An Archive Post: Obamania & Spike Lee

(Another one of my archive posts – this one from … urp… 2008, on my original military blog.

An age ago when I had to keep closer track of what currently bubbled up to the top of popular culture and remained there as a sort of curdled froth, suitable for generating one-liners for whatever radio show I was doing for Armed Forces Radio, I read a long interview with Spike Lee. This would have been about the time that he floated into everyone’s cultural consciousness as a specifically black filmmaker, with She’s Gotta Have It and Do The Right Thing; a new fresh voice with a quirky and nuanced take on being black in America. It was a revealing interview which left me shaking my head, because it seemed to me that Mr. Lee was animated by a deeply held conviction that the American establishment and white people everywhere were coldly, malevolently and persistently dedicated with every fiber of their being and every hour of every day, to the sole objective of “keeping the black man down.” It was the top item on the agenda at every business meeting, every political gathering, and the topic of fevered discussion at every dinner table and whispered in every cloakroom, yea verily, wherever were white Americans gathered – there was the grand conspiracy to ruin the black American community. Or at least make them have a crappy day.

I couldn’t at that time say much about what went on at political and business meetings – unless it was anything like commanders’ calls or unit staff meetings. But I could speak rather frankly about what went around the dinner tables of white folk in America; being, to the best of my knowledge (and a look in the mirror confirms this) a person of decided pallor. Yep – as far as I can tell, even onto Granny Jessie’s farthest ancestral generation in this United States (which dated to 1670 something – all the other ancestors were comparatively recent arrivals) they were all white. Anglo. WASP. Whatever. Family was white, neighborhood mostly but not exclusively white working class (with lashings of Japanese, Hispanic, European Jewish), schools integrated but mostly white (ditto), churches mostly white. Until I joined the Air Force, I swam in a pool of whiteness. After that point, I had quantities of friends, fellow barracks rats, NCOs, commanders, neighbors with, as one of them put it, a year-round very dark tan. But I could confidently say that white malevolence toward blacks – which Spike Lee took as a given as being ubiquitous and central to white life as Jello salads with crushed pineapple in them at Lutheran church pot-luck suppers – was an issue so far off the table that it wasn’t even in the same room.

It just never came up – well, except maybe at school, and in discussions of the civil rights movement; and in that venue I recall those others present rather mildly wished those black protesters well. Of course, segregation was not a good thing, racially-based poll taxes and tests, siccing police dogs on perfectly legitimate protest marches, or midnight lynchings; none of those things were approved of among those people I knew growing up. Separate drinking fountains, or separate but equal anything else were seen as pretty ridiculous. People ought to be judged by the content of their character and not the color of their skin; an eminently reasonable proposition, then and now. I was left shaking my head thinking that Spike Lee would be terribly distressed to know that there wasn’t any grand, overarching institutional malevolence towards blacks on the part of whites.

How deflating it would be for him to learn that there were only varying degrees of disinterest. But if it filled something in his life to believe so, to paint up his fellow citizens as unrelenting and tireless persecutors; it’s a free country. You’re free to believe whatever idiocy you choose – in the full knowledge that such belief says more about the believer than it does about those he believes it of. If Spike Lee and other movie people want to go wandering in their own fantasy-land, God knows they have enough company. It’s not called Hollywierd for nothing. The political realm is another matter.

6 thoughts on “An Archive Post: Obamania & Spike Lee”

  1. I think that it does hurt some people more to learn that others mildly wish them well, or have mild negative feelings, or don’t much think about it them at all. It sometimes seems that various activists would rather be hated than ignored. That they continue to insist “No, you hate us, I’m sure you do” suggests that it is either projection – or it is excuse-making: we don’t get ahead because we are being actively sabotaged. I guess the other alternatives would be even more uncomfortable.

    There is a parallel with how I feel about defending Western Civilisation. I have always regarded our progress in the West as a human accomplishment. I wasn’t extra=proud of it because it was white people, or males, or straight people or whatever. It never even occurred to me to think that way. I figured women or black people or whatever would have done just as well given the chance, had done some great things despite obstacles, that was mostly fixed and we’d all just go forward together. To be told over the last couple of decades that the accomplishments were largely negative, and that I only liked them because my status was enhanced somehow struck me as simply insane.

  2. It’s all about money:
    – promoting your movie/book/blog.
    – in the case of case of political extremists on both sides, its about fundraising. To get folks to send money to you, its critical to declare someone/something as the end of the world. “If only YOU would send me cash, we can stop this disaster”.

    There are a lot of non-profits whose real mission is raising money for themselves.

  3. Mom,
    Ditto. Sorry for this being lengthy, but it is history of the social engineering institution of choice.

    As a career Army combat arms officer, I recall the period of the early 1970’s as a time of racial unrest in the Army where the young Spike Lee-attitude black draftees would act out this narrative in obstructionist ways. Dapping was a sort of gang solidarity ritual that was meant to obstruct activities (such as mess hall serving or getting from one place or activity to another) and agitate the Man and specifically Whitey. Such things as this or pushing the appearence reg limits (hair length ((fro)), distinctive additional items worn on or with the uniform, “soul patch” mini beards below the lower lip, etc.) were very effective in reducing unity and creating group identity divisions. The soldiers of pallor did not visibly or apparently counter organize, but they were not pleased. After duty confrontations instituted by the “brothers” became a concern. In 1972 my company was deployed with M-16’s (no ammo) to put down “a disturbance” in the barracks of another comany in our battalion. We were trained in the vertical butt stroke and riot formation. No confrontation was required, just cold resolve.

    The officers and NCO’s of pallor, like myself, were somewhat dumb founded as what to do. We tended to wait to intervene until things got well past stupid. The NCO’s of year-round tan knew what to do and were important to eventually getting this situation under control. The first thing we had to do was convince the chain of command that these seemingly minor outward manifestations of group solidarity were a test of leadership resolve and unit cohesion. The farther up the chain the more convincing was required. Sensitivity training does not substitute for enforcing equal standards of conduct and rewarding performance. Secondly, our NCO’s had to serve notice on the Spike Lee wannabes that their attitude was the problem, not the solution, and would soon result in each of them paying the price with a painful ejection from the service. The NCO’s had all entered the Army and progressed in rank in earlier times when there was a legacy of segregation and racism. The NCO’s of year-round tan being living examples of merit treatment based on character and performance were key to defusing this situation. Fortunately the draft came to an end as well. The entire crisis probably wouldn’t have ever reached critical if the NCO corps hadn’t been so depleted by the VN war. By the end of the 1970’s the NCO corps was largely back and such unrest issues were behind us for the most part.

    The brass continued to attempt to insitutionally control for racial bias with offices of “equal opportunity” for decades (read quotas, sensitivity training, being careful to be politically correct, and which actually exacerbating group divisions). Same model is being used for gender issues of recent decades. As long as their metric goals were not met or exceeded, they double downed on their efforts. I believe Spike has taken his narrative from such bureaucratic processes. He’s too young to have actually experienced the height of Jim Crow, but the minority community attitude lives on with progressive fuel.

    While much damage has been done to combat efficiency through these progressive PC efforts, primarily by centralizing most promotion, selection, evaluation and assignment decisions at the highest level, the NCO corps has avoided some of the effect because promotions up to E-5 are at unit level so the really bad actors are weeded out. The officer corps has suffered more because from selection to initial promotions, etc. are centralized and subject to quotas and attitude norming. Fortunately our small unit centric combat actions of recent past have masked most of the effects on combat performance in large scale operations. There will be wholesale officer house cleaning at the field and GO level if we engage a peer opponent in large scale operations. Combat will be significantly uglier and bloodier than need be, just as VN and this “war on terror” has been, but at least an order of magnitude worse.


  4. To be told over the last couple of decades that the accomplishments were largely negative, and that I only liked them because my status was enhanced somehow struck me as simply insane.

    Maxine Waters as chair of a financial committee gives some evidence of the accomplishments of POC.

    There will be wholesale officer house cleaning at the field and GO level if we engage a peer opponent in large scale operations. Combat will be significantly uglier and bloodier than need be, just as VN and this “war on terror” has been, but at least an order of magnitude worse.

    The EM may be OK and the NCO level may be OK, but the officers from the “trade schools” will probably be the worst,

    This is certainly not reassuring.

    First and foremost, standards at West Point are nonexistent. They exist on paper, but nowhere else. The senior administration at West Point inexplicably refuses to enforce West Point’s publicly touted high standards on cadets, and, having picked up on this, cadets refuse to enforce standards on each other. The Superintendent refuses to enforce admissions standards or the cadet Honor Code, the Dean refuses to enforce academic standards, and the Commandant refuses to enforce standards of conduct and discipline. The end result is a sort of malaise that pervades the entire institution. Nothing matters anymore. Cadets know this, and it has given rise to a level of cadet arrogance and entitlement the likes of which West Point has never seen in its history.

    Every fall, the Superintendent addresses the staff and faculty and lies. He repeatedly states that “We are going to have winning sports teams without compromising our standards,” and everyone in Robinson Auditorium knows he is lying because we routinely admit athletes with ACT scores in the mid-teens across the board. I have personally taught cadets who are borderline illiterate and cannot read simple passages from the assigned textbooks. It is disheartening when the institution’s most senior leader openly lies to his own faculty-and they all know it.

    The cadet honor code has become a laughingstock.

  5. Spike Lee had a point. but he misidentified who held the spear it was on. I say it was the Democrats, not “all whites”.

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