Ghosts of Ole Miss

Ghost of Ole Miss

The ESPN series 30 For 30, available on Netflix, is really great.  I think today I saw one of the best, if not the best.  It was called Ghosts of Ole Miss and it covered the undefeated Ole Miss football team of 1962.  More importantly, it also covered the bravery of James Meredith and the riots that ensued because of him being the first black student admitted to the University of Mississippi.

However, if this was just a documentary about history, I don’t think I would be writing about it.  (Even though it is a completely enthralling piece of filmmaking that covers a time period that many Americans would like to forget.)  For anyone that doesn’t understand the controversy surrounding the Confederate flag, or thinks that controversy is much to do over nothing, I think this is something you must watch.  The film is also great at providing the missing link between the Civil War and modern day problems dealing with race.  I also don’t think race is the only modern political situation this film is relevant to.  At a time when we are seeing local and state politicians try to stand up to the federal government on the issue of gay marriage, one can’t help but see their historical counterparts in this film.

There is also a positive element to this film.  Even though the film does not make the claim that all race issues are gone are settled in Mississippi, as they clearly aren’t there or anywhere else, the film does acknowledge that great strides have been made.  As dark as the history showcased in this film is, there is hope that, over time, people can change.

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The Party of Jackson vs. The Party of Obama

The Party of Jackson vs. the Party of Obama – NYMag

The above article is an interesting read about the history of the Democratic party.  It also deals with recent events and the friction between different elements of the party.  The other day I saw this map, which shows which areas of the country have the most racist tweets.  I was surprised, maybe not totally surprised having grown up around that region, but at least slightly surprised that the region that looked the worst on that map was Appalachia.  (I grew up in central Pennsylvania and went to college in West Virginia.)  Now there may be reasons that this map is slightly misleading, though I have no proof of that.  The fact that it is Twitter and not some kind of more scientific poll may change results.  There are also less blacks in that region than in other parts of the country that are more traditionally thought of as racist, so maybe people feel they have less reason to hide what they are saying?  Anyhow, anyway you cut it, it is deeply troubling for that region.  (I should also add that as someone that travels a lot, no one should be stereotyped just because of the region they come from.  There are great people in the South and Appalachia, just as there are terrible people in regions that are not as negatively stereotyped for racial issues.)

One of the things that the right has been so good at doing is dividing and conquering.  Economically minorities and white working class voters would both benefit from a less conservative agenda.  Having better access to good jobs, good education, and having more regulations, especially in areas of pollution, leads to a higher quality of life.  However, these social issues have always been used to divide our country.  United we stand, divided we fall, is now as true as ever.  If we can’t overcome our differences in this age, when jobs can move anywhere in the world and environmental issues require a united front, we are truly doomed.

Ta-Nehisi Coates On Why the Confederate Flag Should Be Taken Down In South Carolina

Take Down the Confederate Flag Now

I would never argue to ban a flag.  Not because there are any flags that I’m expecting to wave anytime soon, but because I believe in freedom of expression, even the freedom to express views that are misguided.  However, there is a big difference between giving people the choice to wave their own flag and putting it up over a statehouse, where it carries the weight of law with it.  I know there are some that say the Confederate Flag carries history and heritage with it, but if you look at that history it is troubling to say the least.  Up above Ta-Nehisi Coates makes the argument that the Confederate Flag should be taken down, with the weight of history on his side.  I picked Coates because I know that he has done a great deal of time studying the history of slavery, The Civil War, and the legacy of those times.  I’ve read him long enough to know that he has done the heavy lifting, the research, on these questions.  Anyone can spout their opinion, but Coates has long been interested in these very things.  I’ve read enough history myself that, while I wouldn’t claim to be an expert on such things, Coates words ring true to me in that they stack up with the things that I have read.

Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t like culture wars for the sake of them and I don’t like acts of symbolism.  I’d much rather know that racism was stamped out than to see a flag taken down.  However, again the fact that this flag is hung up on a public building is what I find troubling.  Taking the flag down in no way means that issues of institutional racism are stamped out.  But at the same time flying a flag that has stood for institutional racism over an institution is a little strange, especially if you are one of those that claims there is no institutional racism.  Taking it down is a symbol and a gesture and no more.  It doesn’t solve anything in and of itself, but it at least says, “we’re working on it,” doesn’t it?

If you want to hang that flag on your house or put it as a bumper-sticker on your car, as they say in Deadwood, “That is between you and your god.”  But I think, given what that flag has represented over the years, taking it down from government buildings is a pretty damn good idea.

Dock Ellis As Icarus

The truth is never simple and yet it is. The truth is we did kill him. By silence we consented… because we couldn’t go on. But by Ares, what did we have to look forward to but to be discarded in the end like Cleitus? After all this time, to give away our wealth to Asian sycophants we despised? Mixing the races? Harmony? Oh, he talked of these things. I never believe in his dream. None of us did. That’s the truth of his life. The dreamers exhaust us. They must die before they kill us with their blasted dreams. – Old Ptolemy, regarding Alexander the Great, in the movie Alexander

Last night I watched No No: A Dockumentary, a documentary about the baseball player Dock Ellis.  He was famous for, among many things, throwing a no hitter on LSD.  The documentary was worth watching, really good even, but not exceptional.  The footage and the interviews were fantastic, but something about the way the different pieces were put together, the narrative arc, seemed a little loose and unfocused.

One of the things that I found disappointing, but did not take away from my enjoyment of the film, was the end of the film’s focus on Ellis getting clean and teaching prisoners how to reenter life.  Now this is true to life. I also don’t wish to discount what is obviously a noble pursuit for anyone.  But for most of the film Ellis is Icarus before the crash.  You know, because he is mortal, that his wings will melt, but you can’t help but enjoy watching him fly to close to the sun.  So often society wants the outcome of the Icarus myth.  They show a brief shot of his obituary and the newspaper’s headline says something about how he overcame drugs.  For much of his life Ellis was the black ball player that, during a time of extreme racial prejudice, refused to keep his head down.  He not only was a physical mutant, succeeding in MLB while being extremely high, but also quite fearless in his behavior.  When black ball players were expected to keep their mouths shut, enduring things that can only be seen as outright ignorance, Ellis refused to play by the rules of society.  He was never one of the silent masses, guilty by consent.

Early in the movie the film talks about how black ball players, in certain parts of the country, were supposed to stay in different hotels than the white players.  This is obviously insanely stupid.  Black ball players also had to deal with everything from racial epithets to threatening letters.  Ellis never let this kind of discrimination water down his personality.  He was bold and proud when the world wanted him to be meek, quiet, and safe.

Society, even today, wants people to know their place.  I don’t even necessarily mean this in a racial way.  It wants people to tow the line.  It wants people to apologize for their personal transgressions.  But the world needs people like Ellis.  It needs freaks and mutants that by design or will can’t conform.  Although there are many ways to challenge the absurdity of the world, one way is to match its absurdity blow by blow, to refuse to bend to the will of the ignorant.  For a longtime Ellis out-crazied the whirlwind.

He eventually takes it too far.  As one ages their body can no longer handle the excess of youth.  Society is more powerful than the individual and it eventually will take the edges off someone or destroy them.  Very few, like George Carlin, actually get bolder with age.  Even if you refuse to bend to the will of society, life will eventually defeat you.  But for a little while he was out their defying the powerful, even defying the gods.  He was up there in the clouds, free and beautiful, a mythic character in the flesh.

I’m not saying his later deeds do not deserve commendation.  His work with those on the outskirts of society were noble, good, and worthy of respect.  But don’t for a second discount his earlier accomplishments.  He was a heroic mutant, momentarily shaking off the shackles of the mortal.  I’m glad he was out there, for a little while…

Madonna Banned for Age and What This Means For Culture

Madonna Banned for Age

Although I love some of her early singles, I am not what one would consider a Madonna fan.  However, the above article is something I find troubling.  Apparently the BBC have declined to play her latest single due to that fact that her and her audience are too old. 

First of all this is completely senseless.  When I was thirteen I remember listening to the Doors, a band from my parents generation.  Even now many of my favorite artists are decades older than me.  This wasn’t just true of me, but all my friends.   I remember parties in highschool listening to classic rock and early 80’s post punk, despite the fact that even the early 80’s stuff came out when I was a couple years old.  (I was born in 1978.)

People like what they are exposed to.  If you are a kid and you hear something you like, you are going to listen to it if you have any sense of self.  If you don’t hear it, at any age, you aren’t going to like it.  Plain and simple. 

Age, like sex, race, and sexual orientation,  is just another way to divide people. 

Here is what I find particularly troubling about this:  When it comes to a pop artist, although it is still senseless and wrong, it does not necessarily affect the world in any major way.  However,  there are a lot of older artists that are effective at critiquing society, that speak truth to power.  Jackson Browne, Morrissey, Springsteen, Chuck D, and on and on have been effective chroniclers of what is going on in society.  They are all in their 50’s and 60’s at this point.  It is not hard to see someone in power using age to not play music, something that is not always thought of as political, in order to effectively silence political dissent.   “Oh we are not going to play anything off of Jackson Browne’s Standing in the Breach because we don’t play music by older artists.”  This is when Jackson Browne released one of the most intelligent albums of last year, which was also highly political on certain tracks.  The same goes for the rest of that list. 

Divide and conquer.   This is another fictitious way of dividing people, who may have similar beliefs, interests, and passions, in a way that is currently possible without looking like censorship.  Chuck D is much older than most pop stars, but he is the one bringing the thunder, preaching change, speaking truth to power.  A disenchanted kid, if they were to discover him, might be inclined to listen to him over the other music choices they are currently being presented with.  That isn’t to say that kids aren’t smart enough to find and seek things out on their own, but they have a better chance of finding someone like Chuck D the more exposure he gets.  Age is one of the last ways you can openly discredit someone without looking like a neanderthal.  

More Shocking News On Ferguson

More Shocking News On Ferguson

More shocking news is coming out of the DOJ report on Ferguson.   Until we as a country can address the fact that rich white bankers who rob millions often get off with no jail time, while innocent people of color are often harassed by police on a daily basis, we must realize that we live in an unjust society.   We can do better! 

Injustice in Ferguson

Details From Ferguson

The details emerging from the Justice Department’s investigation into Ferguson are pretty ugly.  There is definitely racism is our criminal justice system and this is just the latest example.  If you don’t think there is, you are probably white, and you probably haven’t read enough.  Again, I think one of the best one stop shop reads you can have on this subject for modern times is Matt Taibbi’s The Divide:  American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap.  But if you are somehow new to all of this just read the details in the above article, it won’t take very long.  A few samples:

  • Ferguson’s black drivers were more than twice as likely as their white counterparts to be stopped and searched, according to records over two years. Black drivers were also 26 percent less likely to be found in possession of contraband.
  • According to the police department’s internal records concerning force, 88 percent of those cases involved force against blacks. All 14 canine bite incidents involved blacks.
  • Blacks were 68 percent less likely than others to have their cases dismissed in municipal court. An arrest warrant was more likely to be issued for blacks.