Friends of Webster

Raised in the house, but field certified.

Question: Is ‘the black face’ caricature still offensive? Or can we laugh, yet?

This past weekend was the preferred time for costume parties and halloween-themed events.  Creativity was at its peak, on this past Saturday night.Diana.jpg

To the right, you will see modern interpretations of Carlton Banks (me), Punky Brewster (Lindsey), and several other characters: Happy Gilmore, Olive Oil, Popeye, and Johnny Depp on ’21 Jump Street.’

There is always a person that pushes the bounds however. 

This presidential race has opened the eyes of many Americans. Great discussions about civil rights has everyone thrilled at the thought of those last few barriers being broken (so we don’t have to talk about them anymore.)

This post will pose a question, is black face still offensive in the 21st century?  With millions of Americans dressing up for Friday night’s festivities, how many stories will we hear on the news about politically or racially charged costumes? Will this be a moment that opens the door for the black face caricature to make its way back to the discussion?

Back to this past Saturday, a Jesuit Prep School buddy of mine dressed up as a Saddam Hussein and Barack Obama hybrid. He spent a lot of time on it and his ingenuity was applaudable.  But then after the initial shock and laugh was done for, I questioned his costume and its intent.  Many of our friends and questioned,

“Webster, do you feel that this is inappropriate?”

Now, the gentleman is a good guy.  To my knowledge, not a mean-spirited bone in his body. He likely spent two hours on the costume and it was ‘simply a political statement.’  My response, as I recall was,

“While I appreciate the effort that you put into your costume, it can be seen by others as offensive. While you are around friends that know you, it is all fun and games but just so you know, people may not like it if you walk down the street in this get-up.”

I wasn’t upset with him, he said that he didn’t know better. I stayed, I had fun and I shrugged of all of the questions.  This is an important issue, because I feel that there will be an influx of caricatures of Senator Obama for halloween. Should this be discouraged?  Is this sort of humor still offensive? Click below to decide.


October 29th, 2008 Posted by | Pictures Worth Seeing | 3 comments

Must Watch: Awakening The Presidency Scene

Robert F. Kennedy deserves some credit in the Civil Rights movement. For those that were still youthful and idealistic in that time, you may recall this statement:

“There’s no question about it,’ the attorney general said. ‘In the next 40 years a Negro can achieve the same position that my brother has.’…Kennedy said that prejudice exists and probably will continue to…’But we have tried to make progress and we are making progress. We are not going to accept the status quo.’

-RFK, Washington Post, May 27, 1968

Why not now? Why should we have to wait for this nation’s sturdiest wall to crumble for the sake of an Obama Presidency? 

Why shouldn’t the walls crumble? With destruction comes regrowth and fortification. Our neighborhood, near the center of Houston, is a great metaphor for this.

We are surrounded by transformation, where the walls of decades-old homes are torn down for new valuable ones. It is arguable that Dr. King’s most powerful line in the ”I have a Dream” speech was, “The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.” 

Those old walls were storm-battered, grafiti-survived, and oxidated but now beautiful ones exist to shelter beautiful, diverse families with ideas and ideals that spurn stagnation and rear innovation.  To me, that is America. 

What scene will you wake up?

October 22nd, 2008 Posted by | Music Speaks | 4 comments

Obama vs. Palin: The Race That Divides Us and “The Social Desirability Bias”

As an American people, more than any political race since the 80′s and early 90′s campaigns of Harold Washington, Tom Bradley, Jesse Jackson and David Dinkins—campaign tactics will determine the outcome in the voting booth.  These African-American politicians experienced what political scientists entitled “The Bradley Effect.”

The Bradley effect, in short, is a discrepancy between polling numbers and actual voter turnout, as pertains to African-American candidates competing against white candidates.  It can be noted that historically, these effects were only seen when black candidates were running in areas that were demographically adverse to their political base. Case-in-point, Jesse Jackson’s 18.2% of primary votes (wikipedia) in the 1984 election was supplied by an overwhelming support by African-Americans.
Still yet, his polling numbers presented a great since of optimism, only to be left unjustified by the exit polls.  Famously, Former-Mayor Tom Bradley was to win the California gubernatorial race by a nine points, only to lose by a slim margin. The opposition’s campaign manager, Bill Roberts, predicted a five point swing for his candidate due to a phenomenon called “The Social Desirability Bias.” 

The Social Desirability Bias (SDB) dictates the outcome of modern politics.

The bias is utilized as a means of conformity. I skimmed through Robert Fisher’s rationale of the effects of SDB on consumer questioning and then I applied it to today’s current events. Some political operatives say that the Bradley Effect’s era ended with the congressional election of bi-racial Congressman Harold Ford, Jr.  While the end of an era may be attributed to the Tennessean’s victory in 1997, it ushered in a new subtle form of racial politics–spurred by the Willie Horton Ad of the 1988 election year. This ad insinuated that Democratic Nominee, Michael Dukakis, was not only soft on crime–but that black men are criminals and that they should be second guessed when seen in the street. 
Harold Ford, Jr.’s senate campaign against Bob Corker (R) was moving along successfully before the infamous “Call Me” ad funded and ran by the Republican National Convention.

call me.png


This ad is unapologetically subliminal.  It does not hint at racial politics on the surface but it made some white voters remember a time when miscegenation was legal and even President Clinton came running to Ford’s defense when his campaign screamed foul. This particular election was dominated by the votes of “rural Americans.” In many ways, Obama’s campaign is a myriad of campaign strategies used by former Congressman Ford.
As this political race comes to a close and Rovian tactics continue to emerge, none are greater than the Senator John McCain’s sub-campaign–the “Other” theme.  Jeremiah Wright and the black church, his Ayers association, Obama’s exotic background, the community organizer title, and Karl Rove’s first quote attributed to helping shape the Obama narrative, ”Even if you never met him, you know this guy. He’s the guy at the country club with the beautiful date, holding a martini and a cigarette that stands against the wall and makes snide comments about everyone.”

This sound bite was meant to establish several impressions.  At the time of this comment, June 24th, the primary season had just ended and John McCain’s mission was to define Barack Obama before the Jr. Senator had the opportunity to do so, himself.  It smelled of pitiful political undercurrent. 

  • the guy at the country club (elitism, black man in a place that few people can afford)
  • beautiful date (infidelity)
  • martini and cigarette (aimed toward evangelicals, trustworthiness–he was said to have quit smoking)
  • against the wall (disengaged, out of touch)
  • snide comments (insincerity, implication about Obama’s April comment on guns and religion)

In 2008, nothing in politics lacks calculation or polling. In this sense, Obama Campaign Manager, David Axelrod is in the same boat as Karl Rove and Steve Schmidt. Steve Schmidt lobbied John McCain to select Sarah Palin, in the most Rovian of tactics used yet. In the most genius of political maneuvering, the McCain Campaign shifted the discussion from McCain v. Obama to Obama v. Palin. Barack Obama can not touch Sarah Palin, he risks being judged by his credibility over her own and conjuring up the stories of those who remember Rosewood, Florida and Emmit Till. Subconsciously recalling these stories and applying them as measuring sticks for credibility and entitlement.  Americans are flooded with images and clips of a Palin telling audiences that Obama “is not like us” and pleading to the “Joe Six-Packs” out there to believe her, not him. She pushes the message that she is trustworthy and he is not.  She paints him as a threat while the occasional outlier yells, “Kill him.” 

This type of campaigning has nothing to do with shifting polling numbers. The McCain campaign has been tutored by the best, Karl Rove.  He understands the Social Desirability Bias and just how wrong the polls may be, at this juncture. He knows that in the 11th hour, many “pro-Americans”, “Working class folk”, and “Joe the Plumbers” will feel deeply conflicted. For some–political policies, agendas, and even leadership will be forgotten in a flash and the race will come down to him or her.  “Willie Horton” and the “Call Me” ad do not hold a candle to the most effective free advertisement that the McCain campaign could find, effortlessly closing the gap in Obama’s 2:1 spending advantage.  Lest I say? A black man vs. a white woman.
Every word means something; every campaign decision is communicative. The Social Desirability Bias will determine this election and when voters enter the booth, many will have to overcome decades of protective instincts and thoughts threaded with hints of taxonomy and history. 
I am not so sure that the Democrats should be planning for the “Liberal Super Majority,” just yet.
Fisher, Robert J, 1993. “Social Desirability Bias and the Validity of Indirect Questioning,” Journal of Consumer Research: An Interdisciplinary Quarterly, University of Chicago Press, vol. 20(2), pages 303-15, September.

October 18th, 2008 Posted by | Political Commentary | no comments

Music: “I Trust You” By James Fortune

October 13th, 2008 Posted by | Music Speaks | no comments

Pennsylvania Ave?