Thursday, November 30, 2006


On my weekly drive to State College, I find that there is about a 100 mile stretch (through central PA) where I can't find anything interesting on the radio except conservative talk-show programs. Now, I must admit, I actually love listening in to the likes of Rush Linbaugh and Sean Hannity, despite my total disgust at the content of those shows and the rhetoric deployed in them. I justify this to myself by saying that one ought to keep abreast of what the enemy is thinking... but the truth is, sometimes it's just so ridiculous that it's hilarious.

A couple of days ago, Sean Hannity was discussing on his program the recent Micheal Richards (Kramer) racial tirade at the Laugh Factory. Hannity had the African-American target of Richards' rant and his lawyer as guests on the show. In classic Hannity fashion, he spent most of the interview chastising his guest for responding to Richards by calling him a "stupid [expletive] cracker." According to Hannity, "cracker" and "nigger" are equally reproachable racial slurs. Ergo, Richards is entitled to an apology as much as his audience members were.


Now, I went to Wikipedia and looked up the term "cracker." As I suspected, it's a term largely used to refer to poor "white trash" in the southeastern United States. That's where I'm from, and I would be lying if I didn't say that I've heard this term as often in my life as it's counterpart. But never.... NEVER... has it occurred to me that this term is equal to the N-word. Nobody uses the term "cracker" in reference to a history of lynching, like Richards' did with the N-bomb, nor does anyone claim that they can get someone arrested (again, as Richards did)solely on the basis of bring a "cracker." Hannity's contention was that if the African-American's in the audience felt threatened (or, in legal parlance, "assaulted") by Richards' tirade, then Richards could reasonbly assume that he was in equal danger when he was called a "cracker."

Okay, Hannity's an idiot. But I hear this kind of argument a lot. It's usually couched in some version of a "reverse racism" claim. So, I want to call out the utter inanity of this argument. And, for that matter, the utter inanity of all the crackers who keep putting it forth.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

The Work of Mourning

I was recently at a conference for one of the professional philosophical organizations in the U.S., the Society for Phenomenology and Existential Philosophy (SPEP). As a part of the business meeting, SPEP regularly honors its members who have died in the last year. This year, there were four eulogies given at the business meeting, which were delivered by SPEP members who were friends or colleagues of the deceased. On the whole, they were beautifully delivered, touching and sensitive accounts that both summarized the academic careers and achievements of their honorees and offered tender and personal anecdotes which, for those of us who didn't otherwise know of the departed, humanized them and painted a richer picture of the lives of people who generally are reduced to their teaching appointments and publications.

After the business meeting, I heard several people complain that the eulogies took up the greatest segment of time in the business meeting. First, let me say that most of the items on the agenda of these business meetings are pro forma. That is to say, it is not as if the eulogies displaced some other crucial piece of "business." But, more importantly, I'm worried about this complaint on a deeper level. SPEP is an organization that, in my view, is fortunate to still be small enough to recognize its members' passings every year. (Outside of a church congregation, I can't think of many other small communities that are able to honor the loss of their members in such a way.) And I think that the work of mourning is underdeveloped and underappreciated in our society. My deep concern is that we don't know how to mourn our dead, and the complaints that I heard only confirmed my suspicion.

Why is it that the current administration is so passionately invested in prohibiting images of war casualties? Why is it that "Ground Zero" is still not much more than a hole in the ground? We have a seriously stunted ability to mourn, and my impression has been that Americans are far more invested in burying the past than reckoning with it. I was tremendously impressed with the SPEP eulogies (especially Linda Martin Alcoff's eulogy of Iris Marion Young) and I am troubled by the fact that some would prefer that less time is provided for this work instead of more time. The work of mourning is hard work, but it is fundamentally and essentially human work... it's part of the work of being human, of being a part of a human community, of dealing with the finitude and precariousness of human existence. One would think, in an organization calling itself the Society for Phenomenology and Existential Philosophy, that the work of mourning would warrant more reverence.

On only one occasion have I been afforded the opportunity to deliver a eulogy. It is a monumentally difficult task. A task, I suspect, that many fear, if not actively avoid at all cost. We are poorer for it.