Living Colour & Friends: The Power of Music (and Memory…)

I don’t need to say a single thing, so I won’t.



One Nation Under A Groove or, Burn, Baby! BURN!

Another great moment in American douchebaggery!

Despite the fact that we’re on somewhat of a losing streak in recent years (thanks, Wall Street!), one of the reasons America remains a place so many people want to live is that we do so many things so very well. That whole Constitution thing is pretty swell. The Bill of Rights turned out to be pretty righteous, wouldn’t you agree? And despite our occasional internecine struggles, it’s mostly been a family affair; we are all in this together. We’ve kept it real as one nation under a groove: the black, the white, the red and the brown, the purple and yellow, as that statesman and patriot Wonder Mike once put it.

We keep it real, which isn’t to say that we are not immune from being real wrong. Our mistakes are indelible stains on our history, no matter how hard some of us endeavor to deny or conceal them.

Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose, eh?

In February, 1942, Executive Order 9066 was issued. That is, the infamous presidential/executive order that, validated by America’s state of war, gave a president (FDR) the power to consign various ethnic groups (see: the Japanese) to internment camps. Not too coincidentally, the individuals targeted happened to be Americans belonging to the ancestry the U.S. was concurrently fighting in WW II (the aforementioned Japanese, as well as Germans and Italians). Over 100,000 Japanese-Americans were spirited away to these camps. Not unlike the concentration camps, one thinks about this period in history and thinks (hopes?) it was far back in our past. Considering the 20th Century was already half-over puts it in immediate, and painful, perspective. About sixty years ago, millions of Jews were being slaughtered in Germany and tens of thousands of Japanese-Americans were being forcibly sent to internment camps. Less than two generations. On good days, we look at this and say “how could it have happened?”. On other days, we look at Guantanamo and it’s difficult to feel too proud of the progress we’ve supposedly made. 


This picture has haunted me ever since I first saw it, over a decade ago.

A Japanese family, en route to an internment camp. Neither defiant nor indignant (they could not afford to be), they are quite obviously eager to illustrate their solidarity. Acquiescence. Approbation. The miniature American flags, the victory signs, the smiles. The fear behind those forced gestures. (Not forced because they were fake, but because they were obligatory; imperative as the bare minimum to ensure that the worst was not automatically assumed.) Look closely at how the father sets the tone: he understands the score. Smile, this is your life. The kids are either too old to protest (the older daughter) or too young to fake it (the son). But it’s the young girl in the middle (middle of the picture, middle child in the family) that conveys the intolerable hypocrisy and inhumanity of the situation: she is the only one without a smile on her face or a flag in her hand. She is old enough to understand, but young enough to be understandably petulant about her circumstances. No matter her age, she knows this unwilling exodus is unnatural, unacceptable. And her face (more than a million subsequent words decrying the conditions that led to this embarrassing moment in U.S. history) is able to convey the very human cost of counterproductive policies begat by hysteria.

Never again, one thinks, looking at that picture. It was unfortunate, but that was half a century ago, we’ve evolved into e-mail and instant communication across the globe, certainly we shan’t act that rashly again. Surely we’ve seen enough of this appalling history to ensure that it’s never repeated. Obviously we have made amends and are stronger, as a nation, for what we commissioned in the name of national security. Clearly we could never dive into the deep end again, indulging the uglier side of our collective sensibility. Fortunately we’ve come a long way since the dark ages of our (parents’) infancy.

Haven’t we…

Which brings us to this Quran burning crusade.

Fortunately, it looks like even the most reprehensible ringleaders of anti-Muslim sentiment (see: Sarah Palin) have declared this activity an “unnecessary provocation.” Which begs the question: how far over the edge (and/or desperate for an audience –and cash) are you if you manage to make Sarah Palin sound like a sane voice of restraint? We’ll have plenty of politicians on both side of ideological fence taking an opportunity to talk tough (into cameras) and remind us about American values which, apparently, don’t extend to mosques (that aren’t really mosques) being constructed on Ground Zero (even though it’s not really at Ground Zero).

Personally, I’m grateful to this “pastor” and the cretins who will put fire to paper on 9/11 in order to prove a point. Because, unbeknownst to these imbeciles, the point they are making is that, as those commercials used to say, a mind is a terrible thing to waste. And while we can’t (or shouldn’t) waste too much time trying to convert the willfully ignorant to enlightenment, we can (and should) keep a wary eye on these very un-American activities. How ironic, by the way, is that? As ever, the people most vocal (and ostensibly concerned) about conduct contrary to America know the least about our history, including the intent of those immigrants (!) who wrote the documents they believe they are defending. If you want to strain the metaphor, it might not be unreasonable to suggest that when anyone burns another person’s bible, they are indeed setting ablaze our Constitution.

These folks, who, we know roam our nation in greater numbers than we might have imagined, (and are so easily whipped into a frenzy by their masters), are more than a little behind the evolutionary curve. While Fox News gets their Fascist on, and Rush gorges his fat ass on profitable cynicism, these has-beens and never-will-be’s (the bigots, the uneducated, the willfully ignorant, the impotent imbeciles, as well as the doctors, lawyers, teachers and parents) find the voice that never answers them in church, or at the office, or in their cars, or in the bedroom or –worst of all– in their own dark and empty heads when the lights go out.

One on hand, you have to laugh at these simpletons who want to “bring our country back”, meaning the good old days when blacks and women knew their place, homosexuals dared not show their faces in public and the bible held firmer sway over a greater portion of the populace. Presumably these same tea baggers  don’t want to also bring back cars without air conditioning and houses without running water, smallpox without vaccine and surgery without anesthetics and a few dozen other of our least favorite things from a time when the world was a whiter shade of pale.

And it’s not at all difficult to connect the dots between the type of magical thinking employed by the bible thumpers and the Ayn Rand-obsessed Libertarian lunatics (how perfect –and appalling– a commentary on the cultural Koyaanisqatsi we are currently struggling through that the son of the Libertarians’ savior is named after the most humorless and phlegmatic popular novelist of the 20th Century. Painfully popular. And imperceptive. (And influential. Right Alan? Atlas shrugged; Jesus wept.) Indeed, the only redeeming thing I can think about Ayn Rand is that she partially inspired one of Rush’s great early albums.

The part that is not funny, of course, is that this is still happening on our watch. As a nation we are deciding what we tolerate and what we will stomach. It’s useful to know how much work is left to be done, and bigots burning bibles is a reminder that we need to get busy. The last few months leave little question that it will be harder (now, later) to whitewash –pun intended– these regrettable instances. They have been scattered through American history like a resilient rash: those times we remained idle while darker hearts strangled our collective souls.

Well, what are you going to do about it, Whitey?