Monday, May 23, 2016

Jimbo Goes to the Movies: 'Captain America: Civil War' (2016) Review

The action is top-notch, but is it enough to surmount a rather predictable plot and a total dearth of character development?

By: Jimbo X

Civil War will forever be a film remembered for one thing, and one thing only - quite possibly the greatest cinematic donnybrook ever filmed. 

Indeed, the 20-minute, CGI-laden, abandoned airport melee that transpires about halfway through the film is without question the most awe-inspiring superhero free-for-all to ever grace the silver screen. It’s a comic book fan’s cinematic dreams come true – a multi-million dollar extravaganza featuring a dozen of the most iconic Marvel heroes of all-time just pummeling the dog shit out of each other for no other reason than the fact that it looks cool. You’ve got Spider-Man fist-fighting Captain America. You’ve got Black Panther and Hawkeye exchanging blows. You get to see The Falcon sic Red Wing (now a robotic drone, naturally) on Black Widow and watch The Winter Soldier and War Machine duke it out. You’ve even got a sequence where Ant-Man shrinks down to atom size and runs around inside Iron Man’s helmet unplugging wires and shit. It’s arguably the greatest mark-out moment in the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe canon to date – if not the single greatest mark-out moment in any superhero movie ever.

When it comes to delivering the high-octane action, Civil War earns a solid A+. In fact, there are at least two more action sequences in the film (a team battle against Crossbones in Nigeria and a two-on-one handicap match pitting Cap and Bucky Barnes against Tony Stark) that are awesome enough to qualify as the concluding set pieces in any other genre picture. The problem with this latest Avengers flick, however, is that – and this is very much the same criticism I have with all of the MCU films – is that there just isn’t any plot or character development to complement all of the five-star boom-boom.

The astounding success of the MCU films can largely be attributed to its episodic content delivery. Rather than craft true three-act-stories with a beginning, middle, and end, Civil War – much like its predecessor Age of Ultron – literally drops you into the thick of battle before the opening credits even roll. If you’ve watched the last six or eight Marvel movies, good for you, but if you haven’t, you’ll be completely lost. There is virtually no exposition on the characters for the uninitiated, and there’s hardly any background provided on the universe’s two latest cash-cow additions – a certain African prince turned feline-themed vigilante and a specific web-slinging smart aleck from Queens – either. The plot never sums up who or what Hydra is, and all of the stuff about the Infinity Gems and The Sokovia Accords are going to be over the heads of anyone who isn’t already well-versed in the Marvel mythology. Accessibility isn’t even close to being concern here – it’s pure, preaching-to-the-choir fan-service for two and a half hours, and if you aren’t already in the loop, well, Disney will just make $900 million dollars without you anyway.

The thing that really surprised me most about Civil War was just how devoid it was of a traditional narrative. You know how most movies begin by introducing the characters and setting, then introduce a conflict and work their ways towards some kind of resolution? Well, the latest Captain America movie doesn’t really follow that pattern, instead just throwing its nearly 20-character strong throng of antagonists into explosion-strewn event one-after-another. Even though the film is technically anchored around the theme of public protectors having too much power and not enough oversight, the characters still have free reign to cause as much havoc and destruction as they wish, and – once again, contradicting the entire motif of the movie – just about all of it is posited as fairly inconsequential, even when scores of innocent people wind up as collateral corpses.

Yes, the premise of Civil War is nearly identical to the premise of the much-maligned Batman v. Superman movie from earlier this year (can you imagine being a Wizard-reading, ‘90s comic nerd getting to type such statements?), and philosophically, both films attempt to address the same existential questions posed by confused, anti-authoritarian treatises like The Watchmen and The Dark Knight. Whereas BvS beat you over the head with the notion, Civil War – in true Marvel fashion – just kind of plays it off, however, giving us a few glimmers of semi-serious evaluation of the problem of power before deteriorating into your standard quip-filled punch-fest. While it would be nice to see these Marvel flicks at least try to humanize the product a little, I suppose what we see in Civil War – pure cartoon shlock, completely aware of its asininity – is a much preferred alternative to the standard DCEU template (that being, SUPER-overwrought, grimdark, wannabe intellectual bullstuff.)

The plotline for Civil War, you may ask? Well, despite sharing its namesake with a controversial comic book crossover arc that saw half of the Marvel Universe revolt over a superhero registration law, the film instead takes a more low-key approach to the thematic. During a knock-down drag-out battle with Hydra, Scarlet Witch accidentally blows a couple of hundred or so U.N, workers sky high, which – in tandem with the trillions upon trillions of dollars of damage accrued in the first two Avengers flicks – has goaded the United Nations into drafting a binding resolution intended to create greater regulation of super-powered beings. This is something that sits perfectly well with Iron Man, who blames himself for a lot of needless mayhem over the last eight years at the multiplexes, but the idea rankles Captain America pretty hard (a rather strange situation – the ultra-patriotic emblem of the old guard taking a stand against the feds while the billionaire industrialist rallies for greater government oversight.) Of course, this divides the Avengers down the middle, with half the squad siding with Captain’s “honor is like the hawk, sometimes it must go hooded” approach and the others in agreement with Old Shellhead that the powers that be need to keep the super powers that are in line. Things come to a boil when a guerrilla terrorist who looks a lot like the Winter Soldier decides to blow up the parliament of Wakanda, thus claiming the life of its president (which provides just enough exposition to allow for series newcomer Chadwick Boseman to don the Vibranium catsuit). Interestingly, two franchise stalwarts – Thor and the Hulk, whose actors are presumably tied up in other contractual obligations – are nowhere to be found this time around.

From there, we get some back and forth jawing between Cap and Stark about the need/not need for superhero control legislation and a million-billion subplots, including a lengthy sequence in which The Vision tries food for the first time and a scene where Stark meets with this weird0 kid in New York who likes to retro compute and has the AILF-iest aunt of all-time. Oh, and he can shoot webs out of his hands and stick to walls or some other obscure mess – it’s hardly worth bringing up, really. (But seriously, though, this Tom Holland kid is great as Peter Parker, and his show-stealing performance her gives me a lot of hope for the next Spidey-reboot.)

Of course, the big plot twist can be seen coming from a mile away (you mean supernatural neo-Nazi criminal cartels would IMPERSONATE somebody else’s identity to commit their misdeeds?), and really, there isn’t a whole lot happening in the last 20 minutes of the film at all. Seriously, as soon as Cap and Bucky stop beating the tar out of Iron Man, it’s nothing but set-up for the forthcoming Black Panther and Spider-Man movies. And they aren’t even apologizing for the shameless off-ramping anymore – just like the last five minutes of a 1980s sitcom, it is all post-denouement cooldown, slowly simmering down to nothing more than a preview for next week’s episode.

Alas, despite the movie’s faults – and they are pretty big ones – I still consider this one of the more entertaining MCU movies to date. It may not have the refreshing change of atmosphere that Deadpool had, but I still think it outdoes the first two Avengers movies, and it’s WAY ahead of Dawn of Justice in pretty much every way you can think of. Watching the film, I was reminded of the philosophy of former ECW promoter Paul Heyman, who always said his number one booking rule of thumb was to “accentuate the strengths and hide the weaknesses” of his performers. Well, give the Russo Brothers credit (and maybe even a hearty “E-C-Dub” chant while you are at it), because their latest perfectly encapsulates that Heyman Tao. Yes, the story and character development is very lacking, but you really don’t notice it as much as you would think because what the movie excels at – action, action and oh yeah, more action – is just so dadgum exciting and well-done.

Civil War, at the end of the day, ain’t great cinema. Heck, even compared to the upper tier of comic book movies - Spider-Man 2, Burton's Batman, the first two Superman flicks -  it doesn’t even fare that well. But as far as giving you instantly gratifying, cornball, pop-cultural, slam-bang sensory overload satisfaction, you more than get your money’s worth here.

If you want though-provoking, life-affirming, intellect stimulating commentary on the human condition, keep looking. You want to “ooo” and “awe” at make-believe man-gods making stuff explode real good for almost three hours – and let’s don’t pretend that we don’t have that particular itch every now and then – instead? Odds are, there won’t be another movie this year that gives you as big – albeit super-ficial – a wallop. 

My Score:

Two and Half Tofu Dogs out of Four

Friday, May 20, 2016

Why Recreational Bicycling is Racist

Not only is the cult of suburban cycling an annoyance to motorists, it’s also an inherently prejudiced subculture.

By: Jimbo X

Each weekday morning, I wake up at 4:30 a.m. and drive 50 miles to the office. Then I drive another 50 back home in the evening. Since I live in Atlanta, you want to take a wild guess how long all that takes? Depending on how heavy traffic is backed up – and it’s always backed up, thanks to the city’s brilliant idea to merge no less than three highways into a six-lane downtown apocalypse – I’m spending anywhere from two to four (and on especially heinous commutes) five hours a day just sitting in my car.

Let’s do some math, why don’t we? If I’m spending about 10 to 12 hours at work Monday through Friday – plus another two to four hours traveling to and fro – that means, on any given work day, I’ve got about 8 to 12 hours of “free time” (of which I’ll be spending at least six sleeping.) On the most stressful days, that means I have as little as just two hours to eat, shower, do laundry, buy groceries, pay my bills and exchange pleasantries with my loved ones.

So for me, time is obviously a precious commodity. Even losing 10 minutes means I’ve got to sacrifice a Skype session, or put off sending an email, or – in the most extreme instances – forgo an entire meal.

If for any reason you delay me in enjoying those rare, hyper-valuable moments to myself, I will hate you with the burning fury of a thousand suns. Which brings me to far and away the most irritating type of people on the face of the planet … bicyclists.

Yes, bicyclists, those dreadfully mundane suburban hipster ne’er-do-wells who have decided that they have some sort of ordained right to take their stupid mountain bikes out on to ACTUAL roadways and pedal at speeds sometimes eclipsing a breakneck 15 miles per hour.

You’ve seen these people before, no doubt. They are either 20-something, fresh-out-of-college neo-yuppie amoebas who have IPA stickers on the back of their Nissan Leafs or 50-year-old wannabe outdoorsmen on their third divorce who listen to Phish and work at investment banking companies. They almost always wear bright outfits – blinding purple and green and yellow tracksuits seem to be the most popular in my neck of the woods – and, of course, they always strap GoPro cameras to the top of their helmets, on the off-chance they can record some irked motorist telling them off or giving them the finger so they can post it online and drum up some sort of false victimization narrative.

Regardless of their ages or genders, these people are the absolute most insufferable human beings I have ever encountered. They have no regards for the schedules or even basic safety of others, having decided long ago that their own egotistical desire to show off their overpriced toys is a fair trade off for preventing others from getting to their appointments and seeing their friends and family on time.

And on top of that? A lot of them are outright racists, too.

Unfounded conjecture on my part? Not at all. The simple fact is that suburban bicycling is an inherently prejudiced subculture, and that many of the state-and-municipal-level policies designed to “promote” biking either directly or indirectly hurts individuals of color.

Let’s start with the most obvious thing first. There is a big difference between bicycling hobbyists and those who actually rely on bicycling as their primary means of transportation. Bicycling hobbyists (in particular, the ones who buy $3,000 bikes from REI, dress up like Fruity Pebbles and live stream themselves pedaling to the local Starbucks) in the metro-Atlanta region are – as evidenced by the majority composition of such organizations as The Atlanta Bicycling Coalition, the Metro Atlanta Cycling Club, the Southern Bicycle League, Ladies on Spokes, and Sorella Cycling – are overwhelmingly upper-middle-class to lower-upper-class whites. 

The people who have to ride bikes to get to where they need to are usually lower class minorities or poorer Caucasians. For them, bicycling is not a trendy pastime, but an economic necessity. They can’t afford a car (or they lack public transit options, or they don’t have the paper work to get a driver’s license), so biking is often their only way of commuting to work, or school or wherever else they would like to conduct business. 

Even the lofty connectivity plans promulgated by organizations like the Atlanta Bicycle Coalition emphasize development of biking amenities that seems to conveniently leave out access points for the poorer – and by default, less white – neighborhoods in the city. Irony of ironies, all of the massive bicycling infrastructure projects bandied about by all these pedal-philes appear to lock out the denizens of metro Atlanta who are most likely to rely upon bicycling as their only mode of transportation. 

Recreational hipster bikers are definitely the big winners in the city’s multitudinous infrastructure proposals. Meanwhile, not only do these plans preclude “necessity bikers” from safely traveling, the plans actually take infrastructural resources away from them and keep them geographically isolated worse off than they were before.

The worst part? Many biking proponents in the northern ‘burbs don’t even pretend that cycling infrastructure investments aren’t being used as a proxy gentrification tool. In one of the most brazenly racist things I’ve ever read in the 21st century, one “new urbanism” proponent from Roswell, Ga., flat out said bicycling investments were needed to deter white flight – i.e., to keep poor black people from migrating to the community

Now, are all upper-class bicycling enthusiasts in metro Atlanta the moral equivalent of Klansmen and neo-Nazis? Perhaps not ideologically, but frankly, their de facto de-investment proposals do far more harm to the poor people of color in the region than any amount of keyboard-supremacist vitriol. The hate-filled musings of some Stormfront forum member in Kansas isn’t going to force a lower-class black family to move out of their complex, but the gentrification-by-any-other-name proposed by the pro-biking communities very much can, could and will. (And as a rather ironic aside, apparently, bicycling is a fairly popular pastime among avowed white nationalists – just so you know.)

What sort of net social positive are these recreational bikers bringing to the community, anyway? How does their ostentatious, traffic-impeding displays of classism make our neighborhoods safer or more productive, and just how much of an economic impact do these narcissistic, prejudiced clods' fruity little bicycling circle-jerkin' really have? Aren’t there more productive uses of taxpayer money than giving new trail space for these bourgeois dunderheads – especially considering the fact the metro Atlanta region is expected to add 2.5 million new inhabitants by 2040?

In these United States, we are allowed to participate in whatever lawful hobbies we wish – that is, until these hobbies infringe upon the safety, wellbeing and liberty of others. With that in mind, you don’t see me playing Game Boy in the middle of a two-lane road, nor will you ever find me live-streaming a Raiders game five feet to the side of a stop sign, thus, preventing you from driving forward without crossing your car over into oncoming traffic. And you most certainly won’t find me lollygagging at an ATM machine, just squandering the time and lives of everybody behind me.

That’s because – unlike all of those smug, self-absorbed recreational bikers out there – I actually have a little bit of consideration for my fellow man.

And on top of that? My leisure-time activities don’t actively displace or funnel resources away from the underprivileged in the community, either.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

The Truth About Racism in the U.S.

Is the nonstop debate about race relations little more than a smoke screen to prevent discussion of an even deeper problem in American society?

By: Jimbo X

Let me tell you a story from the seventh grade. 

I grew up in the exurbs of Atlanta, in a small, blue-collar community that was about half white and half black. There was a small influx of Hispanics, but this being the late 1990s, their numbers were still pretty infinitesimal. 

This being a town in the southeastern United States, the topic of "race" was kind of a sore spot. It was in junior high that I was introduced to both the terms "nigger" and "honky," as well as their etymological analogues "jigaboo," "cracker," "yard ape" and "white trash." People - of both races - used the terms casually, but almost exclusively in the company of their alike-skinned brethren. The unwritten rule of thumb was that while it was "OK" for people to use disparaging terms about the other race to people who were the same color as you were, to say that shit to someone who actually WAS a different color was about as taboo as it got. Racism, it appeared, was allowed to fester in hushed in-groups, but out in the open for all to hear, it was flat out forbidden

So one afternoon in the cafeteria, one of my friends - another lower-class mobile-home dwelling white boy - run afoul of an African-American classmate. I honestly can't remember who started what or what the initial kerfuffle was about - somebody cut in line, maybe? - but I will never, EVER forget what happened next. They exchanged some routine insults - lots of "punks" and "bitches" and "motherfuckers," as seventh-graders are apt to - but at one point, my mayonnaise-hued amigo got a little too into it and said, and I quote, "Well, at least I ain't no nigger like you!" 

Almost immediately, his expression turned into a dour frown. He knew he did something that was "W-R-O-N-G" with a capital "W" and the environs got deathly quiet. A fight was coming up, for sure. Hell, there might even be a full-on, whites-on-blacks donnybrook. 

But instead, the young black man, a northern transplant who was one of the school's star basketball players and the son of one of the wealthiest physicians in town, simply took a step back, licked his lips and pulled out his wallet. "You know, that's all right," he told my friend. "I'd rather be a rich nigger than poor white trash like you." 

He then proceeded to pull a $10 bill out, wad it up and toss it at the other kids' feet ... and he picked it up, because God knows, he needed it. The black kid went through the line, got his carton of fruit punch and hot dog, and that was the end of it. If he had knocked the white kid out cold with one punch, it wouldn't have been as brutal a display of indisputable physical dominance

It was at that point I realized that, despite hearing so much about it day-in and day-out, racism is not the be-all, end-all problem in U.S. society. Indeed, that long-discussed narrative was totally debunked that afternoon in the lunch line, when it was proven to me and everybody within earshot that the TRUE cultural segregator in the U.S. is class, not color. Indeed, virtually every form of stratification we see in contemporary culture ISN'T anchored around race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation or religion. Rather, our great divider is - and always has been - income level. 

That's not to say there aren't racist people out there, including some of whom are in high positions of power. Nor do I deny the existence of certain ingrained racial discrepancies in our social institutions - to an extent. But when it comes to the greater social equation, however, the big color barrier in America isn't black and white - instead, it's a matter of how much green you have or don't have.

It doesn't matter if you are black or white, your problems are pretty much identical if you are poor. You struggle to pay bills and keep your kids in school and out of trouble. You scrap by with whatever scant resources you have, and you do whatever you can to not wind up homeless. The some holds true for working class families; you pay your taxes, your paycheck seems to shrink every month and you're constantly thinking when the breaking point is going to happen, when the amount of money coming in is less than the money going into your mortgage and car payments and kids' health care plans. Black, white, Asian, Hispanic, whatever, the big thing holding you back isn't your race, or your ethnicity or your national origin - it's the fact that you don't have enough money.

In America, our bank account dictates our social situations. Our neighborhoods and communities aren't bifurcated along racial lines, but along yearly income. The big commonality between the families in gated subdivisions, trailer parks and public housing projects is a collective financial condition, not the color of their skin. You go to Atlanta or Charlotte, and you'll find plenty of wealthy black families in the 'burbs. Frankly, this has been the case since the 1890s - lest we forget, Martin Luther King, Jr., grew up in what could only be called "affluence," even for contemporary white folks in the Deep South.

As the proverbial passkey to a better life, the much-discussed construct "privilege" hinges not on entitlements based on race, but on the paychecks of one's mother and father. The son of a wealthy black railroad executive, for example, certainly has a better shot at succeeding economically - meaning, being able to take care of himself financially - than the son of a poor carpet mill worker with a meth addiction in a Missouri mobile home community. Yes, a greater percentage of the African-American population in the U.S. is considered poor under DHHS criteria, but half of all poor people in America remain Caucasians. Regardless, poor children are at a disadvantage regardless of their race, simply because they were born into families possessing less money, and therefore, less access to the things that would afford them opportunities to succeed, like quality educations. Of course, this isn't a 100 percent proven theorem - there are plenty of kids in wealthy suburban families who wind up on drugs or just don't care about learning who wind up stuck in dead-end jobs (or prison), and there are certainly many children who grew up in poverty who managed to excel in life because they valued education and desired to not be stuck in a lower class purgatory. But, the hideous reality of the American condition - which, in my eyes, is easily our greatest social sin - is the undeniable fact that if you are born rich in the United States, you will almost certainly be rich yourself and if you are born poor in the United States, you will almost certainly grow up to be a poor adult. 

We like to think of ourselves as the Land of Opportunity, but really, America is no different from any other caste-based society. Granted, we are a little bit better about keeping it hush-hush, but it is apparent to anyone with a functioning set of eyeballs that the U.S. is a rigidly stratified culture fragmented along income lines. Rich people hang out with other rich people, middle class schlubs hang out with other middle class schlubs and poor folks hang out with other poor folks. Rich people never travel to the ghetto or the trailer park for parties with poor people and poor people never hop in their 30-year-old cars with busted oil pans to hobnob with socialites at ritzy banquets (ironically, meant to "benefit" the less fortunate.) Take a look at your closest friendships - odds are, the common characteristic they all share is that, for the most part, they make about as much money as you do. You even see this involuntarily separation happening in grade school; if given the option to engage in discourse with whom they please, even first and second graders have a tendency to gravitate among people in similar economic situations. It's such an ingrained mandate of our cultural system that we almost never think about it, let alone realize it in our daily sojourns. 

"Racism" is something that, despite being used every day by the media, doesn't really have a concrete definition, quantitatively or qualitatively. Oddly enough, the popular post-Ferguson description - "prejudice plus the power to enforce it" - exonerates virtually all of the most hardened racists out there. After all, who has more ability to alter societal standards: an Ivy League graduate or a neo-Nazi in Iowa who stays on Stormfront all day and never leaves his mobile home park? While there are indeed white people out there who just don't like black people (for whatever reason), the KKK aren't the ones making legislative decisions. Indeed, the most palpable form of anti-black prejudice in the U.S. today doesn't come in the form of cross-burning rubes and Skrewdriver fans, but through predatory lenders and "exclusionary zoning" policies that effectively keep poor people from even thinking about living in certain locales. For all the rhetoric we hear about "the carceral state," the hard data demonstrates that black people are no greater "victims" of police aggression than white people, and that the much ballyhooed "over-representation" of black men in the U.S. prison system can be better explained through educational attainment statistics than it can any talk of alleged "systematic prejudices." So strapped for some kind of narrative to posit blacks as contemporary victims of white discrimination - when FBI data reveals that whites are far likelier to be victimized by blacks, despite the incredible population disproportionality - that the term "microaggression" was invented to describe instances where instinctual racism bubbled up inside a white person's head and subconsciously leaked out in the form of merely acknowledging the undeniable biological fact that fluctuating melanin levels exist. Yes, we have gotten to the point where there is so little actual racism being exhibited by mainstream whites that we have gifted ourselves the power of telepathy to detect undercurrents of prejudice in other people's brains. 

The question lingers: why is it that we hear so much about "racism" when all of the things we hear are consequences of racism - economic stagnation, unemployment, incarceration, low graduation rates, higher rates of obesity, earlier deaths, poorer overall health, higher crime rates, etc. - just so happen to be the consequences of poverty, too? All of the ills created by racially-discriminatory policies and practices can just as easily be attributed to policies and practices founded on discrimination against the poor, but when was the last time you even heard some new anchor on TV use the word "classism?" 

Racism, as we know it today, is really nothing more than a political tool meant to divide and conquer. The constant race-baiting of the media is intentional, designed to make lower-class blacks think all white people are remorseless nigger-haters and to make all lower-class whites think all black people are a bunch of snobby, entitled reverse-racists exploiting historical injustices they themselves never experienced to get a free ride from taxpayers. That way, instead of reflecting on their common poverty, they instead blame each other for their economic strife. Meanwhile, the upper-class, blacks and whites, simply go on as is, living their happy lives of luxury. Racism, and with it, all of its oppressive consequences, seems to disappear just as soon as its victims acquire enough money to not have to worry about shit anymore. In that, not only does money eliminate racism, it almost seems to eradicate the construct of "race" altogether, boiling down one's social status to one thing, and one thing only: money-derived power

Poor and lower class people in America - white, black, Hispanic, Asian, what have you - are being held back by the exact same problem. The great "oppressor" and the "oppressive institutions" that hold back blacks and Hispanics is the very same system that holds back poor and working class whites, yet instead of coming together as an underclass to address these barriers ingrained into society, we default to pointless identity politicking. If the nation's low-income and poor peoples united, they would constitute a voting bloc comprising almost half the U.S. population. If they put their pettiness and dependency on in-group affirmation aside and actually rallied against their common problems, they would change the political fabric of the nation overnight

But that will never happen. The lower class has been indoctrinated by political forces on the right and the left to despise each other. Poor and working class whites, blacks and Hispanics, ultimately, share a common opponent: that being, the controlling interests of their communities. Even in the shittiest and most poverty-stricken ghettos, barrios and rural hellholes in the nation, there exists a political and economic ruling class. They have the money, so therefore, they get to make the rules. They give jobs and tax breaks and other forms of preferential treatment to their friends and they advocate for policies that, first and foremost, keep cash in their pockets and out of everyone else's. Forget all of the incessant chatter about Wall Street, if you want to get down to the nuts and bolts of general economic stratification in America, you've got to turn your eyes towards Main Street instead. 

That's the problem with American politics. We think everything is a federal-down equation, when history has shown us time and time again that every single successful social movement in the U.S. is  the result of advocacy work on the local level. It's not Goldman Sachs' or Wells Fargo's fault you can't get subsidies for rent or you can't find any reasonably priced housing in your neck of the woods; that's the direct consequence of city and county-level policy making. Pissed that people who look like you wind up getting arrested more often than other kinds of people, and that your kids go to a crappy school while students on the other side of the train tracks go to high-quality ones? That's not because of Washington D.C., that's because of your local school systems, police departments and state codes.  

And who makes those rules? Race and ethnicity is irrelevant; if you were to take a look at your local city council and county board of commissioners, the commonality - no matter what part of the country you live in or whatever color the regional majority may be - is that they are among the wealthiest individuals in your community. They have free reign to engage in as much nepotism and cronyism and self-serving politicking as they want. The lower classes, by sheer volume, could serve as a economic and political threat to their interests, so it is imperative that they remain out of the decision-making process. And it's especially important to insure that the marginalized proles are prevented from intermingling, or God help them, even unionizing, against the local power structure. And the best way to keep the lower classes from rising up, of course, is to Balkanize them. Put all the poor white people in this part of town, put all the poor black people in this part of town and put all the poor Hispanic and poor Asian people over here. Redraw residential and business zones if you have to. Hell, you might even think about redrawing congressional districts for maximum dissolution. While this is oftentimes framed as a racial issue in larger cities with more demographically mixed populations (or those in which Caucasians make up the majority of constituents), the exact same thing happens in minority majority locales, too. Take a look at any city or county where minorities make up the bulk of residents and it is almost a lock that the majority of the municipal power structure - the mayor, the city council, the board of commissioners, the head of public safety, the school board, the superintendent, etc. - are all (or mostly) the same color. Yet the same problems with cronyism and nepotism and general socioeconomic stratification remains just as pronounced within these communities, if not more so than the ones with whiter power structures. Even if the majority of the local community is steeped in poverty, I assure you the local leaders - the chamber of commerce and the municipal government executives and Rotary Club members and PTA board - are all considerably wealthier than everybody else. The ethnoracial dynamic is completely meaningless; here, power - and the ability to affect change - is reserved for those with the most cash on hand, while everybody else is left scrapping for scant public handouts. Shit, even when it comes to lobbying on behalf of the interests of the marginalized classes, it is almost through the mouth of someone who not only isn't financially fucked, but generally a part of the same "power structure" he or she is constantly condemning. Cases in point? Pseudo-populist Bernie Sanders, whose household income of $205,000 in 2014 is quadruple that of the median American family and that one #BlackLivesMatter activist at the University of Missouri who threatened a hunger strike to fight "systematic inequalities," even though his father was\is a legitimate multi-millionaire

Now, are there staggeringly high percentages of minorities who live in poverty compared to the general white populace in the U.S.? For sure, but on the whole, the majority of impoverished and low-income Americans are nonetheless white folks. And despite all the hullabaloo about "white privilege," no one hardly ever brings up the fact that Asian Americans make about $17,000 more per year than white households (which is almost as big as the net household income gap between whites and blacks). Nor does it take into consideration that fact that the average Indian-American household income - at an astonishing $100,000 per year - is close to double what the average white family in the U.S. makes. And nor does it take into consideration the fact that Americans of Iranian, Taiwanese, Maltese, Filipino, Lebanese, Chinese, Fijian, Israeli, Afghan, Japanese, Sri-Lankan, Pakistani, Okinawan, Syrian, Basque, Malaysian, Nepalese, Indonesian, Chilean, Polynesian, Cameroonian, Nigerian, Egyptian and Polish descent all post higher median incomes than the aggregate Caucasian U.S. family.

Alas, we are constantly bombarded by the narrative that the all too powerful whites are actively trying to keep blacks and Hispanics down. Considering the democratic, free-enterprise model has allowed so many non-white Asians, Arabs, Jews and yes, literal African-Americans to excel at a financial level higher than the allegedly hegemonic Caucasians, however, one has to wonder if such is just an illusory, masochistic fantasy. Yes, blacks were oppressed for 300 years in America, and yes, American forces used violence to wrest Mexican territory away from Hispanics. Alas, virtually every ethno-racial group out there has experienced similar oppression, be it in the form of slavery or being conquered. Before a single black slave crossed the Atlantic, thousands upon thousands of poor English and Irish were shipped over to the colonies and used as disposable, captive labor. Before that, they were the victims of pogroms under the rule of Oliver Cromwell (and before then, the Normans.) And that's to say nothing of the Barbary and Arab slave trades, in which Africans invaded European territory - sometimes going as far north as Ireland - to capture unwilling laborers. As horrific as the Atlantic slave trade was (fun fact: just as many African slaves were shipped to Arabia as the Americas in the 18th and 19th centuries and Brazil not only took in far more captive blacks than the U.S., but did so for a much longer period of time) it is hardly an aberrational occurrence in the tapestry of humanity. The Jews were used as slaves and mercilessly persecuted - to the point of almost being ethnically cleansed from the planet - for literally thousands of years, yet they remain, by and large, the most financially powerful ethnic group on Earth. Yet this central arc - that blacks in America just cannot succeed in the country because of all the horrible things that white people did to them 50, 150 and 250 years before any of us were even born - is practically espoused as the living gospel

The funny thing to me is that so many of the loudest proponents of this "perpetual victimhood" Tao - your Ta-Nehisi Coates, your Randall Robinsons, your Raymond Winbushes, etc. - are individuals who, quite evidently, have overcome oppression and found tremendous wealth within the same "system" that allegedly keeps their "kind" suppressed. If racism is really such an overarching, unbreakable aspect of the American condition, how do you explain the remarkable success of people like Herman Cain, Thomas Sowell, Colin Powell, Condoleeza Rice, Ben Carson, Toni Morrison, Bob Johnson, Oprah Winfrey and Robert F. Smith? For that matter, if America is truly as racist as so many claim, then how in the world did a half-black man get elected to the nation's highest political post not once, but twice? The results of a 2013 World Value Study spells it out for us: not only is the United States comparatively less racist than nations in Asia, the Middle East, Latin America and (irony of ironies) Africa, the country was found to be one of the least racist on the entire freaking planet

Bu that's not the story we hear on the evening news broadcast or when we pick up our morning paper or scroll through our Facebook feeds. Institutional racism is EVERYWHERE, the media tells us. Police are killing black kids left and right (although data from that liberal monolith The Washington Post reveals far more white kids are getting blown away by the po-po under questionable circumstances.) Shitty schools and are sending underprivileged black youths to prison en masse (a myth drummed up by special interests lobbyists like the Annie E. Casey Foundation that even dope-smoking, liberal havens like UC-Berkeley admit is cooked up gobbledygook.) Draconian "War On Drug" policies have created a "carceral state" that victimizes hundreds of thousands of black men every year (although a closer look at the data reveals some, ahem, "discrepancies" in the preferred narrative.) Neo-nazi and Confederate-flag waving hatemongers like Dylan Roof are hidden in Appalachia, just waiting to kill as many innocent black people as they can (when blacks are actually two and a half times likelier to kill a white person than the other way around, and the back-to-back black-on-black homicide counts from 2010 and 2011 exceed the number of all known white-on-black lynchings from 1882 to 1965.) 

At this point, the whole "whites always equal some sort of victimizer while blacks always equal some sort of victim (and even when they victimize somebody else, it can probably be chalked up as a consequence of the white hegemony)" chestnut isn't just a cultural narrative, it's pretty much an etched-in-stone social dogma. To say that maybe - just maybe - African-Americans have just as many opportunities to get out there and succeed as the other two dozen or so ethnic groups that routinely out-earn native whites (if not even more so, thanks to a litany the of affirmative action policies) but they are holding themselves back via a widespread culture of defeatism and dependency is absolutely verboten. You even THINK something like that and you're automatically as bad as Hitler and even the KKK will consider you too extreme for their ranks. It's almost like the leftist whites are sadomasochists who get off on feeling bad about what their forefathers did (or, more likely, get off on being able to blame that Great American pariah, the Deep South conservative Christian, for victimizing black people.) That way, instead of addressing the deeply ingrained prejudices they built within their own cultural monoliths (#OscarsSOWhite, anybody?) and acknowledging their OWN legacies of brutal racism and segregation (indeed, Malcolm X fiercely criticized the "foxy liberals" up north for this very reason in his autobiography), they can simply point and scream at the Southerners, and blame their shameful race-relations of yore as some sort of immortal virus that even now, fully explains - if not exonerates - African-Americans from any self-culpability. 

Of course, the much more realistic (although rarely discussed) crux of the problem stems from the breakdown of the African-American family structure. Even in 1965, Patrick Moynihan picked up on the obvious root cause of the socioeconomic woes plaguing black America: chiefly, the high rates of father absenteeism, which in addition to cutting median household incomes by half, more or less necessitated the creation of the modern welfare state to prevent full-scale rioting and famines in the country's inner cities. Indeed, this disintegration of the two-parent household is the root cause of socioeconomic miseries for Americans of all races and ethnic groups, as demonstrated by Charles Murray in his 2012 sociological examination of one of America's rare all-white ghettos, Coming Apart. Indeed, Harvard studies have gone as far as to just flat out state the the greatest predictor of social mobility is whether or not one grows up in a household with both biological parents - a hypothesis more or less physically proven by the results of the University of Texas' longitudinal Family Structure Studies

The condition oh-so routinely described as "economic inequality" clearly has little to do with racism - rather, it is the dreadful after-effect of generational poverty, i.e., the inability for children to make more money than their parents did (a condition amplified by the rise of the single-mother state, obviously.) The common qualifier here is not skin color - it's simply a lack of consistent monetary funds that keeps the so-called "lower dyad" - white, black, brown and everything in between - from ever making their own way in the world. 

This rigid classism - the undeniable reality that people born into moderate-to-high-income homes almost always remain in that economic bracket (if not better) while people born into lower-income homes almost always remain in that economic bracket (if not worse) - is something that neither sides of the U.S. political binary ever acknowledges. Conservatives never talk about it because it debunks the Tocquevillian notion of American social mobility and proves that market forces and deregulation can't solve rampant poverty, and liberals never talk about it because it proves once and for all that the welfare state and expansive entitlement programs not only don't do a damn thing to help people climb out of economic stagnation, they actually manage to keep the downtrodden mired in poverty and government-dependence even longer. It's an ingrained societal problem neither unfettered capitalism nor unbridled socialism can ever truly solve, so instead of just accepting the fact that certain peoples - by virtue of a general lack of education, a widespread lack of childhood supports or an individual lack of ambition - are more or less destined to fail financially, we instead dream up something a little more contentious to explain away the unsolvable riddle. Why come out and say that economic inequality is an unpredictable consequence of a litany of social factors, governmental interventions, good luck in the genetics lottery and the almost always discarded concept "personal effort" when it's much, much easier - and more lucrative for your political agendas - to blame it all on "racism?"

Furthermore, even the obsession with racism as an "original sin" is ostensibly one-sided, with English\French\Germanic Caucasians (yet strangely enough, never the Mediterranean or Scandinavian Caucasians, who are ironically responsible for MOST of the much-maligned colonization of the Third World) seemingly the only types of people universally reviled for displaying prejudiced perspectives. How come we never hear anything about how goddamn bigoted the Japanese are against Koreans and the Chinese, or the hostility of Indians against Pakistanis and Bangladeshis, or the swirling vortex of hatred involving the all-white Slavic states, or the interracial ethnic hostility going on in the Horn of Africa and the slowly deteriorating Latin America nations? Indeed, a near majority of EVERY genocidal display that has transpired on the planet since 1945 has been interracial, anti-ethnic pogroms - the Khmer Rogue in Cambodia, the Rwandan holocaust of 1994, the Baltic concentration camps THROUGHOUT the 1990s, the El Salvadorian death squads in the 1980s, not to mention the ongoing shit storm in the Middle East, where the only time Muslims aren't trying to kill Jews (and vice-versa) is when the Muslims are too busy trying to kill one another for not being fundamentalist enough. 

Sure, there are racist assholes out there. Lots of them. But the thing we fail to accept is that "racism" doesn't just mean "white people oppressing everybody else." Indeed, that very notion is itself a classically racist idea, the projection of a designated "villain" status on someone simply because of their skin tone. There are a lot of blacks out there who hate whites, Hispanics who hate blacks, blacks who hate Hispanics, Hispanics who hate whites and Asians who hate every other Asian who doesn't belong to their select in group. But when was the last time you saw ANY story discussing the illogical, unfounded and unwavering racist beliefs of any group of people's who WEREN'T mayonnaise-white crackers? 

In America, there are plenty of poor whites. There are also plenty of poor blacks, poor Hispanics and poor Asians. Along those same lines, however, there are also extremely wealthy whites, blacks, Hispanics and Asians. And in-between, a good half of the country resides in that weird interphase between blue-collar and upper-crust in a peculiar social condition we often refer to as the middle class

Sure, nearly 30 percent of African-Americans and Hispanics in the States live in poverty. But what about the flip side of the dyad - that being, the 60 percent of them who live very comfortable middle-class existences or better? The unavoidable reality is that, in today's Americas, most minority individuals are actually doing very well economically, and certainly, are enjoying standards of living and incomes MUCH higher than anything being experienced by the hoi polli in Africa or South and Central America. For all the shit we talk about income inequality, the fact of the matter is that even the poorest of the poor in the U.S are living in conditions FAR better than a good half of humanity. If given the choice to be impoverished in America or Brazil, Indonesia, or the Democratic Republic of Congo, yeah, I think we'd all opt for the Americanized form of poor, with all of its social safeguards in place giving people a chance at escaping poverty, or at the very least, anesthetizing some of the misery. 

Much more intelligent people than I have written about class consciousness in the U.S., so I won't waste too much time parroting what they've already told us. Of course, there is a considerable class bias in our culture, and it is one that supersedes all other personal qualifiers. Race, ethnicity or sexual identity don't create privilege, money does. If you have it, you are considered "better" or "more worthwhile," and if you don't, nobody gives a fuck about you. It's a social condition that plagues both those on the right and the left - in fact, it's probably more entrenched in the modern liberalism, where the downtrodden are often dehumanized into little more than political chess pieces to attack the ideological other as racists or bigots or fascists. I am reminded of Jesse Owens proclamation to the "Black Power" protesters in 1968 - "the only time the black fist has significance is when there's money inside." I am reminded of NBA great Charles Barkley's comments from 2015 even more - "Neither one of the parties is doing anything for poor people. They're both full of it. Black people have been voting for Democrats their whole life, and they're still poor."

As much as we don't want to admit it, America is just as socially stratified as places like India, Japan or Sri Lanka. Granted, we don't have official caste systems, but we all nonetheless acknowledge an invisible socioeconomic "pecking order," so to speak. Race and ethnicity and gender and where you like your sex is ultimately irrelevant - just as long as you have money, you are entitled to better judicial treatment, have an easier time acquiring financial services, get to live in better housing, drive better vehicles, eat better food, attend better schools and get better health care services than people who have less or no money, or none at all. A rich, gay, black businessman in today's America is certainly held in higher esteem than a welfare-dependent, trailer park dwelling honky family of four in the Ozarks. An all white, upper-middle class homeowners association would much prefer a wealthy Middle-Eastern or Southeast Asian family move into the community than a lower-class Irish or Scottish brood. Employers will always look more favorably on an already wealthy Hispanic than they will a poor white job candidate. As I was saying earlier - for better or for worse - money is the great destroyer of all ethnoracial or identatarian prejudices, and we all see tangible examples of such on a daily basis. 

Of course, admitting such to be the case wouldn't sit well with a lot of people - especially since many of the most ardent "social justice warriors" out there are actually the products of wealthy, elite families themselves. So rather than just come out and admit that we equate one's economic success with their cultural value, we've instead embraced a much simpler explanation for why some people achieve and some people fail - racism

Never mind the fact that racism is universally reviled in contemporary U.S. society (if not codified as a cultural requirement by now.) Never mind the fact that people who say even the teeniest racially-tinged comments are vivisected in the media. Never mind the fact that just being accused of being racist is often enough to end one's political or professional career, and that in many, many circles, being a racist is now considered a social crime worse than actual crimes like child abandonment, wife-beating, sexual assault and even homicide

It's all those goddamned racists out there, those mealy-mouthed sons of bitches who think theirs is the best kind of people and they want everybody who ain't like 'em out of their backyard A.S.A.P. Boy oh boy, if only we got rid of those backwards, genetic mutations, we'd all be a better country for it - those worthless wastes of sperm and egg are what's holding us back from ever achieving our full potential

It's funny - not only is that how the downtrodden whites feel about their black and brown social strata cohorts, it's also how the downtrodden blacks feel about their white and brown economic competition. And what do you know, that's how the downtrodden browns feel about all those poor black and white assholes out there, sucking up all the entitlement monies and locking down the scant affordable housing resources all for themselves. 

And while all of the multi-colored poor people blame each other for fucking up their opportunities to not be poor anymore, the upper classes just reap the benefits. Their low-cost, always-expendable workforce remains divided against each other, so they'll never unite and take a stand against them. They'll never put their differences aside and embrace their commonalities - the most obvious, of course, being that they are all the economic undesirables of the United States. If only they could get over the auger of racism, they could form a true political bloc that seeks to swing public policy towards their needs and wants as workers, citizens and taxpayers. Individuals earning less than $30,000 a year - and that includes college-graduates, lamentably - represent 51 percent of the American workforce. Those are your ditch diggers and Wal-Mart workers and janitors and secretaries and fire fighters and carpet mill workers and Burger King employees and restaurant cooks and all those other people who effectively run the American consumer-economy but receive hardly any of its benefits (outside, perhaps, of Stafford loans and an EBT card.) 

Some will escape poverty and the lower class. Most won't. And instead of saying that the classist system - by legitimizing father absenteeism, pushing people into welfare programs that are designed to keep them dependent on meager handouts, promoting public education that does not prepare children at all for success in the modern workplace (and then giving them "free money" to blow on worthless college degrees in subjects that will never make them economically viable), encouraging cronyism, hindering economic development in poor communities and celebrating a culture of victimization that all but eliminates the concepts of "self-responsibility" and "ambition" - is responsible for their failings, what are they going to blame it on? That's right - racism. If only it wasn't for those ignorant, lazy and greedy honkies, spics, niggers or ching-chongs, they'd all be doing just fine and dandy

The brutal reality, however, is that no one in this country is disempowered as long as they have money. As my seventh-grade experience demonstrated, how are you supposed to condemn someone as a lesser human being for their skin tone when they indeed make more money and have more social prestige than you do? Ultimately, your race and ethnicity means nothing compared to the only cultural qualifier that really matters - that being, how much money do you have sitting in your bank account

For some reason, though, we just can't accept that as the perfect truth staring us right in the face. For all the incessant talk we hear about racism, the greatest and most pervasive form of bigotry in the U.S. remains class bias - the notion that you are "better" than someone else because of your socioeconomic conditions. That is the central prejudice baked into our judicial systems, our educational systems, our financial systems and really, the cultural consciousness itself. It's the backbone of the discriminatory policies that keep poor people (of all colors) in substandard houses and behind bars and in shitty neighborhoods and without any of the same amenities and "social capital" the well-off are entitled to. It's the real original sin that ensures the offspring of some are destined to succeed - regardless of their efforts - while others are doomed to fail miserably ... once again, regardless of their efforts. It's a pure, bigoted ideology that picks the winners and losers in society and permeates every corner of the American experience, from the jailhouse to the White House. 

And maybe if we didn't spend every waking moment of our lives concerning ourselves with constructing color-coded conflicts, we might even get around to realizing it one day.