Friday, November 12, 2010

Regarding my tiff with Menelik Charles and my ban from Abagond...

by Thaddeus

Several folks have commented on my recent banning from Abagond, so I feel I should put some thoughts down regarding that situation. The following is unpleasant and somewhat personal, so those of you who don't like intertubes drama should stop reading here.

I was a prolific commentator on Abagond's blog for almost exactly a year and was recently banned there for getting into a hissy-fight with an exceptionally sexist poster who goes by the handles of Menelik Charles and Malarki5. In real life, this active blog commentator is reputedly a 40 year old Trinidadian-Brit and, apparently, an ex-employee of the Headstart Bookshop, a now-defunct outlet for Pan-Africanist products and publications in Tottenham in London. For a couple of years now, he's been stalking young black women on the internet, paying particular attention to those who defend the idea that black women should date white men if they feel like doing so (i.e. so-called "swirling"). Charles has relentlessly harrased these women, calling them "insane" and far worse. Ironically enough, a couple of the women Charles routinely harasses (who also post on Abagond) are people who dislike me and whom I find to be what we in Brazil would call "excepcionalmente levianas". But hell, they are undergrads just out of their teens! They're SUPPOSED to be "leviana". Lord knows I was. That is no cause for some frustrated, aging black nationalist to call them names.

Charles is smart enough to normally keep his comments within bounds on Abagond, but he's engaged in a stalking campaign on other black and anti-racist blogs, following young swirlers around and publicly chastizing them. To make matters worse (and even more creepy), he routinely comes on to black women who agree with him that "swirling" is a bad idea. I think that the front page of his Youtube channel gives a pretty good idea of where Menelik Charles is coming from when he talks about his undying respect for black women...

Menelik Charles' (AKA Malarki5) Youtube channel. Dedicated to taking on The Man and providing the internet with crotch shots of scantily dressed young black women.

Menelik's main theory seems to be this (taken from here):

"I think if we're being fair, many Black men are tired of dealing with women who aren't particularly feminine. Sure, most Black women are emphatically female-looking (even the ghetto/hoodrat types)but whatever the class of sister, it's not common they'd be feminine.

Maybe something to do with female-dominated homes...even when a man is present."

In short, Menelik blames overly-strong black women for de-masculinzing the black household. These black matriarchs, in turn, raise man-hating daughters who perpetuate the cycle, pushing "good, upstanding brothers" like MC away from the family. It's interesting to point out in this context, based on what MC has written around the net, that his mother lost her husband when Charles was a boy and that he was raised by a perfectly acceptable step-father. It's also interesting to note that Charles has a young daughter himself and is separated from her mother. So this man who blames the so-called "death of the black family" on women is himself the product of a non-traditional family and is raising his daughter in another non-traditional family.

MC and I got into the shit several times over at Abagond, but what really twisted my titties about Menelik Charles were his attempts to intimidate me by claiming that he could "beat six types of shite" out of me because he's a boxer. (Internet tough guy syndrome, anyone?) I welcomed him to go ahead. I mean, it's not like I'm anonymous or anything: that's my photo and real name down below, there. If he wants to crawl over my DSL cable - or even buy a plane ticket to Rio - in order to commit felony battery on my person, hell, who am I to stop him? I pointed out that I was posting under my real name while he was hiding behind an alias and that this was hardly courageous behavior. Charles then claimed that he was posting under his real name and identity and had no problems with being "outted" on the internet.

At that point, it seems that MC jumped the shark as my mailbox started filling up with people dropping docs on the man, including photos, real name, current address in Islington... the works. I did my part to help spread this information around to some of the women he was stalking. Shortly after this, the man started losing his cool on Abagond. Tempers flared, Chuck went nuclear and I just couldn't resist one last dig under his short ribs, in spite of a warning from Abagond to cool it.

So I got banned.

Now, Abagond runs his show the way he wishes and, in spite of my being banned from his blog, I have quite a lot of respect for the man. It is almost impossible to find anti-racists who are willing to listen to anything but the most dogmatic of views on race and repression and Abagond gets full marks from me for being one of these.

I think the major tiff between Abagond and myself has to do with the fact that I tweaked him about his sexism and Catholicism on several occasions, particularly with regards to the fact that he's separated from his wife (we'd just say "divorced" here in Brazil). The way Abagond describes her, she was quite a piece of work and I'm sure he has good reasons for not being with her anymore.

Nevertheless, I always found it odd that someone who was so willing to parse any statement into tiny little pieces in order to perceive its racist foundations could be so blind with regards to his own sexism and homophobia. And then there's the Catholicism. Abagond is a merciless and generally correct critic of "white" power structures but he gives a pass to the Church, which any historian of slavery and race will confirm as one of the most enduring of those power structures, one which played more than a small role in the transatlantic slave trade.

Many times on Abagond, I was struck by the fact that, as a white, heterosexual male, I had been socialized to critique my presumed identity along several axises - gender, sexuality, race and class. Meanwhile, many of the black, het males on Abagond - including the blog's owner himself - seemed to be rather complacent with regards to any privilege other than that created by race.

And, unfortunately, their blindness is often transformed into chauvinism.

Tweaking Abagond about his beliefs regarding religion and gender was probably, eventually, going to get him very angry. I thought it would be a useful excercize because Abagond seems to feel a certain mercilessness when it comes to tweaking white people about their beliefs regarding race and yet has enormous blind spots of his own. Given my tweaks, however, it was a matter of time before Abagond would use the first convenient excuse to ban me and he did indeed give me fair warning.

My year-long experience as a commentator on Abagond has underlined, for me, why critical race theory has become increasingly detached from reality as it's really lived. While we were discussing to what degree today's whites were responsable for the crimes of the whites of the 16th century, or whether or not "swirling" was an appropriate black female response to black male chauvinism, the Tea Party came along and blind-sided America, with hardly any commentary at all by the people who make up Abagond's blog.

As someone who was brought up in a midwestern, white, working class community that voted heavily for Obama and also heavily for the Tea Party, I feel that the "Let's shame whites into critiquing their privilege" strategy engaged in by people like Tim Wise and bloggers like Macon and Abagond is extremely short-sighted and is based on an erroneous reading of social repression that focuses exclusively on race. The white poor and working class do not like being talked down to and they understand, very clearly, that they are not the people who have created the current situation in the U.S. By casting white history as hegemonic, effectively homogenous and unrelentingly privileged, people like several of the commentators on Abagond end up destroying any possible alliance with white groups or individuals unless these groups or individuals are willing to ignore any factor, other than race, as having significance in social and political relations.

In short, many anti-racists tend to end up painting themselves into a corner by presuming that any white person who disagrees with them about anything needs must be effectively the same sort of person as a member of Stormfront or the KKK.

Sorry for the longwinded post, but a couple people seem to feel I need to say something about Abagond and my year there, so... Abagond's blog will continue to be linked here as I still consider it to be a very worthwhile forum - just don't poke your fingers in the owner's sensitive spots if you want to continue commenting there!

As for Menelik Charles, the gentleman who was the proximate cause of this feud, a bit of advice: I suggest that you use your 'l33t boxing skills to work out some of that aggression towards assertive black women that you're carrying around on your shoulder. Nothing on the internet ever really dies and 12 years from now, your daughter is going to have access to all of these comments you're making regarding black women. Something tells me that she's going to be less than impressed, Menelik.

Friday, November 5, 2010

In Spite of You, Tomorrow Must Be Another Day

A rose in a Coke bottle in an ex-jail cell in memory of those who died
or were tortured during the Brazilian military dictatorship, 1964-1984.
The old headquarters of the political police in São Paulo, DOPS, is now a
museum dedicated to the preservation of the memory of the crimes
of authoritarian government.

This one is for my American friends and relatives who are bummed out by the far right's apparent win in this week's elections in the United States.

"Apesar de Você" is a samba that was written and originally interpretted by Brazilian singer/songwriter Chico Buarque de Hollanda in 1970, during the height of the Brazilian military dictatorship. The song was banned from airplay by then President General Médici for its rather explicit criticism of the Brazilian far right.

Chico Buarque #4, banned in Brazil in 1970

In March 1970, Chico returned to Brazil from exile in Italy, having heard from a friend that things "were getting better". They were not. In fact, the period from 1968 to roughly 1974 in Brazil is now known as the "years of lead", when the nascent revolutionary movements in the country were squashed through mass arrests and torture. Chico expressed his disgust with the situation by writing "Apesar de você" - In Spite of You - a full-throated critique of the military regime thinly veiled as quarrel between lovers. When he sent it in to the censors to be vetted, Chico never imagined it would get through - but it did and it sold 100,000 copies.

As soon as a word-of-mouth campaign had put the news out onto the streets about what the song's target really was, Chico was denounced and "Apesar" was banned from the airways. Government officials invaded the record factory and destroyed what copies remained of the song. The censor who approved it was canned and Chico was dragged into political police headquarters and asked at the point of a truncheon who the "you" in the song referred to.

"Oh, it refers to a very pushy and authoritarian woman," said Chico. But everyone in Brazil knew that it referred to the generals.

Because of "Apesar", Chico - who many consider to be Brazil's finest living poet - was marked out by the censors as an irredeemable smart-ass and his later records and poems were gone over with a fine-toothed comb and scissors. Because of this, Chico had to write and record under a pseudonym in order to get his material past the government.

At the same time Chico recorded "Apesar de Você", a 27 year old woman was rotting away in prison. A young socialist daughter of Bulgarian immigrants, Dilma Rousseff had joined the nascent revolutionary movement against the dictatorship and, together with her comrade Carlos Minc, had allegedly stolen a safety deposit box containing 2.5 million dollars belonging to the ex-governer of São Paulo, Ademar de Barros, reputably one of the most corrupt men in modern Brazilian history. Dilma was caught in an anti-guerrilla round-up in 1970 and was taken to the headquarters of Operation Bandeirante, the military government's political police facility. There she was tortured for 22 days. Her tormentors employed beatings, electric shocks and most likely sexual abuse.

Dilma Rousseff on occasion of her arrest and before she endured 22 days of torture.

In the very unlikely event that Dilma heard Chico's song while she was in jail, the future it proposed could have only seemed to be a very cruel dream, the kind of thing a drug-addled hippy would come up with, perhaps.

On Sunday, October 31st 2010, Dilma Rousseff was elected President of the Federal Republic of Brazil, on the Workers' Party ticket. She will be sworn in as our 36th president in early 2011, Brazil's first female president and, according to some, the most powerful woman in the world. Her old revolutionary comrade Carlos Minc, a leading light of the Brazilian Green Party, is currently our Minister of the Environment and likely to retain that position in Dilma's administration.

Dilma Rousseff, 36th President of Brasil.

So you see, there really is a future. In spite of them.

You can listen to "Apesar" here, complete with some extremely touching photos from the times.

Apesar de Você
Chico Buarque de Holanda (1970)

Today, it's you who rule
What you say goes
No talking back
Today, my people talk in low voices
With lowered heads
You who invented this state
All this darkness
You invented sin
And forgot to invent forgiveness.

In spite of you
Tomorrow must be another day
I ask myself where are you going to hide
From the enormous euphoria?
How are you going to stop
The rooster who insists on crowing?
New water springing up
And us loving without stopping?

When the time comes
You'll pay me back for all this suffering
I swear it
All this repressed love
These contained cries
This samba in the dark
You, who invented sadness
Have the courtesy to uninvent it
You're going to pay in double
For every tear I shed
In my pain

In spite of you
Tomorrow must be another day
I'm going to pay to see
The garden break out in flowers
Just like you didn't want
You're going to rue
Seeing the sun come up
Without asking your permission
And I'm going to die laughing
Because this day is coming
Sooner than you think.

In spite of you
Tomorrow must be another day
You're going to have to see
The morning be born
And spit out poetry
How are you going to explain yourself
When the skies suddenly clear
With impunity?
How are you going to muffle
Us singing in chorus right in front of you?

In spite of you
Tomorrow must be another day
You're going to come to a bad end
Etc. and so on