Rachel Dolezal and Racism Redux

Rachel Dolezal and Racism Redux

by

Howard Adelman

In response to my article on Rachel Dolezal and Racism, I received two important items in response. One by Cecil Foster is reprinted below and repeated as an attachment. The other goes to the heart of the issue of deception, the letter from the Executive Producer of KXLY News explaining their role in the affair. The letter of explanation can be found at:

http://www.kxly.com/news/spokane-news/rachel-dolezal-the-story-behind-the-story/33608002

Rather than clearing up the matter, the open letter indicates that the local media station approached the matter within two frames, that of somatic Blackness that I described, which is a matter of philosophical analysis and not just given facts, and suspicion that Rachel was dissembling about allegations of racial harassment. With regard to the first issue, the news outlet noted that, “we and other journalists heard rumblings that Dolezal was not being truthful about her race.” In other words, to be truthful is to publicly display that you are not genetically Black when your whole point and belief is that Blackness is NOT about race, but rather that race as a biological construct is a prime source of the problem. The issue for the news outlet was that the anonymous callers had no proof that Rachel was not biologically Black when a simple check of her records at Howard University would have established that she considered herself to be a genetically and biologically white woman when she had been a student and had not yet come to see that this way of categorizing the issue was part of the problem.

On the second matter of whether Rachel was lying or telling the truth to police about racial harassment complaints, the letter points to evidence that does not substantiate their suspicions, but that there was no proof of Rachel lying. So why is this part of the account except to provide additional ammunition on the main story line, that Rachel Dolezal was a dissembler.

On the first issue, the Executive Producer of News at the station wrote, “Humphrey [Jeff Humphrey, a senior reporter at the station] heard from a trusted source that there was more to Dolezal’s story. Specifically, that Dolezal had been lying about her race and misleading her employers, the city of Spokane, her students and the community.” In other words, the story focus became whether Rachel Dolezal was being open and honest about her race, even if she questioned the very framework of the question. It is clear that this News Media either did not wish to or was incapable of raising that issue about its own query.

That is when, so to speak, the “shit hit the fan.” “Humphrey reached out to her parents in Montana – on a phone number found through a simple search – and, they confirmed what the source had said: Dolezal is a white woman, born to white parents, with childhood photos and the birth certificate to prove it.” This simply confirmed that, contrary to the difficulty they claimed about ascertaining Rachel’s genetic roots, the answer could easily be found. What they did not do was ask why that was an important question and, even further, what was behind asking such a question. Then they might have confirmed that Rachel Dolezal believed that genetics was irrelevant to being Black and they could have written a much more interesting though more difficult to grasp story on that subject. The story that Rachel was simply a liar is far easier to convey. In my view and in my categories, if we are to reject the “one drop rule” and the premise of racism altogether, then depicting Rachel as a white woman is the source of the misrepresentation.

Now wait a minute, you might insist, are you saying she is not White? Yes. I am saying three things: 1) that she is certainly not White culturally; 2) she rejects being White as an aspiration; 3) the very premise of someone being genetically White is itself a fraud. It is the failure of the media outlet to question its own framework and premises that is far more important than whether Rachel Dolezal was trying either to disguise or to avoid the question of whether her parents were white.

Just read the triumphalist tone of the Executive Producer’s account of what took place. “As the world has now seen, Jeff confronted Dolezal and she stumbled, saying she didn’t ‘understand the question’ about whether or not she was black. She walked off the interview and we knew we had the next piece of our story.” How does one handle an interviewer who, stricken with mindblindness, refuses even to consider that his frame for asking his question may be misguided. Rachel was not and is not a philosopher, though she is very articulate. But she does stumble when trying to cut through the racial framing of one reporter after another. I am surprised, given how frustrating it must be for her, that she does not blow up and tell them how dogmatic and misguided they are. Instead, she retains her cool.

The Executive Producer then concluded, “At that point, it was shocking and confirmed our source’s information (and her parents’ information), but we needed to put it in context, prove why it mattered.” Did they ever establish why it was shocking, except to anyone steeply rooted in obsolete somatic racial stereotyping? No. Did the news station ever establish why it mattered, except to insist repeatedly that not openly owning up to one’s supposed genetic roots was deception. But what if you deeply believe that genetics is irrelevant to the issue? What if you get tired and frustrated that the reporters fail to open up to the fact that the way they ask the question is misguided and reinforces racism?

The account then goes on. “By the time we were ready to put Dolezal’s interview out to the world, Spokane Mayor David Condon issued a statement, saying the city was investigating Dolezal’s ethics in relation to the police oversight committee and we had a solid news hook.” Why was the news hook not an inquiry why Mayor Condon was investigating the issue in the first place? Had Rachel committed a crime? Was she even guilty of moral turpitude? She refused to engage in a discussion in terms of her identity based on racial stereotyping. I find that perfectly understandable, though it would not be a tactic I would personally choose.

“Our story – his interview – blew up. At once, this once-respected teacher, leader and advocate became a national punchline.” The fact that this Executive Producer was never able to conceive of a frame that rose above racial stereotyping is the real story. The fact that this was another case of using the media to create mass hysteria over something totally irrelevant to bring down someone whom the Executive Producer agrees was a respected teacher, leader and advocate, is the real story.

The mindblindness of KXLY News and most of the media coverage in the United States, including very highly regarded journalists, is the real story.

The account concludes as follows:

“So, why does it matter? Our community was misled. We trusted this voice to speak for those without a voice. We trusted her to teach our students. We stood by her when she said she and her family were targeted and afraid. We rallied alongside Dolezal and her family in front of city hall, with community members carrying signs of support. We’re a trusting community and she broke that trust.” But where did she break that trust? In her performance? In her refusal to accept the categories of racism fostered by the station’s own questions? And the fall out of the media failure is terrible, not only for Rachel, but for the community which will have learned little except to encourage people to be less trusting of what others say and not being able to ask questions about the presumptions behind their own questions. And it is very troubling for the role of journalists. “What did we, as journalists, learn from this? Trust your gut.In my interpretation, this means that you should surrender to the prejudices you carry with you in your mind and mental framework rather than learning how to analyze and question them. According to the Executive Producer, if you cannot trust your gut, you will never be able “to put news in context for the people you serve.”

That erroneous conviction is the story, and the Executive Producer missed it.

Now for Cecil Foster’s Response to My Essay on Rachel Dolezal

He first note I received was very brief:

“Thanks for sharing this interesting piece.  It is (by far) the most illuminating thing I’ve read about this case. It deserves a WIDE readership.  Has it been loaded onto any of the customary social media sites (Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn)?  I’d like to forward/tweet it if possible.”
Cecil then sent a much longer and even better take on the story than I provided as follows:

Dear Howard,

I think you are justified in holding fast to your views on Rachel Dolezal. You might not be in the majority—and neither am I even among some black friends and academic contemporaries—but you are reasoned and justified. Of course being in my company might not be much of a consolation.

The two main events of the past week that caught our attention in a big way—Rachel Dolezal and the Mother Emanuel Church massacre/terrorism—are cut from the same cloth. Rachel Dolezal and Dylann Roof make us confront the meaning of an identity like black and blackness and what it means in the modern world.

1) Rachel Dolezal came into the black community, got to know it well, indeed, intimately. She willingly became a daughter of the community through marriage and produced for the community—not mixed race, transracial, postracial, half white, half black—but two black sons. She took on the mannerisms of black culture, spoke the lingo and even put a kink in her hair—and as every man of any colour or ethnicity knows, you don’t mess with a black woman and her hair. She joined the cause of the black community for social justice and took on a leadership role, ultimately heading up a local chapter of NAACP. When she had a choice of identity, she always said I am black. She lived black at a time when even some who were supposedly born black and never had to worry about this ascription were moving away from blackness. She fully embraced blackness. Like a modern woman joining a family through marriage or a profession of love, Dolezal became one with the community, took its name/identity, and out of her own body produced the fruits that would carry on the name and identity—not of her former affiliates—but of her preferred community and family. Her past might have been with others, and over that she had no say, but her future was/is with the black community. She sought to give the black community life from generation to generation and in a world of social justice.

Dylann Roof came into the black community. He was welcomed, as relatives of the slaughtered testified, with opened arms. He entered the inner sanctuary of blackness in America: the black church, choosing one of the most historic in the nation. He sat with those poring over the finer points of the community’s most holy text. They exposed him to their thinking and reasoning. He was taken into the heart of the faith that supposedly is the bedrock of black culture. They invited him to stay and share and to learn—to know and understand liturgical things that even many authentic members of the black community do not know or have forgotten. He was allowed to drink deep from this inner well. He endured it for almost an hour. He was distilled in the faith that was instilled in him. He was being initiated. The experience was so good, for he was treated so well by everyone, that he almost changed his mind from completing his “mission.” My belief is that they would have even offered him an altar-call, or would have invited him to come again for further preparation, so that eventually, when such a call came, he would accept and in the twinkling of an eye be transformed into a full member of the black church and community. They were all so nice to him, he said. But he pulled out his gun and slaughtered nine of them, hoping this would be the beginning of a reign of death on blackness. He did not transform—he remained a somatically white man with mythologically the most deadly of weapons “a black heart—evil.” That is the story of one type of the “other” who comes among the people (the initiated) in any known human, and sometimes, animal form, but who is only Evil. Only the heart makes the Other different from the people. In every black community there are stories about black-hearted men. Check out August Wilson’s play Joe Turner Come and Gone and those who stole the black men of the community. Remember the founders of the first black republic in the Americas. Those Haitians said based on the purity of their heart and their good works that the Poles and Germans among them, though somatically white, were black because they fought for the revolution and freedom from slavery for all. They said all slave owners—and some were black— regardless of somatic colour, were white. Roof wanted death for the black community. He was blackhearted. In this case it is clear who is black and who is white here.

2) Let us shift to an ethno-racial register where we try to make sense of this identity issue based on “hard facts” of genes and nature and biology rather than mythology. Perhaps Dolezal is teaching her parents—and by extension much of white America as historians as early as Van Woodward told them—that they aren’t what they think they are. So Dolezal’s parents outed her: they claimed the ancestry they gave her is a mixture of various eastern European bloods with some Native American added in. We know that for a long time much of Eastern, and even parts of Western Europe, were ethnically and racially black. In an Anglo-Saxon dominant world, which was the early North American formation, all but Anglo-Saxon Protestants were black. Indeed, the Hungarians, Italians and Irish—as well as the wandering Jew of any complexion—only recently escaped into whiteness from being black. If the KKK, Skinheads and the likes of Roof were to have their way, some of them would be kicked right out of whiteness pronto. But the parents say more—that there is a commingling of Caucasian and Native American. So after they were brought into whiteness as Caucasians there was degeneration: the Native American. Which means that somewhere in Dolezal’s past there would have been a “Half-breed,” and by the one-drop rule of Modernity, all “half-breeds” were black and so black that, as the unnatural product of superior and inferior races, the product had to be for evermore of the inferior identity. The family could, genetically, never be white/Caucasian again. Not only are Rachel and her sons black by Modernity’s miscegenation rules, but so are her parents. But that would not surprise us since the southern historians have long told us that technically almost all (southern in particular) whites in the U.S. are really black genetically.

3) This leads to the question of who is “authentically” black. And for some time we have acknowledged that there is no objective proof or that authenticity truths are not self-evident. So we moved to the solution of self-identification. You are who you tell me you are as only you can know yourself genuinely and I take your word for it until proven otherwise. Authenticity is proven analogously. We are all innocent until proven guilty—the guilt coming from our actions to portray the black heart within; or our innocence is proven by our personality of producing actions that could only flow analogous from a pure heart. Dolezal says she is black. What is the evidence against her to prove otherwise: that she “deceptively” acted to further blackness acting as if she were black and that she was so good at it that she darn well fooled everyone for so long. Why analogously her action would make us believe that she is what she said she was!!! Go figure. Roof identified as a white racist intent on destroying black people. He had the opportunity to change and walk away: he chose to be authentic to his whiteness. His actions confirmed the person he self-identified as truly Dylann Roof. No doubt here—he said he was what his actions proved; she said she was what her actions proved.

Modern society treasures, and is organized around, the ideal of freedom, especially freedom of choice. Ultimately, we are who we choose to be. Choice is at the heart of self-determination and particularly progressive freedom. As a modern being I can choose not to die the person I was born. I can change, and change as many times as I want, while searching for the ideal me. A truly free modern man/woman is a self-made. As creatures of a culture of freedom Dolezal and Roof made choices; they made themselves: Dolezal’s to be black and kind hearted; Roof to be white and blackhearted.

Finally,  black/blackness are in the end mere identities—empty signifiers. We are constantly emptying out old content and putting in new. Gay no longer simply means happy, and neither does fairy, or slut have negative connotations. The transgendered are who they know they are in their head regardless of how they look, smell, taste or appear to us. Barack Hussein Obama, the child of white and black parents, might never be black enough because he never lived in the projects and did not live the deep social inequalities of that lifestyle; nobly in his ancestry, he never lived on the “real” plantation. But then for those saying Obama is not black enough, neither are West Indians, even though their ancestors were on the plantations, for they have English, French, Spanish and other European mannerisms that make them less than American. Modernity is constantly killing off the old signified and refilling with new to give new meaning, or to argue a perspective. So is the case of black/blackness.

To my reasoning Dolezal is black even if she is not African-American. But then again, someone like me is deemed unquestionably black even though I am not African-American. African-American is a totally different social construction from black and perhaps that is the problem here: that too many people are conflating the two terms and thereby mishearing Dolezal when she says she is black.

Cecil Foster, PhD

Professor and Interim Chair

Department of Transnational Studies

732 Clemens Hall

SUNY at Buffalo

Buffalo

New York 14260

United States

Tel: (716) 645-2082 & 716-645-0786

Fax: (716) 645-5976

Website: www.cecilfoster.ca

Recent books:

http://www.mqup.ca/genuine-multiculturalism-products-9780773542563.php

http://www.harpercollins.ca/books/Independence-Cecil-Foster/?isbn=9781443415057

Rachel Dolezal and Racism

Rachel Dolezal and Racism

by

Howard Adelman

One note of guidance. I capitalize Black and Blackness, White and Whiteness, when I am making a conceptual reference. When I refer to the term itself, or when I am quoting, I do not capitalize.

Categories carry moral, social and political weight. Black is one of them. When Cecil Foster was my PhD student, he wrote his thesis on Blackness. In 2004, he published, Where Race Does Not Matter: The New Spirit of Modernity (Penguin). In 2007, another instalment of the thesis was published, Blackness and Modernity: The Colour of Humanity and the Quest for Freedom (McGill-Queens University Press). Though I was his faculty supervisor, I learned far more from him about being Black and about racism than I ever knew.

Cecil’s thesis is straightforward. Black is and has been a construction to define Whiteness. While the term white has been associated with goodness and purity, the word black was not. Cases in point: the black arts or giving someone a black (angry) look, or being in a black mood or in someone’s black book (ostracized by that person), or saying that a person is the black sheep (a renegade) in the family, or referring to the black market, that is, the irregular and illegal trade in goods and services, or a black list as was used against artists and writers and film makers in the McCarthy era, or in the term “blackmail,” the effort to extract money through the use of threats. The word black is associated with the intemperate, the outsider, the renegade, illegal or irregular behaviour. In short, if Whiteness is associated with goodness and purity, Blackness is associated with the black witch and evil. Black is not beautiful in the English lexicon. Black i

The latter half of the twentieth century witnessed a widespread challenge to these associations. Last week, the slaughter of nine members of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, a Black congregation in Charleston, South Carolina, is but one indication that, for too many, the word black continues to be associated with all that is bad. The Confederate flag still flies from the flagpole in front of the legislature in Columbia, South Carolina. Unlike American and state flags, the Confederate flag was not lowered to half mast in recognition of the slaughter of a popular Black pastor and eight of his parishioners by a white supremacist, Dylann Root.

This, and the terrible incident that provoked it, may be connected with the absence of gun legislation in the U.S. But at a deeper level, I believe that the fact that South Carolina is one of five states that lacks any hate crime legislation is more to the point. South Carolina hosts nineteen different white supremacist organizations, including the Klu Klux Klan. This was not just a mass shooting that occurs so frequently in the U.S. It was a mass shooting that deliberately targeted a pastor of a Black church and his congregants.

Modernity, for Cecil Foster, has been a quest for Whiteness, for purity and perfection. However, our evil, deep, dark and black passions hold us back. This framework for morality has deep philosophical, anthropological, sociological, and mythological roots. In Foster’s analysis, however, Canada stands out as the first country to define itself in terms of multiculturalism, as opposed to ethnic homogeneity, and, therefore, to reject a Black-and-White frame for looking at the world.

There are four primary forms of understanding Blackness. The first is somatic – the genes you inherit that give one’s body a certain shade. This isn’t an absolute category. It is relative. Somalis and Ethiopians in Africa do not consider themselves Black. But they are perceived as Black, neutralized and blackwashed as a visible minority in North America. In 1924, Virginia passed The White Integrity Act, one of many anti-miscegenation laws, that defined a white person as someone with blood that was “entirely white, having no known, demonstrable or ascertainable admixture of the blood of another race.” That law was overturned in the landmark legal case of Loving v. Virginia in 1967. A state law in Louisiana defined anyone as Black who had 1/32nd Negro blood, a law that was overturned in 1983.

A second category for understanding and conceptualizing Blackness is cultural. Blacks have a different culture than whites – speak with a different accent, eat specific “black” foods – gumbo, fried chicken and grits, corn bread, collard greens and watermelon, catfish and black-eyed peas. On a much deeper level, to be Black culturally is to identify with the history of Blacks. The fact that many or even most Blacks may no longer eat these foods does not mean that their association with Black slaves in the American south did not leave an indelible mark to characterize even when contemporary Blacks cannot trace their ancestry back to slaves. The one area where this resonates most strongly is music. Jazz and rock-and-roll both have Black roots. Their universal and global adoption into modern culture is an indication that popular culture has become Black far more than it has become White. “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas,” the theme song of assimilation by a Tin Pan Alley Jew, Irving Berlin, took the dream in the opposite direction of a melting pot.

The third meaning of Black is best epitomized, not by Black Americans from the American south, but by Blacks from the Caribbean who immigrated to Canada and for whom Black stands for status and a way to differentiate Blacks who return home to the Caribbean with money and microwave ovens, fine linens and fluffy towels. They do not opt for integration into their adopted country to become living examples of the highest ideal, as did Harry Belafonte in the U.S. For those who hold Black to be primarily a status consciousness, return with this status is more important than even attaining success in Canada. Cecil Foster himself may have achieved notice as a novelist, essayist and academic scholar in Canada, but this would not compare to the recognition and status he would have enjoyed if he had returned to his birthplace in Barbados.  In the story of Rachel Dolezal, the most inappropriate accusations levelled against her were that she identified as Black for the purpose of status and financial gain.

Finally, there is the category of Black as an ideal rather than White, Black as the essential core of multiculturalism which finally wipes out somatic Blackness and the ethical superiority of Whiteness for a totally opposite ideal vision of a society that not only tolerates but celebrates difference rather than whitewashing the colour out of everyone. In such a perspective, Blackness becomes a dialectical method, not of separating out and dividing in terms of the pure categories of Black and White, but of blending, of conceiving of Black, not in total opposition to White, but as a method that combines what we see and experience with a rational categorical frame for exposing an underlying structure, while always insisting that the categories of Blackness and Whiteness be understood in terms of their historical context and within a specific society, that is. located in time and place. That is how the tale of Rachel Dolezal must be understood, as rooted in time and place and the particular history of another victim of mob hysteria, misrepresentation and metaphorical lynching.

Let me represent it by a table:

Modes of Representation                    Materialist                   Idealist

Social Status Blackness     Black is Beautiful

Somatic Blackness        Cultural Blackness

That is how the case of Rachel Dolezal must be understood if one is not to distort. When the press largely portrays the issue as a white woman posing as a Black, the word black is being used to suggest a quest for privileges, status and financial rewards. Usually Whiteness is privileged for such purposes, but virtually all commentators failed to recognize that there is a trajectory that privileges Black status. This trajectory only became part of the debate as an accusation. However, privileging Whiteness is far more prevalent, hence raising the puzzle of why anyone who was “naturally” and genetically White would want to identify herself as somatically Black. But when you read the details of Rachel’s story, a frame that is restricted to being somatically Black as a method for achieving social status simply distorts and pre-defines her as a fraud, a deceiver, and a peculiar one at that, for it is rare for a somatic White to want to become a somatic Black.The two top categories represent very opposite types of aspiration. The two bottom categories represent very different starting points. In the lower left, society constructs your racial identity. In the lower right category, self-identification becomes supreme. What seems clear is that most people in the media seemed to want to represent Rachel Dolezal as operating on the left hand side of the chart and, unusually, she represented herself and deceived others into thinking she was somatically Black, so these critics of Rachel claim. Further, she did it to achieve social status in the Black community and the benefits of position. In her own story, as opposed to this real misrepresentation, her trajectory rose from identifying as culturally Black at an early age and aspiring to become ideally Black.

However, when Rachel is perceived as someone educated at Howard University, as someone who even took the university to court in 2002 for denying her a position in the university because she was white, a case which she lost, it becomes clear that she has spent her life crusading against somatic Blackness. If she had to engage in that fight by posing as an African-American to gain admission, she might have. But she actually never did. She clearly knew she was somatically White. She was then regarded by her peers and the faculty as White. She wrote her essay for Howard University, not to deceive the university that she was somatically Black – why would she sue them later for denying her a position because she was somatically White – but because she “plunged into black history and novels, feeling the relieving release of understanding and common ground.” She was transitioning into a culturally Black woman even as she remained somatically White.

“My struggles paled as I read of the atrocities many ancestors faced in America.”

But her quest was not simply to remain culturally Black. She clearly wanted to become idealistically Black, to get the world to understand that Black is beautiful and not the denigrated category the term possesses in the English language and especially in the heritage of American society. “At the early age of three I showed an awareness of the richness and beauty of dark skin when I said, ‘Mama, all people are beautiful, but black people are so beautiful.’”

Somatic Blackness was one route to cultural Blackness and ideal Blackness. But it need not be the only route. And it could not be her route. Her path, though she never directly experienced discrimination as a Black, was more challenging, especially since many, and perhaps most, Blacks deny the possibility of such a path. Rachel was also not pursuing Blackness as a status category, as a rich cool cat returning home with all the symbols of a consumer culture, but with special attention to glitz and gold. This stereotype is portrayed as a particular version of a gangster in American movies, such as the excellent one I saw last night, Life of a King, about Blacks who chose to reject the social status conception of Black. Rachel pursued a trajectory by denying her identity in terms of a somatic White person, traveling via a cultural Black person identity to arrive at the ideal of Blackness.

Nor was she doing this through stealth and misrepresentation. Michele Garcia might have concluded that, “It’s pretty clear: Dolezal has lied.” In fact, it is pretty clear that she had not, though she did permit people, and, in some cases, abetted individuals to draw false conclusions about her. When asked specifically about her race, she replied, “If I have to choose to describe yourself and you’re able to give terms like a fraction of whatever but an overall picture, I consider myself to be Caucasian biologically.” As she said in a different way, taking up the challenge of the question about somatic Whiteness, on the NBC Today show (http://www.today.com/news/rachel-dolezal-speaks-today-show-matt-lauer-after-naacp-resignation-t26371), she answered the demand to admit that she was White by saying, “I do take exception to that because it’s a little more complex than me identifying as black or answering a question, are you black or white?”

This is not a case of dodging the issue, but of refusing to get trapped by the categorization built into the question. She insisted on the moral right to identify herself in a way that felt most authentic to her in accordance with that self-determined identity. She definitely did not fabricate her racial identity and engage in blackface as a performance, but, rather, rejected the prison of existing somatic categories in favour of understanding her identity within a more composite, more complicated, and more fluid frame. And she certainly did not do so for financial gain as some have charged. “Dolezal benefited materially from her self-representation as black.”

How does one escape the tyranny of the ideal of the homogeneous Whiteness and purity if you have to answer questions about your race in terms imposed by that racist conception and admit that if you carried even the one drop of ancestral Black blood, and that would make you racially Black, then you are endorsing the ideal of the racially pure White? Laws may be repealed or overturned in judicial decisions, but it is much more difficult to overturn categories embedded deeply in our linguistic and cultural practices. Working within these somatic categories of Black unless pure White is but to accept the racist language, a racist language for which many if not most Blacks have not even freed themselves. To achieve the new ideal of Blackness as the inversion of the old ideal of homogeneity and purity as the highest category symbolized by the colour white, to do so by traveling through the terrain of cultural blackness, has been Rachel Dolezal’s trajectory.

But that is not how it has been perceived by most North Americans caught up in the old categories of somatic Black and White as dictated by the utopian opposite ideal of purity and homogeneity of race versus miscegenation. Rachel became the president of the Spokane chapter of the NAACP in January of this year. By all accounts, she infused that organization with energy and vitality in the pursuit of the equal rights of African-Americans. She secured new offices in downtown Spokane, solidified the financial base of the NAACP Spokane chapter, brought in many new members, launched a number of new strategic initiatives while, at the same time, she helped individuals fight race-based discrimination.

Why was she induced to resign? (For her resignation letter in full, see the Facebook page of the Spokane chapter of the NAACP or http://www.kxly.com/news/spokane-news/rachel-dolezal-to-resign-as-president-of-spokane-naacp/33586732.) She resigned, not because she was racially White, but because she came to believe that the complex publicity over the issue of her identity would harm the agenda of the NAACP.  The firestorm over her identity had become a distraction from its mission, some understandably believe. I, in contrast, believe the firestorm has offered an excellent opportunity for the NAACP to advance its position and mission.

But that is not how most media outlets interpreted the story. Rachel had engaged in deception. Rachel’s empathy for Blacks had evolved into subterfuge and impersonation. just as in the 1949 movie Pinky directed by Elia Kazan, Jeanne Crain as a light-skinned African American woman had done so in reverse when she passed herself off as white when she fell in love with a white doctor. (See the op-ed by Tamara Winfrey Harris, a Black American woman, in last Thursday’s New York Times, 16 June 2015 headlined, “Rachel Dolezal’s Harmful Masquerade.”) Rachel had misled, claimed Tamara, while people like herself had no choice but to be Black. In fact, as I argue, Tamara did have a choice, to reject somatic Blackness as an imposition by racists and identify oneself as culturally and idealistically Black.

From this perspective of deception and misrepresentation, many demanded Rachel’s resignation from Spokane’s volunteer police oversight board as well. Spokane, a city of 210,000, is 90% White, and about 2% somatic Black, but Rachel actually lives in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, the heartland of the Aryan Nation. The charge has also been made that she violated Spokane’s anti-harassment policy by engaging in conduct that humiliated, insulted or degraded members of the police force. What an outrageous claim in the light of the behaviour of some police officers across North America, even in Toronto where a new Black police chief defended carding when the evidence clearly showed that Blacks were totally and disproportionately targeted by the practice. Further, such a charge seems ludicrous except for how serious it is in revealing how entrenched we are in the old racist categories of Black and White as dictated by the utopian ideal of the purity of Whiteness. It should be no surprise that a law-and-order Republican, who especially favours the police and fire department, Mayor David Condon, is leading the charge to remove Rachel from her voluntary position.

The disgrace of the whole event is not simply that Rachel has resigned from her position with the NAACP, or that she has also been fired from her jobs as a part-time college instructor and freelance journalist. The real disgrace is that some prominent members of the Black community, who are clearly somatic Blacks, have either bought into the portrait of deception or resent a somatic White for achieving such prominence in the Black community, even though the national NAACP initially stood by her and insisted that somatic Blackness was not a qualification for her position. However, some local NAACP members could only understand the issue through somatic black lenses.

By now it should be clear that I am critical of the predominant way this issue has been portrayed, understood and mishandled. The public humiliation and metaphorical lynching of Rachel Dolezal has been a disgrace. The firestorm reveals how deeply the ideology of racial white purity and its complement, the Black/White somatic divide, is embedded in North American history. For when Rachel wrote that her ethnic origins were white, black and American Indian, she was not saying that she was somatically Black, or that she had genetic Black roots – except insofar as all of us can trace our genetic history back 70,000 years to Africa, but that Rachel was ethnically Black and that she identified culturally with Black America.

The matter was not helped when her parents evidently “outed” her when they told a reporter that she did not have a drop of Black blood and said that their daughter had begun to “disguise” herself as Black when the parents adopted four Black children. It seems clear that Ruthanne Dolezal, with all her outreach towards Blacks, was deeply somatically White and could not envision having a biological daughter who identified herself as culturally Black and even adopted some of the hair and dress styles to signal that transition.

What about when Rachel referred to Albert Wilkinson as her dad? Her answer: only her biological dad could be her father, but many older men, for her, were dads. One was Albert Wilkinson. Many who hear this insist that this was a clear deception because others would assume that, if Rachel referred to him as her dad, then she meant that he was her biological father. Even if that wasn’t what was meant, she had to be aware that this would be how others interpreted her relationship to Albert Wilkinson.

What about when she was asked in another TV interview about whether she denied that her real parents were her genetic forbears? Surely one was forced to raise one’s eyebrows when she said there was no proof that they were her biological parents and that her birth certificate was only registered after 6 weeks. Here, she was not asserting that she was not biologically White, but she did suggest she carried some scepticism about her paternity and maternity. Was she just being a nut case, or was she hinting at something else? I do not know, for the interviewer was obsessed with insisting that she had a duty to engage with others if they used the somatic White and Black categories to define her identity. Unfortunately, instead of following this line down wherever it went, the journalist hammered away at the theme of deception rather than asking why there was even an iota of doubt. Rachel’s questionable replies threw more suspicion on her willingness to be transparent even though it was clear that she was not in a position nor had the time nor wanted to take the time to constantly tackle the somatic illusions that some Whites want to impose on others.

This isn’t simply an American problem. In Thursday’s Toronto Star (16 June 2015), Neil Price, who teaches at George Brown College, denounced Toronto’s new police chief for endorsing carding and thereby engaging in “a deliberate denial of race-consciousness typical of blacks who gain important positions and find it necessary to publicly signal a disavowal of any allegiance to black people and their grievances.” Although I disagree with Police Chief Saunder’s stand on carding, there is no evidence that he disavowed his own Black consciousness or his sensitivity to the historical suffering of Blacks. Rather, I saw him as acting as Police Chief for all the people and saw himself as a person who believed that a form of carding that did not target or single out Blacks was an advantage in undertaking police work. I myself am sceptical about the technique in general and doubly sceptical that it can be practiced in isolation from its historical pattern of usage. However, the pursuit of a high professional position does not entail an immediate suspicion that the person is abandoning his identity as Black, but that he may be pursuing a higher ideal of Blackness as a universal marker in a society with a history that gave the highest value to purity and Whiteness.

Anna Leventhal, a writer of fiction like Cecil Foster, in her column on Rachel that was published side-by-side Neil Price’s, asked, “Why can’t Dolezal be African-American? She identifies with the culture, she grew up in a mixed-race family (her biological parents adopted four Black boys), and she has clearly demonstrated a commitment to the struggles of African-American people. Who are we to say she is not who she claims to be? It seems we have reached a high water mark for cultural understanding and acceptance of gender’s socially constructed nature. The next step would be to apply it to race.”

However, it is clear than Anna Levanthal’s understanding has its limits. “While the idea of being ‘transracial’ has some history in describing the identities of adopted children who are of a different race than their parents, it doesn’t mean it can be used casually to describe the feeling that you are not of the race you were born into.” But what if your agenda is NOT to deny the supposed race that you were born into, but the utility and misuse of somatic categories of race, particularly Black and White, altogether? There is little evidence that Rachel denied the race that she was born into, in spite of the efforts of the press to portray her as engaged in deceptive practices, but much evidence to support the position that she denied the alleged race into which she was born was relevant to her identity. As her two sons told her when the whole issue exploded in the media; “Mom, you are culturally Black and racially human.”

Rachel explicitly refused to accept the idea of somatic Whiteness and Blackness that most Americans seemed to want to impose upon her. In recent years, she had not been claiming to be transracial, as such a claim played into the tyranny of somatic Blackness. Rachel claimed to be Black, culturally Black and idealistically Black. Rachel was not taking “on a new race,” but a new culture and a new ideal in the face of a society that refused to budge from its polar oppositional categorization of Black and White. She did not just want to be an ally of Black Americans, for she perceived that as surrendering to the somatic and idealist categorization of Black and White as oppositional categories with the purity of Whiteness being reinforced by the very categorization itself.

Anna Leventhal’s analogy with Grey Owl who presented himself as racially of mixed white and Ojibway stock, is, therefore, not a parallel. For in addition to his identification with the culture of our aboriginal peoples, he actually was a racial poseur. Rachel was not. Anna’s inability or refusal in the end to understand Rachel’s agenda, her insistence that Rachel could and should have remained White and simply openly supported Blacks, indicates that, as tolerant as she tries to be and undoubtedly is, she has missed the point.

For a very interesting parallel, read Avraham Osipov-Gipsh’s account, “Am I Like Rachel Dolezal?” published in Tablet this past week. As he asserted on the same principle of self-sovereignty, “I performed Jewish. I lived Jewish. And nobody owns the right to tell me if I am Jewish or not.” Except, he was not dealing with a somatic category, but with a melange that apply to being a Jew, some of which have implications for religious membership and others implications for membership in a state that are not satisfied by self-sovereignty. What about the commandment of honouring your parents, whether biological or adoptive or foster in the Shulchan Aruch? Was Avraham like Rachel in failing to honour his parents, a failure that cast so much suspicion on Rachel’s self-identity? That, for religious Jews, is a far greater desecration than dissembling; lacking respect in that area is a desecration of G-d’s name.

Fiction and Fact: The Culture of the Con

Fiction and Fact: The Culture of the Con

by

Howard Adelman

Foster, Peter (2014) “Goodbrokers: Wolf of Wall Street an inferior Scorcese remake,” National Post, 8 January, FP11.

Fulford, Robert (2014) “The American Scheme: How the con man managed to turn himself into a folk hero,” National Post, 7 January, B1.

Rakoff, Jed S. (2014) “”The Financial Crisis: Why Have No High-Level Executives Been Prosecuted?” NYRB, LXI:1, 9 January.

Surowiecki, James (2014) “Do the Hustle,” The New Yorker, 13 January, 21.

Following my reviews of the two films, The Wolf of Wall Street and American Hustle, I will be using the above four essays or articles as well as the widespread very recent reports on the huge fines levelled against JP Morgan Chase Bank. This comment was instigated by a response to my blog with an attachment, an “Open Letter to the Makers of The Wolf of Wall Street, and the Wolf Himself” by Christina McDowell (http://blogs.laweekly.com/informer/2013/12/wolf_of_wall_street_prousalis.php) Christina is the daughter of Tom Prousalis, a partner of Jordan Belfort whom Leonardo DiCaprio played in the film. Belfort pleaded guilty to money laundering and securities fraud and was a prosecution witness against his former colleague, Tom Prousalis.

Christina wrote that the testimony was blocked lest it reveal a spate of other corrupt stock offerings: “that would have been a disaster. It would have just been too many liars, and too many schemes for the jurors, attorneys or the judge to follow.” Further, Christina wrote that Belfort and her father conspired together not just in one scheme, as the film portrayed, but in a series of fraudulent stock offerings such as MVSI Inc. of Vienna, e-Net Inc. of Germantown, Md., Octagon Corp. of Arlington, Va., and Czech Industries Inc. of Washington, D.C., and so on. Christina confronted the makers of the film for glorifying Belfort and receiving kudos and awards while both the victims of these fraudsters suffered enormously. Her mother, her two sisters and she herself also suffered and continue to suffer. The suffering began immediately after the fact by learning that they themselves were burdened with enormous credit card and other debts rooted in identity theft. Prousalis’ wife and his three daughters’ lives were just wrecked. Remember how Bernie Madoff’s son committed suicide!

Why? Because these con artists trick the members of their own families. But in the films they are turned into folk heroes. Christina wrote: “You people are dangerous. Your film is a reckless attempt at continuing to pretend that these sorts of schemes are entertaining, even as the country is reeling from yet another round of Wall Street scandals. We want to get lost in what? These phony financiers’ fun sexcapades and coke binges? Come on, we know the truth. This kind of behavior brought America to its knees.” At the end of the film, the story suggests that Jordan Belfort went along to a second career as a motivational speaker to become once again wealthy while many of his victims largely remain destitute and received little if any restitution.

Christina concludes that after she was sucked into the con, and the drug behaviour and pleasure seeking that went along with it, “then I unravelled the truth. The truth about my father and his behavior: that behind all of it was really just insidious soul-sucking shame masked by addiction, which we love to call ambition, which is really just greed. Greed and the desire for fame (exactly what you’ve successfully given self-appointed motivational speaker/financial guru Jordan Belfort, whose business opportunities will surely multiply thanks to this film).”

Peter Foster complemented that criticism by claiming the film exploited the same values as the con artist – lies and exaggerated behaviour. As Foster wrote, Belfort graduated from a meat salesman to a stock salesman and was named by himself as the Wolf, not by Forbes Magazine. Further, the critics are complicit in cheering the film claiming it was as good or even superior to Goodfellas when it is, as both I and Foster claimed, tedious and totally self-indulgent however great the acting and production values. The biggest lie is that the makers and promoters of the film, including Leonardo DiCaprio, call it a cautionary tale, when in artistic intent and consequences, it is precisely the opposite. As my son, Gabriel, who loves the film, says, Scorcese’s great skill is to portray villain’s from a very neutral perspective and not take a stand. Screenwriter Terence Winter claimed the lesson from the film is that, “We don’t learn anything. Nothing changes.” Further, Gabriel himself is anguished between his love for the brilliance in film making and the consequences among young people of his age who take the very opposite message from the film and glory in the excessive wealth and self-indulgence of the crooked stockbrokers.

Robert Fulford, while acknowledging that The Wolf of Wall Street is florid and hysterical and that the acting is sensationally good, claims that the message of the film is not only that, “We don’t learn anything. Nothing changes,” but that eternal recurrence of the con theme is a reverberating theme of American culture. The lesson is not that crooks get it and their lives are ruined, but that they are reborn again in new versions of the same thing as Christina declares about her father. “He recreates himself every time he imagines a new scheme for enriching himself at the hands of the innocent.” George Parker (1870-1930) who sold the Brooklyn Bridge many times over was “an outrageous model for all fictional con men.” Con men tell lies and make claims that are too good to be true.  Fulford opines that, “Characters like him are a gift to storytellers and moviemakers …moral cripples…riding on a smile and a shoeshine.” The best con movie of all time, The Sting, memorializes the type, but in a movie where the marks are the real crooks. The movie works by conning the audience, but traditionally making the con clear by a twist at the ending. The Wolf of Wall Street is a fraud that cons but never owns up to it.

The question arises: why do these con artists get away with it? James Surowiecki asks why Americans have a soft spot for these greedy hucksters who sell dreams that never come true and why do audiences get conned by movies like The Wolf of Wall Street and American Hustle? Surowiecki’s answer is the same as that of the screenwriter of The Wolf of Wall Street, “It has ever been thus.” As the University of Pennsylvania historian Walter McDougall wrote, “far from despising flimflam artists as parasites or worse, American popular culture habitually celebrates rascals as comedic figures.” Surowiecki continues: “It seems that con artists, for all their vices, represent many of the virtues that Americans aspire to. Con artists are independent and typically self-made…They succeed or fail based on their wits. They exemplify, in short, the complicated nature of American capitalism, which, as McDougall argues, has depended on people being hustlers in both the positive and the negative sense. The American economy wasn’t built just on good ideas and hard work. It was also built on hope and hype.”

As Surowiecki wrote, the line between crooks and businessmen is fuzzy. (As we will see, thus may still be true in the twenty-first century.) In the nineteenth century, Jay Gould who promoted railway stock was one of the biggest con artists the country had ever seen. Wall Street Entrepreneurs and con men have similar skills. “Successful entrepreneurship involves hucksterism, the ability to convince investors and employees that they should risk their money, their time, and their effort on you.” They peddle optimism. The philosophy of the sting is to sell hope. Steve Jobs was the greatest con man, entrepreneur and director of the twenty-first century, scripting and rehearsing his presentations to the greatest detail. He believed that you both had to have but also sell absolute conviction. As Weinberg said, “Before you sell a deal you have to live the deal. You have to believe in it, because, if you don’t believe in it, you can’t sell it.”  The one and only difference between the con artist and the entrepreneur is not the set of qualities, but that the entrepreneur can deliver and make the fantasies come true. Con men cannot.

Jed Rakoff in his article asks why there have been no prosecutions of high level executives from the latest financial scandal of the huge mortgage scams. Everything may not be the same. There were high level prosecutions in the past – Michael Milken in the 1970s junk bond bubble, Charles Keating and others in the 1980s savings-and-loan crisis, Jeffrey Skilling and Bernie Ebbers in the 1990s Enron scam. But there have been no prosecutions of executives from the 2008 sub-prime mortgage collapse. The 2 billion dollar fine of JP Morgan, the biggest US bank with $2.3 trillion in assets and revenues of over a $100 billion, was levied for failing to inform US authorities of the Madoff Ponzi fraud. The announcement was made five years after Madoff was arrested. The bank ignored its own information that Madoff was up to something very questionable. To avoid indictment, the bank had to admit criminal wrongdoings and pay the fine. This recent $2 billion was in addition to a previous series of fines $13 billion, $4.5 billion, $920 million, $470 million, $410 million and an anticipated another $2.3 or so billion more European fines, fines which in total only amounted to 12% of its net income over four years.

Why have the executives not been prosecuted for the collusion of these huge businesses with fraudsters like Madoff or Weinberg or Belfort, for the latter could not succeed in their theft, whether selling worthless stocks in the seventies and eighties or selling toxic mortgage-backed securities in the twenty-first century without the collusion of large banks? There are several possibilities. First, perhaps the banks were themselves conned. But they did not lose money; they made money – huge amounts. Further, the real question is why they shut their eyes to both what they knew and what they did not want to know. But why did SEC not catch on? Why did the rating agencies mislead everyone? There are reasons offered – the difficulty of proving intent, even though intent need not be proven, only wilful blindness, not nearly as difficult to prove. Further, since these firms also participated in the purchase of these weekly-backed mortgage securities and were sophisticated investors, how could they be declared as either victims or as complicit? Given the speed of electronic trading and the reliance on algorithms, how could responsibility ever be traced to individuals?

Another reason is offered. Unlike previous financial crises, in this crisis the whole western economy was at risk. There were more important priorities. Another reason Rakoff offers is the built-in incentives of prosecuting attorneys to make names for themselves, but to do so in a timely fashion as distinct from the large number of years it would take to prosecute banks for complicity. In the films, manic FBI agents take their place because they are mirrors of the con artists in the two films I discussed. Further, Rakoff suggested that the government itself was complicit since it proposed the shotgun marriages of the Bank of America with Merrill Lynch and JP Morgan with Bear Stearns with mistakes made and liabilities unrevealed. Prosecuting attorneys can make a name much easier than prosecuting individual executives by making deferred or non-prosecution agreements as was done with JP Morgan and settle for huge fines. They can then envision themselves as the modern Robin Hoods.

I want to suggest another reason not included in Rakoff’s long list of potential explanations. We have gone from making con artists folk heroes to making them superheroes just when films increasingly portray the dark side of traditional superheroes – Batman, Superman, Spiderman. Billy the Kid, Bonnie and Clyde from the dark side, and Daniel Boone and David Crocket from the light side, Joe Hill and Che Guevera from the left side, and Rob Roy and Joseph Trumeldor from the right side, have all been folk heroes. Canada has its own Two Gun Moshe Cohen. The biography of any one of them will show that they were themselves shape-shifters who helped in the effort to imprint their names, personalities and ostensible deeds into popular memory usually exaggerated to mythic proportions. The folk hero is an individual who performs acts that allows a sympathetic group to project onto them heroic status for that heroic status confers status and position on the group who identifies with the supposed hero. This is true of the Ford Nation in relationship to a serial liar and serial apologist like Rob Ford selling the fraud that he is the taxpayer’s best friend. Typically, trickster heroes in all cultures (Brer Rabbit, the coyote in aboriginal stories) have both good and bad sides, usually breaking taboos but upholding everyman values.

The con men tricksters of The Wolf of Wall Street and of American Hustle are the new contemporary folk heroes being mythologized by Hollywood now as superheroes. Though fictions about con artist folk heroes – whether Huckleberry Finn  or Tom Sawyer – used to serve as a counter-balance to restore social order, in the contemporary mould they are used to uphold the virtues of greed for its own sake. The difference now is that the films through mindblindness, not deliberate intention, but wilful mindblindness nevertheless, serves the same roles as the banks in their complicity with the original crimes in the sub-prime mortgage scandal in raising the status of the crooks in an afterlife of iconic status by developing stories as myths favouring con artists using megalomaniacal hype themselves with no relationship to social needs or social purposes and only incidental relatiobs to the facts. The films are as guilty of promoting vicarious hedonistic thrills as the con artist fraudster entrepreneurs were. The new blended superhero/folk heroes are not Robin Hood figures but icons of the age of greed and the new dreams of hedonistic glory and the pursuit of sensual pleasure in our society. When aesthetics trumps both truth and ethics in the glorification of appetite with the enormous investment that a first class con requires, Hollywood becomes the vehicle for creating the new myths without any fear they will be prosecuted for their “artistic license” as the film-makers both profit from the hype and the dreams they spin and as they propagate new imitators.

 

Cleaning House

On Cleaning House                                                                               11 June, 2013.

by

Howard Adelman

Why is the expression “cleaning house” so equivocal? On the one hand it means tidying up or, more extensively, scrubbing down your home to get rid of dirt and dust. At the extreme, a premise is made that space pure and free of adulterated matter or pollutants is highly desirable. But cleaning house can have an aesthetic dimension – getting rid of all the chachkas and paraphenalia that clutters your home. More radically, it suggests a goal of streamlining your furniture and belongings in obeisance to the aesthetic dictates of modernism. Cleaning house can be an economic or, at the very least, accounting expression – make sure all your bills are paid or all your receipts are properly filed. It certainly has an ethical dimension when one declares one’s intention of getting rid of all the “bad apples” in the Senate and restoring principles of integrity and frugality in the dispensation of government funds. “Cleaning house” also has a military dimension; a newspaper depicted Assad’s counter strikes against the rebel forces as “cleaning house”, meaning that the Assad forces are currently purging the route to Lebanon of all rebel militias (as well as many innocent civilians) as he takes back one stronghold after another. The expression can have a religious dimension as when Jesus cleaned the Temple of Jerusalem and drove the merchants out. “Jesus entered the Temple and began to drive out all the people buying and selling animals for sacrifice. He knocked over the tables of the money changers and the chairs of those selling doves.” (Matthew 21:12-14)

In all of the above uses, the emphasis is on three things: what is yours; what of yours you want to dispose of; and the final remaining purified state. But if one is a gambler and cleans house, the expression means the very opposite – taking what is theirs – the money of the other players. It means adding not detracting from what is yours. Finally, and possibly most importantly, it means, not working like hell to make your home spick and span or becoming obsessively focussed on getting rid of all crime and corruption, but, rather, to take everyone else’s money as fast as one can, including the casino’s, without any seeming effort. Contrary to the normal use of the phrase that esteems the Protestant work ethic, this use of the phrase idealizes ease and leisure and deprecates hard work. The expression is used derivatively to combine both senses when a cop in a movie observes a den of thieves leaving their abode and running off with their loot. “The rats are cleaning house.” It means they are taking only the proceeds of their crime and abandoning everything else.

I have been cleaning house for the last two weeks, but especially during the past four days. In part, I have been cleaning house in one of the various meanings of the first sense and eliminating and discarding what we no longer want to own. I put those items in the garage sale as part of our Casa Loma community this past weekend. But calling the 25 of my 40 file drawers that I put in the blue recycling bins what was undesirable does not seem quite correct except in comparison to what was kept. I just wanted to make space and get rid of things in spite of my desire to hold onto them. Some of those items included undergraduate essays that I wrote almost sixty years ago.

But I also got rid of 2000 books, perhaps 15-20% of my library. Eight large boxes went as donations to the libraries of three research centre at York University. Some were sold in the garage sale. Others went for resale in a used bookstore on Bloor Street. I gave away many. The largest by far – two dozen boxes – went to the University of Toronto library, the vast bulk of them for the UofT book sale that helps the library buy more books. Getting rid of old files may be a humanitarian act to save some poor shlob when I am even older the problem of going through my files and selecting anything worthwhile. Or perhaps that is too arrogant. What I am really doing is simply saving the files I still can or may reference as well as trying to reduce the risk that I will not be dispensed to a recycler altogether.

In any case, cleaning house when you are disposing of your intellectual property and production seems so much harder a task than simply disposing of goods you no longer value. You both hold them in high value, but no longer enough to keep around in your old age. The greatest pain does not come from the physical exertion expended. In my case, it was far harder to dispose of the books than the files.

I have several other observations. One can get donation receipts for giving away books and these can be even more financially valuable than actually selling them directly or through a used book store. Secondly, and I noticed this most acutely at the garage sale, whereas when I sold off a lot of books at a garage sale ten years ago, I was swarmed. The numbers who came were very large. There were very few relatively who came this time and, surprisingly, not that many who appeared when the books were widely advertised as being free. In the electronic age, having a print library seems no longer a valuable; given the costs of real estate, space is valued more highly.

All this is to say that I have been very busy and have neglected my comments on Jeremy’s biography of Albert Hirschman. I have neglected them for a second reason – the little feedback that I have been getting. I wanted the reading of the book to be a conversation. However, very few have participated. In talking to two of you, it has been suggested that my long winded comments, however interesting they are, are intimidating. Those who want to offer a few brief impressions feel out of place.

So I will try a few chapters using a different response – by asking a few questions rather than writing a small essay.

What do you think?