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             RACE IN THE AGE OF W

 

                 By Walton Muyumba

 

                     Friday, October 24, 2008.

 

Recently the late author, Norman Mailer came to mind as I sat considering the machinations of whiteness and masculinity in American life. In 2003 Mailer, one of America's most famous white men and "white Negroes," predicted America’s current condition of manifold social, political and economic decline in his acerbic essay "The White Man Unburdened."

 

Though many of his critiques of African Americans and women foundered as dubious (if not plain wrong), Mailer was always a reliable critic of white American masculinity.


In an effort to analyze our wanton and exuberant Iraq war-lust, Mailer points to our craven desire for manipulated and televised displays of dominance as a major factor for the drive to the military invasion of Baghdad.

 

But behind what Mailer calls the "Advertising Science"'s trumpeting the war was a "minor but significant" effort to charge the enthusiasm of white American men, raising them again to the top of the national social order.

 

Understanding that conservative white men had taken "a daily drubbing" from feminists and the women's movement, while also losing their stake in major professional sports to black male genius, Tiger included, Bush, Mailer argues, played to their addiction to victory by using "sports, the corporate ethic (advertising), and the American flag" in order to develop "many psychic connections with the military."

 

According to Mailer, what Bush has always counted on is that "if we could not find our machismo anywhere else, we could certainly count on the interface between combat and technology," because, at least, "we knew we were likely to be good at [war]."


I think that this is the same kind of ethos that Mark Anthony Neal described recently as "hypermasculinity." Writing about the recent rash of gun violence and murder in Chicago, Neal returns to an analytical claim he's been making for a few years now: that the possibility of performing a sensitive, analytical brand of American masculinity, especially African American masculinity, is being oppressed by conceptualizations of wartime hypermasculinity — all power and domination.

 

While public policy has "failed to protect many of these young [black] men," the worst failing has come from "our most representative and influential model of said hypermasculinity: the current President of the United States."

Though we could point without hesitation to Bush's flawed representation, we must also indict black folk for failing their responsibilities to police their communities against gun violence and "to develop more on-the-ground strategies to equip young black men to make life-affirming choices." Yet these actions may not be enough unless "we fundamentally dismantle the way we think of manhood in this country," whether we are reading Bush or 50 Cent as our representative man.

It true that we've become "insensitive" to the violence around us. We've become accustomed to hearing or reading news of young Negroes dropping each other in the street like so much litter. The spiritual vacuity represented by these murders is part and parcel of the emptiness that now pervades American culture from the greed-induced decline in the market to a presidential-political season riven by dishonesty and disingenuous chatter.


I think that those murders in Chicago, and the killing in our streets across the country, have brought the botched wars in Afghanistan and Iraq back home to us, and now we must come to terms with blood on the scarecrow, blood on the plow, blood in the streets, and blood on our hands. In his analysis, Neal implies but does not speak of the all-white elephant in the room that Frank Rich essayed about in his Sunday Times column. Namely, that this Bushian hypermasculinity is elemental to our leader's specific brand of white American masculinity.


Ultimately, we can connect the intelligence of Neal and Mailer and see that Bush's stand against intelligent analysis or forthright empathy with others in favor of market and military domination (even while evidence of these failing ideologies lie strewn about), his emptiness is representative of a retrograde and degrading masculinity.

 

In the wake of Bush's "Mission Accomplished" speech, Mailer, writing with flourish and acuity, explained a rising American vacancy:

 

“Be it said: the motives that lead to a nation's major historical acts can probably rise no higher than the spiritual understanding of its leadership. While George W. may not know as much as he believes he knows about the dispositions of God's blessing, he is driving us at high speed all the same—this man at the wheel whose most legitimate boast might be that he knew how to parlay the part-ownership of a major-league baseball team into a gubernatorial win in Texas. And—shall we ever forget?—was catapulted, by legal finesse and finagling, into a now-tainted but still almighty hymn: Hail to the Chief!”


No, we will rise no higher than the spiritual understanding of our leadership. And now that the ardor of victory has begun to cool, some will see how it is flawed. For we are victim once again of all those advertising sciences that depend on mendacity and manipulation. We have been gulled about the real reasons for this war, tweaked and poked by some of the best button-pushers around to believe that we won a noble and necessary contest when, in fact, the opponent was a hollowed-out palooka whose monstrosities were ebbing into old age.

 

As the social anthropologist John Jackson, Jr. has diagnosed so acutely, we are all under the stranglehold of racial paranoia, a malady that we refuse to discuss and that keeps us from being able to adequately analyze the workings of whiteness, let alone blackness.The problem, however, is that we refuse to face our racial paranoia .

 

This paranoia also infects the way that Bush has attempted to deal (or not) with the intricacies of African American disaffection and Arab/Muslim terrorism. The Bush administration's inability to foment real opportunities for its own at-risk people on the domestic front speaks clearly to its inability to foment real change internationally.

 

Walton Muyumba is a writer, critic, and university professor living in Dallas, Texas. He describes his blog, Studio-Walton Muyumba, as his public work space. He is using it as a gallery for his work and as a workshop to pound out new ideas about music, fiction, philosophy and politics.

 

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