Friday, December 15, 2006

More on McGee

In response to a recent post here on Michael McGee, Jr., Lew Wasserman writes that "McGee (Sr. or Jr.) gives a significant portion of his community what it wants by doing nothing more than appearing to be "sticking it to the man" and that it is naive to underestimate how pervasive this sentiment is among African-Americans."

I hope that I do not underestimate that sentiment, my point is that it is an unfortunate and largely unproductive sentiment. Lat night on Eric Von's show, we got into debate about just that. Robert Miranda, launching into one of his flights of the type of rhetoric that you used to have a find a Black Panther rally to hear, seemed to argue that McGee is the Malcolm to someone's else's Martin in a racial game of good cop/bad cop. Retired UWM professor and former radio host and columnist Dave Berkman, while critical of McGee (largely for his alleged homophobia) suggested that maybe we would someday come to see people like McGee as today's Martin. Eric, always the realist, said that no black politicians seem to be able to get what they want anyway so the efficacy of McGee's tactics are no greater or weaker than those of anyone else.

My point is that, if there are concerns that need to be pressed on behalf of Milwaukee's central city, the behavior of the McGees pretty much gives the rest of us license to ignore it - or at least to do so when he is the one leading the charge. While the McGees would be the first to say that they don't care about what the rest of us think (and would probably put it more colorfully), I'm not sure that's a luxury that an African-American political leader who wishes to accomplish something can afford, at least if he or she is committed to traditional liberal approaches (or some variant on them) to inner city distress.

Those solutions are predicated on the assumption that there needs to be a transfer of resources from those (presumably outside of "the community")who have them to those who do not. This requires engaging the community at large (even by shaming it) rather than convincing them that you are a racist thug who has nothing worthwhile to say about anything. You can celebrate this tweaking of the white establishment as "prophetic advocacy" but it gets exactly nothing done. It might make some of McGee's constituents feel better, but it leaves them as they were before.

Brother Wasserman writes that "I'm not sure, but it is entirely possible that we (all of us) are on the wrong side of the "event horizon" of race relations." I think that's a useful metaphor. I'm not sure how he means it, but I would suggest that we cannot see past the racial script that was written in the sixties. But the thing about an event horizon is that there are things that are happening beyond it and, with respect to questions of race and poverty, there are ways to think about them other than the way we used to in 1969.


Dad29 said...

Nice insight.

Anonymous said...

Good post Rick.

I tuned in to Eric's show yesterday and almost crashed my car when I heard McGee being compared to two prolific men (Martin and Malcolm). That was disturbing. We live in a totally different era. Place the McGee Jr. that we know today in the middle of the Civil Rights Movement and I am sure he’d be shunned if not "hung". Integrity was to be maintained and moral codes were not to be broken in that era. Personal issues aside, McGee should be placed into a category of his own, but if I had to compare him to anyone it would be NYC’s Charles Barron.

The McGee/Martin comparison clearly shows the desperation of some people in the Black community. Some people are aching for a modern day Martin/Malcolm, therefore any person with enough guts to stand up and fight against white supremacy will be supported no matter what. Some people are so desperate that they are willing to dismiss mental issues as mere character flaws and ignore “warrior” tactics that may be controversial or detrimental. I believe this desperation contributes to the dependency of Black people, which hinders our self-sufficiency. Instead of handing out “Get Out of Jail Free” cards, people should hand out criticism. I think some Black people interpret criticism as a form of oppression. Therefore if a Black person criticizes another Black person, that Black critic is viewed as an “Uncle Tom”. (Criticism is not a bad thing and as a Black woman, I've survived it on numerous occasions.)

I agree with Eric Von’s point about black politicians. A Black politician’s tactics are not as relevant as the type of relationship he or she has with their colleagues. McGee’s success legislatively is slim, one of his colleagues condemned him publicly and many of his colleagues urged him to apologize for what some perceived to be homophobic remarks. Regardless to those facts, he does respond to the demands of many of his constituents. He has a strong following that rally behind him when he addresses racial issues, but people should choose their racial battles wisely.
(The Jude beating needed to be addressed. The Wauwatosa stunt seemed egotistical if not uncalled for. McGee’s plea agreement supports my belief.)

People lie in order to influence the perception of others; therefore I believe that McGee cares a lot about what people think. He has the ability to manipulate the masses, including the media in order to maintain control of his circumstances, which equals power. I think McGee feeds off that power and is a puppet master in the Black community. *Most politicians are opportunists and puppet masters*.

Milwaukee’s Black community reminds me of the “passive parent” I often see in a grocery store or mall. The parent ignores the tantrum of their disruptive child as others look on in disgust. Although others find the child to be obnoxious, the parent is used to their child’s antics. If the child’s tantrum continues, the parent will give in to their child’s desires only to temporally pacify the spoiled brat.

Is McGee Jr. the Black community’s spoiled brat? I wonder.

Anonymous said...

I apologize for the oblique reference to the cosmology of singularities (black holes). According to Hawking, once you cross the "event horizon" you can never go back to the other side. Hawking posits that an astronaut who has crossed the event horizon may not even feel the difference - at first. So what I was trying to say, plainly, but I failed in that, is that we may be beyond being able to, or have sufficient understanding how to, repair the damage caused by racism and and the responsive racial consciousness. I think we don't know, so it's sort of like one of Rumsfeld's unknown unknowns. Yikes.

Rick Esenberg said...

No need to apologize, Lew, I think I was just focusing on a different aspect of it. If an event horizon is something across which we cannot see or move, it follows tht there is something that we don't see or reach. But maybe we aren't bound by the law of physics when it comes to race relations. Maybe we can cross back. In saying that, however, I understand that I am asking people to credit my sense of what is beyond the event horizon and that I need to be open to what I may not see. I am fairly certain, however, that the McGees can't help me do that.

Rick Esenberg said...

And, I have to say, young Kim's comment suggests that crossing back may be possible.