James Earl Ray (5), Charles Manson (5), Rush Limbaugh (5), Jerry Falwell (5), Roy Cohn (5), Dick Cheney (5), John C. Calhoun (5)

20) The Rosenbergs (3) + Julius Rosenberg (3) (6 total votes)
20) Pat Robertson (6)
20) Oliver North (6)
20) William Randolph Hearst (6)
20) Aaron Burr (6)
20) Aldrich Ames (6)
18) George Lincoln Rockwell (7)
18) Robert McNamara (7)
14) Richard Mellon Scaife (8)
14) Lee Harvey Oswald (8)
14) Charles Coughlin (8)
14) Strom Thurmond (8)
13) Ronald Reagan (9)
12) George Wallace (10)
11) Andrew Jackson (12)
9) Jefferson Davis (13)
9) George W. Bush (13)
6) Benedict Arnold (14)
6) Henry Kissinger (14)
6) John Wilkes Booth (14)
3) Timothy McVeigh (16)
3) Nathan Bedford Forrest (16)
3) J. Edgar Hoover (16)
2) Richard Nixon (25)
1) Joseph McCarthy (26)

There is considerable contrast, with conservatives listing political moderates and serial killers surprisingly often.

Honorable Mentions: Ted Bundy (5), Jane Fonda (5), John Wayne Gacy (5), John Walker Lindh (5), Joe McCarthy (5), Michael Moore (5), Boss Tweed (5)

17) Franklin Delano Roosevelt (6)
17) John Walker (6)
17) Lee Harvey Oswald (6)
17) Robert Byrd (6)
16) Aldrich Ames (7)
14) Richard Nixon (8)
14) Aaron Burr (8)
12) Al Sharpton (9)
12) Charles Manson (9)
8) Timothy McVeigh (10)
8) Lyndon Johnson (10)
8) Hillary Clinton (10)
8) John Wilkes Booth (10)
7) Alger Hiss (12)
6) Noam Chomsky (13)
4) Jesse Jackson (14)
4) Jimmy Carter (14)
3) Bill Clinton (15)
2) Benedict Arnold (19)
1) The Rosenbergs (15) & Julius Rosenberg (5) (20 total votes)

An aspect that interests Silver Rights is the unfortunate hostility toward civil rights reflected by many of the Right Wingers. It amazes me that Revs. Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson are on the list, not to mention having garnered so many votes, nine and 14, respectively. Both are mere voices of advocacy. I don't believe they would be singled out but for an underlying antipathy to integration and efforts to achieve racial equality. Considering some of the participants, such as longterm vocal bigot Ricky West of North Georgia Dogma and Ku klux Klan apologists Silflay Hraka, such behavior is par for the course. However, the civil rights activists could not have gotten as many black balls unless some conservatives who don't wear their bigotry on their sleeves listed them, too.

I suspect the votes for Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Lyndon Johnson, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton by conservatives are also influenced by disliking leaders associated with supporting the civil rights movement.

No, I am not letting the liberals off the hook. When I saw the number of Confederate figures on their list, my initial reaction was: "Lord, what a bunch of hypocrites." Considering the unwillingness of many liberals in the blogosphere to really stand up for civil rights, the responses are almost laughable. It is easy to respond to a semi-anonymous survey as an anti-racist, but much harder to be here fighting bigotry regularly. I challenge those bloggers (they should know who they are) to become worthy of disdaining persons such as Roger Taney, Jefferson Davis and Nathan Bedford Forrest. Currently, they are contemporary fellow travelers with the same people they claim to dishonor, while pretending not to be.

Obviously, surveys such as John's lack scientific validity. However, I do believe these two polls provide some insight into the political and moral state of the blogosphere.

posted by J. | 3:20 PM

Monday, August 11, 2003  

'You' and the need to be universal

I recently became aware of a young, African-American artist who seems bewildered by the local literary scene. Rochell Hart has enjoyed some success on the hip hop and spoken word circuit, but believes she is unappreciated in her hometown. She was among several writers interviewed by Willamette Week, an independent newspaper, to check the artistic pulse of Puddletown.

I hate to throw the race card, but as a black performance artist in Portland, it is hard not to. A native of this city, I have been a published author, motivational speaker and performance spoken-word artist (a.k.a. poet) for quite some time. Throughout the years, I have performed on countless stages across America, including such artistic hot spots as New York and Chicago. After carefully sifting through my opinions about life in Portland, I am convinced that as a minority artist, this is one of the hardest cities to survive in.

Be assured that my opinion is not merely a woe-is-me cry. The fact is, only 1.6 percent of the entire state is African-American, with most other ethnic backgrounds weighing in at even less. In a state where it was once illegal for minorities to reside (racist laws remained on Oregon's books until the late 1920s), it's no wonder so few minorities choose to call this place home. Those of us who do must struggle daily to have our voices heard and to make a serious impact.

. . .In Portland, however, my message of righteousness often falls on the ears of a crowd whose majority simply cannot relate. It is seriously challenging (though I am up to the challenge) to recite my signature poem, "Never Question Who I Am," to an audience whose only other minority representatives are my family and friends. The rest of the audience, even with the best intentions, simply seems indifferent to the realities I raise my voice to:

"I am a vibrantly vivid collection
Of ghetto reflections
I am a compilation
Of mass communication
I am black powered, cynical, reigning queen
Surpassing surreal expectations of anything you ever thought I would be."

I haven't conversed with Hart, but if I did, one of the issues I would discuss with her is the need for an artist to be universal. After reading about her and listening to and reading some of her work, I believe part of her failure to connect can be explained by a failure to relate to Everyman or Woman. When writers speak of universality, we don't mean everyone has to write about everything. We mean that the characters and settings we choose to write about need to be made comprehendible by people not from the same background. Much of Hart's material focuses on a narrow conception of the experience of being black, low-income and ghettoized. Though characters in a ghetto or barrio can be just as universal as any others, one must depict them broadly, as human beings first, to make them so.

Near the same time, I read about Hart in WW, I was reading a collection of short stories by Rohinton Mistry. He is an Indian writer of Parsi descent who has resettled in Toronto. The book I was reading, Swimming Lessons: Other Stories from Firozsha Baag, is about the residents of a mainly Parsi apartment complex in Bombay. Though middle-class by Indian standards, they would be mostly working-class by ours. They take for granted the realities of those who don't have and aren't likely to get: leaking toilets, pealing wallpaper, roaches and rats, having to struggle to pay the rent. When I began reading Mistry, starting with his acclaimed novel, A Fine Balance, all I knew about Parsis was that they are one of the smaller sects in India and usually escape the clashes between religions and castes. I still am not sure what a sudra looks like. But, I do understand struggle, and that it is a constant of the human condition. It is that understanding, that element of commonality, that seems to be missing from Hart's work.

That may be partly because she has fallen under the spell of Afrocentricism. The movement too often seeks to empower persons of African descent via chauvinism, glorifying African-American culture and separating it from others. Such thinking is in direct conflict with the need for universality in art if it is to transcend differences between artist and audience.

Mistry, on the other hand, has taken characters set in a minority culture thousands of miles away and made them comprehendible by millions of readers worldwide. He does so by presenting the Parsis as people, hopelessly flawed but deserving of compassion. Hart, at 26, has plenty of time to develop as a writer. She may discover the need to paint portraits of her characters with warts and all eventually. (Serious artists usually do, to the chagrin of shallow people.) Then, she will understand the relationship between 'you' and the need to be universal.

posted by J. | 11:52 PM