Monday, September 24, 2007

Summerfall in Chicago + This and That

When I left Jersey City last week, autumn had arrived. Cool days and cooler evenings filled my final week at home. In Chicago, however, it's still summery. Actually mid-summery. Every day the thermometer's crossed the 80°F threshold, and today it's so warm (90°F) I'm finding it difficult to believe that classes are about to start and October is just around the corner. Rather than calling this Indian summer, it's basically Summerfall. Or Sutumn. Or Faummer.

Jena Six Rally
From Los Angeles Times: Chris Graythen / Getty Images

Last Thursday I wasn't able to head down to Texas to participate in the Jena Six protest and rally nor was I able to participate in the local demonstrations, so I signed up to call Louisiana state officials to urge justice in the case, in which six African-American teenagers were arrested, and one convicted as an adult, for an attack on a White schoolmate. The attack on the White student was the culminating event in a series of clashes that began White students decided to hang a noose from a tree, as an racially inflammatory affront to Black students who'd decided to sit under it (and to Blacks in Jena more broadly), and received only token sanctions as a result, their action being labeled a "prank." The case has rightly sparked international outrage, and last's week's public protest drew many thousands of participants.

Since I'm shy and not especially comfortable on the telephone, I was a little nervous about calling, but ColorofChange provided scripts and numbers, and I set to dialing. I can report that of the actual human beings I actually reached, all were unfailingly polite, some even apologetic, and one sounded exasperated, especially after I said that I was calling from Chicago, Illinois. (I think C said she probably was thinking "Damn Yankees!") This same person also said she would put me "on the list," which I assumed meant a list to be presented to the state official to whom I was lodging my protest, but then I also considered that the same list might end up in the hands of scary right-wing types (even though I realize we may be undergoing wiretapping, which I say with no little amount of horror and rage), so while I gave my name, she at least got a dummy phone number.

I do not for a minute think that my telephone rallying matched the commitment and courage of those who were present at the marches and rallies, or the bravery of the young defendants. I also think that one response by some of the officials involved will be what it was in before, during and after the Civil Rights movement: defiance, though they have been served a wake-up call, not only by the longstand Black leadership, but by a new generation of activists who are fed up by the persistence of racism in its most grotesque and spectacular forms.

Louisiana's officials probably will respond to the threat of economic boycott, but they also probably realize that many of the supporters of the Jena Six are also strong supporters of those who suffered from Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath, and cutting off the state of Louisiana could harm New Orleansians just as readily as racist district attorneys in rural parts of the state. So it strikes me that one of the best positions to take is to keep the pressure on, publicize the miscarriages of justice far and wide, and not let Louisiana's officials of whatever party off the hook. The Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Director of Tourism, top judicial officials, and everyone else in power should know that last Thursday was not the last hurrah--that won't come until all of the Jena Six are fully cleared, and there is a public apology and investigation into everything that occurred.

And, now that the New York Times has abolished Times Select, you can read Paul Krugman's take on the protests and on the electoral corner the Republican Party, through its Southern, a/k/a racist strategy, has painted itself into. (I would add that the Democratic Party and politicians also engage in racist discourse when they feel--wrong--the need to do so.)

And as Metta Sama noted in a recent email she sent, "it ain't just a Southern thang."

And as Reggie notes, the issue of Black on Black violence, and Black male violence against women, deserves a similar nationwide demonstration and rally.

LectorumSic transeunt ruae Novi Eborici.

Herbert R. wrote Reggie and me to pass on an article from Críticas saying that the landmark Librería Lectorum, the major Spanish-language bookstore in New York, has closed. Founded in 1960, the store can no longer afford the burgeoning rents on its strip of West 14th Street--that's right, rents are exploding on West 14th Street!--and ironically, the landlords are the sons of the store's founder, Argentinian Gerome Gutiérrez. The heirs no longer own the business, which was sold along with the Spanish-language publishing arm, Lectorum, to the publisher Scholastic, which now plans to shift the entire outfit to the online world, though there's a slender--nonexistent--possibility that they will find another storefront in New York.

Lectorum Publications president Teresa Mlawer says that street traffic has plummeted and the neighborhood has been gentrifying for years, but 14th Street between 6th and 7th Avenues was still fairly gritty when I walked it many times this summer, although it has changed somewhat even from last year. Still, it's no SoHo or Chelsea, at least not yet, and ousting the store will only help speed the gentrifying process. It's a major loss for New York's Spanish-speaking community and for the city's culture, on multiple levels, not least because of the disappearance of an important venue and meeting place for Spanish-language authors from across the city and globe, and because of the ongoing dismantling of 14th Streets's longstanding cultural economy, which is set to shift into another mode altogether.

I realize New York, like all vibrant cities, is always changing, and that from its origins it's revolved around commerce, but it still painful to acknowledge the loss of yet another key institution like this. I also think the Gutiérrez brothers ought to be ashamed, but is that even a valid emotion in our contemporary society? I visited the store several times this summer, primarily to look for books in Spanish by the late Roberto Bolaño, and I also recall one of the first times I went there, back in the 1990s, and found a book by the Dominican fiction writer and scholar José Alcántara Almánzar, and the woman at the registered, noting his back cover and glancing up at me, asked me if I was he! Given how bad my spoken Spanish was then and that I was flattered into speechlessness, I had to deny it with a headshake.

Neither of the two articles mentions that one block west, another Spanish-language bookstore, Macondo, remains, though it long has hand only a fraction of the texts as Libreria Lectorum, and on occasion I've almost had to wake the attendant who was working in there. I wonder how much of a lease and life it'll have as the relentless march of luxury condos and stultifying chain stories continues across every square inch of Manhattan's grid.

The New York Times's article on the store's closing is here.

Que nunca se la olvide, que siempre se la recuerde.

Re: the brouhaha surrounding the visit by the decidedly wacko, authoritarian, Israel-hating, democratically elected, figurehead president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, to New York to attend the opening of the UN General Assembly, and his "roast" (to use C's apt term)/conversation/free-for-all today at Columbia University (which should not be punished by New York State politicians for hosting the talk), I came across a great quote from the comments section after Glenn Greenwald's post on this topic:

"History teaches that grave threats to liberty often come in times of urgency, when constitutional rights seem too extravagant to endure."--Thurgood Marshall

In light of the events this year and the past seven years, that "urgency" deserves scare quotes, BTW.

UPDATE: Here's a New York Times report on Ahmadinejad's bizarre riffs today, including his claim that there are no gay people in Iran (though they're persecuted, like the Baha'i and other religious, social and sexual minorities, and hanged there) and that the Holocaust was theoretical rather than actual (though Iranian TV is featuring a very popular miniseries on this topic). He did get in a few knocks at his questioners and at his chief antagonist, W, though he said little of substance, whether about the appalling heinous human rights record in Iran, its support of Hamas, or its connection to the corrupt and ineffectual quasi-government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki.

There are fewer gay characters (and Latino characters) on network TV, but more on cable. So says a new Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) study. According to GLAAD's report, most of the network gay characters--all 6 of them--are on one channel, ABC, with the other one appearing on NBC; there are no gay characters on CBS, Fox, or CW. The last channel has the largest percentage of characters who're people of color. CW used to be the WB, and snapped up content from UPN, both ghettos for neo-minstrelsy, right?

(BTW, what categories does Wentworth Miller fall into? Racial, that is, for the survey purposes. Just asking.)

I'm not sure what the mainstream network folks are thinking, and I'm not suggesting there's a conspiracy so much as the usual oversight, indifference and neglect, but given the high gay quotient both in Hollywood and New York, it makes you wonder.

No word on how many of the few remaining network gays, lesbians, bisexuals, or transgenders or their cable kin have lots of melanin, though. And the lone show featuring lots--a whole cast full!--of Black and Latino gay people, Noah's Arc, problematic as it was, is off LOGO, so I'd imagine the numbers aren't great on cable either. It's not just on Queer as Volk that queers of color don't exist....

GM wants to cut costs while to compete with foreign automakers. The United Auto Workers want to keep jobs in the US. GM says, No. The UAW says no more more work until they get a guarantee. Health care costs and liabilities are a major aspect of the negotiations. But if we had a single-payer national health care system, GM and the UAW wouldn't have haggle over this issue. Would they?

Finally, this is what I'd call religious, moral and ethical leadership.


  1. Hey John:

    I had a couple of thoughts on your post.

    Lack of LGBT's, and colored folk on TV: This always happens. I don't think network tv (or film for that matter) will really ever BE diverse...if we're counting how many LGBT, and characters of color, this only shows you how far we have to go as a country.
    In Canada and Britain, you tend to see a more diverse array of characters on screen, be they black, white, gay, etc. It's sad that the US still can't catch up in that regard.
    Though, there are some examples of change, albeit small ones. The CW's Gossip Girl does have two characters of color on the show, both of whom end up being substantial in the series: Nan Zhang (Kati Farkas) and Nicole Fiscella (Isabel Coates). Though their lack of screen time is eye raising, the subject matter (privileged kids giving drama and pause at an exclusive upper east side school) is on point and it's expected they both will be "supporting characters". As the series progressing, the two of them should have their own storyline and be center stage. I actually like the show..its surprisingly adult and well written with a good group of actors playing the roles.

    AHMADINEJAD in New York: If anyone should be called out, it's Lee Bolinger. I found that his introduction and just overall lack of tact and track record on dealing with diversity and race relations in general at columbia is horrid. He called Ahmadinejad a "horrorible" (sp?) man and accused him of a host of crimes (which we won't dispute because they are true), yet Bollinger STILL hasn't done much regarding the republican student group who made the racist cartoon ad that ended up in the new york times a few years ago...

    Bolinger has ALWAYS been very ambiguous and problematic in regard to dealing with MUCH that has to do with race period...I wished the students who were there questioned HIM in addition to Ahmad.

    The speech: Ahmadinejad hasn't impressed YET. He always deflects and really has no substance. his comments about there NOT being gay people in iran is laughable, his saying the holocaust didnt happen was wrong, and he was just downright idiotic to me. Honestly, he's a middle eastern version of BUSH and that isn't saying much...

  2. Oh, and John:

    Wentworth is the following, according to his imdb profile biography: He is of African, Jamaican, English, German Jewish and Cherokee, descent on his father's side, and of Russian, French, Dutch, Syrian and Lebanese descent on his mother's side.

    Basically, he is half black and half white..though I think he celebrates both

  3. Ryan, you're right about the diversity on US TV. I also sort of recall a study done in Britain that criticized the "overrepresentation of minorities" on its TV shows, so for whatever reason, the UK--and perhaps Canada--has taken the opposite route.

    Speaking of Miller, I asked about his background because I wonder how the study placed him; did he double count or was he viewed as White (I have seen online that a number of Prison Break viewers have no idea he's part Black, and just assumed that Rockmond Dunbar and Amaury Nolasco were the "color" on the show. And someone I know very well thought that the other main actor, from Ireland, was a person of color!)

    Ahmadinejad's speech showed what a farce he is, and also how overblown and dangerous the attempts to suppress his speech were. But Glenn Greenwald noted that the underlying discourse for a lot of the hysteria was that we're "at war with Iran," a fantasy that the neocons want to make material through a bombing campaign that they don't yet feel able to launch--supposedly Dumbya refuses to give the green light. I think he's starting to realize the Angel of History is not going to be kind based on his past and current record, and perhaps he doesn't want to make things any worse. Or maybe they just haven't told him yet when they're going to do it. Lord help us!

  4. Wentworth Miller: I don't know. I find it interesting that people don't think he's Black, when it's such a giveaway (the close grain haircut, the "permanent" tan features, etc.). But, what I like and respect about Wentworth is that he acknowledges and isn't embarassed about it either.

    What's even more interesting: Dominic Purcell, the other character, is Australian. I do find it interesting that they have him pegged as a person of color also (though, his acting leave a LOT to be desired, imho)

    I am loving the rumor mill about his dating an actor who is a recurring character on ABC's Brothers and Sisters (LOVE this show!), Luke MacFarlane. Apparently, folk have the moving in together and buying a house in hollywood hills! love it! I'm sure TR Knight (Gray's Anatomy) is salty nice Luke was his ex..:)

    TV in general: it has never really been TRULY diverse...It will never reflect the reality of people who that's why there's so much fanfare over CANE--Jimmy Smits new show--which looks overwrought and underwritten, etc. Some shows did try for diversity and have succeeded--Gray's Anatomy, ER, Third Watch, etc. all were shows with diverse casts, etc. I'm still waiting to see how the new shows incorporate diversity in their casts also (Bionic Woman has Will Yun Lee {Asian}, Miguel Ferrer {Latino} and Isaiah Washington as a recurring character)

    Ahmadinejad: it's very sad...his speech and the hysteria folk have around him. I was actually embarassed to be a columbia grad watching the speech. Some of those undergrads and students there are so misinformed...some of the signs compared the man to hitler...i dont know if i'd go that far. but, still...

  5. Ryan, that's right, Purcell is from Australia. One of his parents is from Ireland or something (with that name...LOL). I don't really watch the show so I'm not sure how he's marked or not racially, but interesting to hear you think he is. I brought up Miller because I wonder how he factors into surveys like the one I pointed to. You're right about TV--and film--diversity. It hasn't improved very much, despite the fact that the country grows more diverse in every way every year. I'm going to pass on CANE. It appears to fall right into a stereotype, so maybe I'm prejudging or misjudging it, but if it's great I'll catch it in reruns or DVDs, etc.

    Ahmadinejad's performance is interesting in that when he was confronted with facts in a respectable way (the persecution of homosexuals, the existence of the Holocaust), he showed himself to be a nut (and I don't buy the naïf act). But when he was attacked rhetorically by Bollinger and Coatsworth, he parried the attacks like a somewhat skilled debater. I think the students should have been allowed to ask very tough questions and Ahmadinejad could have fumbled, talked in circles, looped in and out of Cloudcuckooland, etc., and that would have been the story. But we know that wasn't going to be the case, and now the Democrats have fallen in line and voted for the Kyl-Lieberman bill, which appears to open space for Bush-Cheney to attack Iran... :-(