Patriotism is Still a Pathology (Revisiting an Old Essay, More Relevant Now Than Ever)

In light of the recent ventilations of Rudy Giuliani, to the effect that President Obama doesn’t “love America” like “the rest of us do” — because of the way the president has framed, among other things, the actions of ISIS and our response to it — I thought it might be worthwhile to revisit an essay I wrote back in 2001 at the outset of the so-called “war on terror.” Though dated in places, it also seems more prescient than ever, especially the point that patriotism — and what those who cleave to this concept consider “patriotic” — is often against the actual best interests of the country they claim to love so much. In this sense, patriotism is not merely, as the old saying goes, the last refuge of a scoundrel, but it is also the thing such persons readily substitute for a sober-minded assessment of the real interests of their country and its people. Such “love of country” as endorsed by Giuliani, Sarah Palin and the “isn’t America exceptional?” bunch, in other words, is decidedly counterproductive and dysfunctional in most cases. Although I am working on a newer piece addressing these issues, and challenging the notion that those on the right “love” the United States more than those on the left, I also felt it would be worth circulating this piece again too. Because as was true then, so is it true now that patriotism (which goes beyond merely loving the country and its people, descending instead into a form of nation-worship) is a pathology, and one worthy of being discarded.

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Another Day Another Hate Post…

Can people be this illiterate? Even white nationalists?

I find myself wondering this today, having come across a new posting from the Council of Conservative Citizens (which despite its rather innocuous sounding name is a well-established hate group), encouraging people to show up at my speeches over the next several months and challenge me, presumably with words, but one suspects quite possibly with more than that.

According to the CCC, I deserve to be confronted because I have openly advocated killing members of the Tea Party. Wait, what? Oh, you missed where I did that? Yeah, that’s because it never happened. Thus my earlier reference to the rather stunning inability of right wing racists to read the plain English found in my tweets or columns. Sadly, this claim is believed by others in the larger Nazi orbit, like the folks at DailySlave (yes, they actually think white people are being enslaved, seriously), who announced on their site: “JEW RAT TIM WISE TO SPREAD ANTI-WHITE HATRED ON NEW SPEAKING TOUR” Ah yes, spreading the anti-white hatred. Because — and much to the surprise of my very white wife, children, mom and best friend — I am all about the anti-white hatred. And if you don’t like it, cracker devil, you can kiss my white ass. Oh, by the way, later the same folks who called me a “JEW RAT” also called me a “pig devil” (sort of a mixed metaphor and totally ironic given the whole Jew thing), so you know they mean business. Just sayin’.

Anyhoo, I was concerned when I saw the thing about calling for the murder of Tea Partiers. Though I certainly didn’t recall saying such a thing, I suppose one never knows. I have said some shit on social media I later regretted (haven’t we all?), so I must admit I was curious and clicked the link provided by my Nazi friends just to make sure…

Oh, that…nope that’s just Nazis being Nazis: either unable to to read (education not being their strong suit), or deliberately distorting the facts so as to gin up hostility and possibly violence against me. Well played skinheads. Well played.

So let’s clear some shit up, shall we?

First, I have never advocated violence against anyone. Ever. I have called repeatedly for the right to be crushed politically, utterly and completely destroyed as a viable political force. But not through violence, as I actually think violence for those ends would be not only immoral but counterproductive and only engender more violence and repression from the right in response. I want the Tea Party politically decimated, in other words, as with the larger conservative movement, but not physically harmed. There is a huge difference here as any remotely intelligent person should be able to discern. The fact that I have to actually explain it is pathetic, but sadly, this is the illiterate social media world in which we live, where context and analysis don’t matter, so when you say you want people “crushed” there will be those who accuse you of wanting to drop heavy buildings on them for that purpose…sigh.

As for what I actually said, and which was twisted into “Tim Wise encourages his followers to shoot Tea Partiers in the head,” here’s the deal. All of this, literally all of it, is based on a tweet. This tweet:


Ok, Ok, so saying “fuck these assholes” wasn’t very nice. My bad. I would have written, “aggressively fornicate with these cretinous anal sphincters,” but it was Twitter for God’s sakes and one only gets 140 characters, so ya know, give me a break. Anyway, as for the rest of it, only a complete fool or craven liar could think it amounted to advocating killing people.

The story to which I was referring in the tweet had to do with Tea Partiers who were openly trying to stop certain people (of color, of course) from voting by challenging their legitimacy as registered voters. They were also upset that voters of color in certain precincts with long voter lines were being provided with bottled water as a way to encourage them to stay on line (thinking such a thing tantamount to “buying votes” apparently) and were seeking to disrupt the water handouts. Their goal? To make waiting in line to vote as unpleasant as possible and thus, hopefully, to limit how many such persons of color would actually cast a ballot. In other words, they were interfering with one of the most fundamental privileges of citizenship—the liberty of voting. I was merely saying that if someone tries to suppress your liberties, you should exercise one of the most basic of those (at least, according to the very right wingers who are now complaining), by pulling a gun from your waistband, to which you are legally entitled apparently, and pointing it at anyone who would do such a thing, in effect telling them in very obvious terms to back the hell up. Such a thing is not tantamount to advocating murder unless one believes that “exercising their second amendment rights in their faces” means shooting people, which would first require believing that the second amendment gives one the right to kill people, which even the Supreme Court hasn’t said (yet!).

That anyone would interpret that as a call for violence is self-evidently preposterous. If the whole cause of my anger at the Tea Party that day was their attempt to limit black and brown voting, why would I want voters of color who were being harassed to shoot anyone? After all, I’m pretty sure that after you shoot someone, police don’t wait for you to cast your ballot before arresting you. In short: violence towards the right-wingers promising to interfere with the voting process would only serve to limit the number of persons of color getting to vote that day—the exact opposite of my desire and the inverse of the entire reason for sending that tweet in the first place.

Ironically, the threat of force against those who would interfere with basic liberties is pretty much the daily banter on right wing websites. They don’t just threaten it, they promise it, if any of those awful black UN helicopters show up at their door to “take their guns,” or send them to a FEMA camp or whatever the hell. In short, reactionaries regularly call for pulling guns, and even using them against those who would interfere with their rights. But when I say the same thing — basically calling for folks of color to demonstrate their second amendment rights if and when conservative activists try and keep them from exercising their liberties — then I’m the bad guy, and I’m the one who is calling for murder? Seriously, the stupid hurts it’s so raw and filled with infection.

So no, Tea Partiers: I didn’t advocate shooting you in the head. I mean, with those stupid revolutionary war tricorn hats y’all wear that wouldn’t be a very high percentage shot anyway. Everyone knows, body mass fool, body mass…*

*This is a joke assholes.

Take Two Seats: What’s Really Behind Jewish Anger Over “Selma?” (Guest Commentary by Stacey Patton)

The following is an essay by author and journalist Stacey Patton, which I have decided to publish on my site for a few important reasons: first, because as with all of her work, this piece is hard-hitting, analytically on-point and presents a vital perspective that needs to be heard; and secondly because despite the above, it has been rejected for publication by several other sources. Why? Because according to those who rejected it, the commentary is “anti-Semitic.” As a Jew (not religiously any longer, but I guess socially/culturally and occasionally politically) who knows how quickly many of us are to scream “anti-Semite” at anyone who says anything critical of any Jewish leader, individual (or of course, Israel), I was intrigued. So I read the essay and could not find even one syllable that qualified for the designation. And because many in the Jewish community have been complaining about the “erasure” of Jewish participation in the civil rights movement, as portrayed in the movie Selma — and because I feel that this complaint reeks of hypocrisy and even a kind of group-based narcissism — I decided it was important to publish Patton’s piece here.

By Stacey Patton

It’s not just Chris Matthews, the LBJ loyalists and George Wallace’s son that are unhappy with Ava DuVernay’s Selma; there is a group of Jews that are equally outraged.  Despite claims about historic accuracy and erasure of Jewish leaders involved in Selma and the broader civil rights movement, there is much more to these gripes over a film about African American protests.

Leida Snow’s review, “Selma Distorts History by Airbrushing Out Jews,” in the Jewish Daily Forward, asserts that, “the narrative strategy of the film leads to a glaring omission … the contribution that thousands of white people, many of them Jewish, made to the Civil Rights Movement.”

Snow points out that, while Dr. King is shown embracing a Greek Orthodox priest, and visible among many whites is a Catholic priest and a minister, she “looked in vain for the embrace of a man with a yarmulke, a scene that would reflect the historical moment when Dr. King marched with Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, a leading Jewish theologian and philosopher widely respected beyond the Jewish community.” Although Heschel was present in the grainy documentary footage at the end of the film, Snow notes that the rabbi was not visible in the body of the film, nor were any other Jews openly recognized.

The omission of Heschel is central to Peter Dreier’s rant, “The Rabbi Missing from Selma,” in the Jewish Journal. He argues that having King and other leaders featured in the front row of the Selma protest, including Heschel, would not have diminished the film’s emphasis on the centrality of African Americans in the civil rights struggle.  However, he adds, “it would have lent the film more historical accuracy, not simply about one man but as a representative of the role Jews played in the freedom struggle.”

Even Heschel’s daughter, Susannah Heschel weighed in via JTA the Global Jewish News Source, stating that, “…for my father Abraham Joshua Heschel and for many participants, the march was both an act of political protest and a profoundly religious moment: an extraordinary gathering of nuns, priests, rabbis, black and white, a range of political views, from all over the United States.”

Interestingly, not all Jewish observers agreed that Selma should have focused more on Heschel or other Jews. Katie Rosenblatt’s response to Snow’s criticism of Selma in The Jewish Daily Forward calls Snow out as “dangerous for several reasons.” Charging that “Snow makes this critique by drawing selectively from American Jewish history,” Rosenblatt states that Snow’s review revises history to ignore the act that the Civil Rights Movement was led by Blacks with a “small proportion of Jews playing significant roles.”

A piece in My Jewish Learning by Lonnie Kleinman and Lex Rofes titled “Selma: It’s Not About Jews and that’s Okay,” refutes Snow’s criticism by pointing out that Selma “could have mentioned Jews. It could have featured inspirational Freedom Summer veterans, as Snow asserts—and just as easily, while we may not like to admit it, it could have featured Jews like Sol Tepper, who wrote dozens of articles for the Selma Times Journal advocating for segregation and was quite hostile towards Civil Rights advocates. Good or bad, Jews could have been included more—but that’s not the focus of this film. This omission is not a ‘distortion.’”

Why is the inclusion or omission of a Jewish person a major point of criticism about a Black-helmed film that focuses on a slice of history to spotlight the African-American struggle for voting rights?

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Not Just a Joke: Reflections on Free Speech, Violence and Mislabeled Heroism

Many years ago, when discussing the issue of hate speech and how it should be addressed on college campuses, my friend Paul Gallegos at Evergreen State College smiled and said, “Ya know, just because speech is free, doesn’t mean that it has to be worthless.” It’s a concept and a phrasing that has stuck with me for years. His deft appropriation of the double-meaning of “free” (both as liberty but also as a statement of non-existent value) was a stroke of genius, and one that has informed my understanding of these issues ever since. I am thinking about it again in the wake of recent events in France.

Following the horrific killings of journalists at Charlie Hebdo in Paris, much has been said by pundits and prolific purveyors of tweet: about fanatical interpretations of Islam, about free speech, about the importance of satire, and about religious profiling and the notion of collective blame. Some of this commentary has been helpful and instructive, while other iterations of it have been incendiary and useless. But through it all, and although I am most horrified by those right-wing voices who seek to use the tragedy as a way to stoke their well-cultivated Islamaphobia, I am also troubled by what seems to be a prominent if not dominant narrative among many a liberal. It is a narrative that posits the victims of this grotesque crime as high-minded truth-seekers worthy of praise and emulation, and even as heroes, perhaps martyrs for the cause of freedom and liberty.

It strikes me that we should be able to roundly condemn the senseless and barbaric murders of journalists while still managing to have a rational conversation about free speech, in which empty platitudes about heroism need play no part. For instance, I believe it is possible to agree that free speech is an essential value, and that journalists should have the right to say what they want—even to offend others—without then proceeding to act as though every utterance (just because people have a right to it) is therefore worth defending as to its substance, and that free speech protects one from being critiqued for the things one says. Read the rest of this entry »

A Serious Question About Free Speech, “Heroism” and Violence

James Baldwin: “I Can’t Afford Despair” (and Neither Can We…Organize!)

Starting off the new year with a reminder from the incomparable James Baldwin that we haven’t the time for despair. There is too much work to be done…May 2015 bring justice to those denied it for so long.

Of Makers and Takers Revisited: The Right’s Latest Lies About Dependence on Government

On the one hand, I get it. Census Bureau reports can be pretty dry and a bit vague. They tend to be heavy on facts but pretty open-ended as to how one might interpret those facts. Census researchers aren’t paid to explain what the numbers suggest in most cases; rather, they are charged with compiling data and leaving it to social scientists to ascribe meaning to the numbers they divulge.

Sadly, there are no social scientists at FOX News, and so rather than cautious analysis in the face of official government data, we are treated to histrionic and transparently disingenuous deception in the furtherance of a right-wing narrative.

To wit, the recent alarm bells set off at Rupert Murdoch’s propaganda mill over a report indicating that sixty-five percent of American children now live in a household that receives some form of public assistance during the course of a year. The report, which was released this month, notes that among other indicators of child well-being, roughly two-thirds of the nation’s youth live in homes where benefits from SNAP (food stamps), TANF (cash welfare), Medicaid, WIC (nutritional aid for certain infants, toddlers and their moms) and/or the school lunch program are received. To FOX commentator and longtime actress Stacey Dash (whose most memorable role was, appropriately enough, in the film “Clueless”), such facts prove that government aid is “the new version of slavery.” Of course it is, because if you receive an EBT card or state-subsidized asthma medication it’s exactly like being whipped, raped, and stripped of all legal rights. Exactly. The. Same.

In any event, and putting aside Dash’s predictable and tired slavery analogy (which we hadn’t heard in at least a week from Ben Carson or Allen West), the entire reaction to the Census report in question indicates why you should never rely on anyone who gets their check from Roger Ailes to interpret social reality for you. Numbers and their meaning are simply above these folks’ pay grade.

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Of Matriarchs and Misinformation: Fact-Checking Conservative Lies About Black Women

In the wake of recent police killings of young black men — John Crawford, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and Tamir Rice most prominently — there has been much discussion about the way in which large numbers of white Americans, and especially white police, view African American males. The criminalization of the black male body has rarely been as apparent as in the past few months. Regarding Mike Brown, we are told — and are expected to believe — that black men are “hulks” and “demons,” so irrational as to attack police without provocation, and then after being shot, throw caution to the wind and seek to run through a hail of bullets, as if possessed of superhuman strength. Because apparently it is easier to believe that than to believe a white officer with a history of belligerence, acting out of over-amped fear, prejudice or an authority jones would have killed a black man for talking back to him.

Regarding Eric Garner, we are told — and are expected to believe — that black men only die at the hands of police because of a stubborn refusal to submit to proper authority, to do what they are told, and to stop struggling, even if said struggle is only one that seeks to remove an officer’s arm from around one’s throat and end the compression of one’s jugular vein, which compression threatens to immediately shorten one’s life span. Because apparently it is easier to believe that than to accept the possibility that a member of the NYPD with a history of violating the rights of black men might actually kill one without cause, no matter the department’s own penchant for doing just that, and quite often.

We are told in the case of Tamir Rice — and are expected to believe — that even at the age of twelve, black males appear to be twenty and that in the cases of both Rice and Crawford, even when they didn’t point their toy guns or air rifles at anyone, they actually did — and we are to believe the police who tell us this, even when video evidence clearly demonstrates no such thing. We are to trust the claims of the officers that Rice and Crawford posed “imminent threats,” even as the videotapes in both cases prove the cops to be vile and unrepentant liars, who are willing to blame (in the case of Rice) a child for his own death at their hands, and to defend the actions of his killer, even as that killer cop was previously found to be emotionally unfit for the job. Because apparently, for some at least, it is easier to believe that than one’s own lying eyes.

The black male body has been popularly pathologized as a source of criminal danger, and the mere fact that black male crime rates are higher than those for whites is used as a justification for treating any and all black males as potential criminals: to be stopped, searched, frisked, detained, beaten, and even killed if an officer feels threatened by them. Or if a pathetic wanna-be like George Zimmerman does. The rhetoric about black men on talk radio and TV is almost uniformly condemnatory. A steady diet of “pull up your pants,” and “stop glorifying thugs,” and “stop killing each other” has been the complete menu of conservative commentary as of late, and the default position of much of white America, beholden to their racialized images.

Less discussed, however, but just as important, is the way in which black women too are being pathologized and demeaned, dissed by the same sources as those who have so continually sought to demonize their male counterparts. Read the rest of this entry »

Tim Wise on Racism and Policing: From “Cracking the Codes” (2012)

A brief clip from Shakti Butler’s powerful film, “Cracking the Codes” (World Trust Films, 2012). In this clip (filmed back in 2010 but clearly as relevant as ever), I briefly recount my experiences with law enforcement officials, and an experiment I do with them at the outset of our conversation, which demonstrates how automatic racial biases can be, and why it matters…

Tim Wise on the Rock Newman Show – Race and Racism in America 12/10/14

Tim Wise on the Rock Newman Show (Washington DC, WHUT/PBS), December 10, 2014