Archive for 2003

The Mother of All Racial Preferences: Reflections on Affirmative Action for White Folks

A slightly different version of this essay appeared as a ZNet Commentary, 5/24/03 Ask a fish what water is and you’ll get no answer, and not only because fish can’t speak. Even if they were capable of vocalizing a reply, they wouldn’t have one for such a question. When water surrounds you every minute of […]

Cleaning Up the Funk: Commencement Speech at Grinnell College, 2003

Published on ZNet,, 5/20/03 Thank you very much, to the administration, faculty, assembled guests and parents but mostly to the graduating seniors, who for some totally inexplicable reason have chosen me to give today’s commencement address. I am still convinced that there must have been some terrible, terrible mistake, perhaps some kind of vote […]

Inventing Jayson Blair: Reflections on White Privilege and Hypocrisy

Published as a ZNet Commentary, May 19, 2003 If Jayson Blair did not exist, white America would have to create him. The confirmed New York Times plagiarist and all-around journalistic con man, after all, is the perfect foil for those whites who have always needed to find a dark face capable of confirming pre-existing biases […]

Parable of the Bad Samaritan: Reflections on War and Collateral Damage Control

Published on ZNet,, 4/16/03 It appears as if contributions are pouring in from around the world, especially the U.S. and Great Britain, to help pay for the many surgeries needed by the Iraqi boy being called (in the Western media at least), “little Ali.” Putting aside the patronizing namesake given him by his current […]

Liberation or Libation: Media Propaganda and the Discovery of “Happy Iraqis”

Published on ZNet,, 4/03/03 I figured it would happen sooner or later. Having written several columns questioning the notion that the current war in Iraq is about “liberation” of that nation’s people, it was only a matter of time before I received an email like the one this morning. “Well smartass,” it began, indicating […]

So This is What War Looks Like: Hubris Meets Reality in the Desert

Published as a ZNet Commentary, April 3, 2003 Well, now we know. War is not a high-tech video game, or grainy footage of bombs as seen through night-vision goggles. It’s not swiftly moving tanks, displaying their mechanical prowess across the sands of the Iraqi desert. It’s not like the war games the soldiers planned for. […]

Of Lies, Liberation and American Self-Delusion: Reflections on the Dangers of National Self-Love

Published on ZNet,, 3/27/03 Iraqis must think the American definition of liberation a strange one. First, we destroy all of the key government buildings that we can find in a search for Saddam Hussein. Then we relentlessly attack the Iraqi military, which of course counts among its troops, members of tens of thousands of […]

The Moral Calculus of Killing: Precision Bombing and the American Definition of Innocence

Published on ZNet,, 3/24/03 Imagine if you will that an enemy nation — for the sake of argument, let’s say North Korea, or China — were to attack the United States. And let’s say they launched missiles and dropped bombs specifically on Washington D.C., having targeted the White House, Capitol Building, and Pentagon, and […]

We are all Collateral Damage Now: Reflections on War as Emotional Botox

Published on ZNet,, 3/22/03 I remember the first time I ever visited inmates on Tennessee’s death row. What struck me about the experience was not so much the solemnity or the pall of pending execution that hung over the place, like a threatening storm cloud. Nor was it the incredible humanity and even decency […]

No Ribbons, No Flags, No Fireworks: An Open Letter to Pro-War Americans

Published as a ZNet Commentary, 3/21/03 Dear Neighbor, Please spare me the lecture. Likewise, don’t bother asking why I refuse to tie a yellow ribbon around the tree in my yard, or put out a flag, or slather my Honda Civic with “Support the Troops” bumper stickers. I don’t feel like explaining it every time […]