Sammy Davis Jr., Tokenism, and Moving Targets

Was one of the pioneering African-American entertainers a "house Negro"?

I just listened to the latest episode of Malcolm Gladwell’s superb Revisionist History podcast, “The Hug Heard Round the World.” It was very powerful, especially in light of recent discussions we’ve been having about taking down Confederate moments, including roads named after Jefferson Davis, and stripping the names of renowned figures like Laura Ingalls Wilder off of awards because books written a century ago about things that happened a century and a half ago are racially insensitive by today’s standards.

The rundown of the show was something like this:

1. Sammy Davis, Jr. hugs Richard Nixon at the 1972 Republican National Convention—a moment that will redefine him forever. (Of that, I’m skeptical, but perhaps it’s true for a generation of African-Americans.) [For more on the controversy, see biographer Will Haygood’s 2003 WaPo account, “The Hug.”]

2. Malcolm X’s speech on the “house Negro” versus the “field Negro.”

3. Quite a bit of detail of Davis as the house Negro who sold out his own people to get the approval of the white man and the success and comfort that came along with it. (By which point I’m furious with the insinuation.)

4. Gladwell pivots: Is this fair?

5. A discussion of the literature from the 1970s on tokenism, focusing on what the first women entering the business world alongside men had to do to become accepted as part of the group.

6. A reconsideration of Davis and the pressures he had to endure in light of that literature.

7. Davis as the subject of a 1975 “Dean Martin Roast” television special in which almost all of the jokes are extremely racially offensive by today’s standards. The insinuation being that, despite his enormous talents and attempts to conform to the white man’s world, he was still just a token—an outsider.

8. Closing with the graciousness with which Davis accepted the roast, contrasted with how we would imagine a Dave Chappelle or Chris Rock reacting today. Because the first-generation token doesn’t have the power that the second and later generations have to fight back.

It was a very powerful episode and I commend it to you.

Aside from my own emotional and intellectual reactions to the twists and turns involving Davis himself, what really struck me was how absolutely awful that 1975 roast was. The sort of thing you’d expect at a Klan meeting. The thing is, though, that I’m almost sure I watched it in real time (we were regular viewers of the show and there were only three networks in those days) and had no such reaction.

Granting that I was just 9-1/2 when the episode aired, but I’d never known a segregated America—even though I just missed it. I was just finishing up 3rd grade in Houston at the time, so hadn’t had much in the way of social studies. My first recollection of studying the civil rights movement, Martin Luther King, and all the rest is from 5th or 6th grade when I was attending base schools in Germany. So, maybe I was just blissfully unaware.

But this was 1975! “Sanford and Son,” “Good Times,” ”The Jeffersons,” and other shows featuring black stars were regular viewing. While there were certainly some racial stereotypes on those shows, it wasn’t of the watermelon joke variety on display in the roast.

Yet, clearly, all of those entertainers thought it would be uproariously funny to go on network television and lampoon a legend who had been in the business for some 45 years by that point in that manner. And I can’t imagine that they did it because they privately despised him as a subhuman.

I’ve had similar, if less jarring, experiences going back and reading interviews or even listening to music from the 1970s and 1980s. Most notably, in terms of the sheer misogyny. And, yet, I’d guess most of the people engaging in it did so casually, with no idea that they were being insensitive, much less with the intent to hurt people.

Part of this is that we, thankfully, evolve over time as we learn. But, rather clearly, we also retroactively whitewash our recollections of what was normal at various points of our lives, thinking ourselves and our society much more evolved at a given moment in time that we actually were. Which ought to give us pause when judging people who lived long before us.

FILED UNDER: *FEATURED, Popular Culture, Race and Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. I hate to ask what these critics of Sammy Davis hugging Nixon would say about his years with the Rat Pack during which he, Sinatra, and Dean Martin would all make jokes about his race, and his adopted religion, that would be unquestionably be judged as being unacceptable today. Perhaps the best example of that can be seen in a recording of a benefit concert in 1962 during which Davis, Sinatra, Martin, and even Johnny Carson, who emceed the event, made those kinds of jokes.

    Does that mean I’m not supposed to listen to stuff like that anymore?

    To put all this in perspective, Davis was also part of the Civil Rights Movement and had been a lifelong Democrat, although that apparently ended when John F. Kennedy or people close to him revoked his invitation to the 1961 Inauguration after he married a white Swedish actress (remember this was six years before the SCOTUS decision in Loving v. Virginia), an incident that apparently didn’t go over well with Sinatra, who was of course a friend of both Kennedy and Davis and who was supposed to be in charge of the entertainment at the Inauguration.

    In any case, this seems to me to be even more ridiculous than the controversy over Laura Ingalls Wilder you wrote about in an earlier post.

  2. James Joyner says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    To put all this in perspective, Davis was also part of the Civil Rights Movement and had been a lifelong Democrat, although that apparently ended when John F. Kennedy or people close to him revoked his invitation to the 1961 Inauguration after he married a white Swedish actress

    Yes, Gladwell makes those points nicely in the later part of the show. Yes, Davis ingratiated himself to white America. But he devoted a lot of time and money to the movement. MLK himself had him on speed dial, because he’d drop huge checks (well, wire transfers) any time they were needed for bail money and the like. And Jesse Jackson fiercely defended him after the Nixon controversy for just that reason.

    And, yes, while Gladwell is vicious about Nixon and the Southern Strategy in the setup, he later allows that 1) Davis, a man who literally never spent a day in school, likely wasn’t all that aware of these things and 2) Nixon had always treated Davis with great affection, going back to his days as Vice President in the early 1950s, even inviting him to the White House then—in contrast to JFK’s rebuff.

  3. An Interested Party says:

    And, yes, while Gladwell is vicious about Nixon and the Southern Strategy in the setup…

    Not having yet listened to this podcast, how is Gladwell vicious?

  4. MarkedMan says:

    Speaking for myself, I’m probably with James here. I might have thought it funny at the time, but would certainly cringe now. This comes up a lot. A few years back I read “Ivanhoe” and it’s portrayal of Jews was… extremely problematic. But at the time it was progressive. Should we stop reading it? Well, there is no “should” involved. But does changing times render it unreadable? For me the answer is, “pretty much.” How about Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice which has what on the surface is an even more troublesome portrayal? To me, it is different, because the Jew in that story is formed as a whole person. The evil he wants to inflict has real, understandable motivations and Shakespeare gives voice to those in some truly great speeches. Fundamentally, I can empathize with the character as a person and not, as in Ivanhoe, as a “good Jew” or a “bad Jew”.

    Ironically, when it came to Sinatra, Martin, etc, they were actively promoting Davis. And in the early days of their career they took real risks for doing so. Sure, at some point they were so famous they didn’t need to worry, but I’m sure it cost them lots of record and ticket sales in the South. And there is no doubt Davis knew exactly what he was doing.

  5. Kit says:

    I really wonder just how much of this we can understand. Here were strong, complex personalities straddling fast-moving currents. Come from the grave, would it be any surprise if they judged us simpletons? Sammie Davis, Jr. must have been blessed with a strong character to have flourished in that period. And in my experience, such men tend to scorn the softness characteristic of our age. Would he have cared what we think, for or against? I’d like to imagine that he’d say: I was Sammie Davis, Jr, nom de dieu ! Equal me before judging me.

  6. James Joyner says:

    @An Interested Party:

    Not having yet listened to this podcast, how is Gladwell vicious?

    Mostly in the context, in the setup, of what it was reasonable for Davis to have known. The use of “nigger” in private tapes, plus our modern understanding of the Strategy. It’s really just a storytelling technique that Gladwell uses often but I nonetheless fall for—stacking the deck before exploding the conception later.

  7. TM01 says:

    Which ought to give us pause when judging people who lived long before us.

    Does this mean we can stop talking about reparations, White Guilt, etc. finally.

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  8. Kylopod says:

    A book I read recently, Kennedy and King by Steven Levingston, describes an incident in which Davis was disinvited not from the inauguration but from a 1963 Lincoln birthday bash.

    President Kennedy himself had expressly forbidden the attendance of Sammy Davis Jr.: he scratched the entertainer’s name from the guest list four times only to have it covertly restored each time by advisor Louis Martin. Davis was married to Swedish actress May Britt, and was therefore a potent symbol to Southerners of the horrors of integration and a politically explosive figure for the president. The two men had socialized outside the White House but were never pictured together. Most worrying for the president was the possibility that a photo of Davis and his white wife cavorting at the White House would show up in newspapers across the world; an image like that would complicate his campaign for reelection in 1964.

    The entertainer had married the white actress in 1960, having agreed to postpone the wedding until after the election to lessen any political impact on Kennedy’s bid for the White House. Now, three years later, neither America nor the president were any more welcoming to interracial couples…. When the president learned that Davis and his wife arrived at the gala, he took his aides aside on the second floor, hissing: “What’s he doing here?” His advisors were just as surprised as he was. “Get them out of there!” Kennedy quietly ordered. The guests were about to file downstairs for photographs. Thinking fast, the president told his aides to make sure Jackie intercepted May Britt, separating her from Davis when the flashbulbs started popping. But Jackie was enraged by the proposition and refused to go downstairs at all. His plan foiled, Kennedy sent word that the photographers were not to snap any pictures of Davis and his wife. He then calmed his wife down, and he and the First Lady joined the reception downstairs, where they posed for a photograph with eleven black leaders and Vice President Lyndon Johnson and his wife. Jackie then excused herself, saying she didn’t feel well, and went back upstairs in tears. Davis was kept out of range of the photographers’ cameras and caused no political controversy for the president.

  9. MBunge says:

    Part of this is that we, thankfully, evolve over time as we learn.

    Really? As if there aren’t mindsets you (and I) indulge in today that aren’t just as stupid and prejudiced as the ones back then?

    Mike

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  10. Kit says:

    @TM01:

    Does this mean we can stop talking about reparations, White Guilt, etc. finally.

    No, it does not. Individuals come and go; the repercussions of their actions live on. The country lives on. The injustices you and your ilk have committed, past, present and future, are debts that must someday be paid by the country, though all of us be dead and buried, out of all living memory of those then present to collect the debt. How else might there be a pride in one’s past without there also being a responsibility?

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  11. Kit says:

    @MBunge:

    As if there aren’t mindsets you (and I) indulge in today that aren’t just as stupid and prejudiced as the ones back then?

    I have to admit that I’m dying to know just what the next chain in your reasoning will be.

  12. @MarkedMan:

    Ironically, when it came to Sinatra, Martin, etc, they were actively promoting Davis. And in the early days of their career they took real risks for doing so. Sure, at some point they were so famous they didn’t need to worry, but I’m sure it cost them lots of record and ticket sales in the South. And there is no doubt Davis knew exactly what he was doing.

    That reminds me of a story that Davis himself told repeatedly in the years before he died. As people may or may not know Sinatra and Davis first met when Sinatra was a singer with Tommy Dorsey’s band and Davis and his father, Sammy Davis Sr., were part of the group that was part of the band’s act. Apparently, during the course of a band tour that took them down South, the ended up in the heart of Jim Crow country (this was in the early 1940s, remember) and the owner of one of the venues said that he would not permit Davis’s group to perform along with the band. Dorsey and Sinatra met with the owner and told them that if Davis’s group wasn’t allowed to perform then the whole band would get back on their buses and head to the next performance.
    I’m sure they faced similar situations while touring the South back then.

  13. I’ve had similar, if less jarring, experiences going back and reading interviews or even listening to music from the 1970s and 1980s.

    AC/DC is probably my favorite band, but some of the not-so-casual misogyny is grating. Things like “Giving the Dog a Bone”, while I still like the song, are irritating. Also, there’s nothing subtle about the title.

  14. James Joyner says:

    @MBunge:

    Really? As if there aren’t mindsets you (and I) indulge in today that aren’t just as stupid and prejudiced as the ones back then?

    Almost certainly, although I think we’re moving in the right direction. We’ve narrowed the circle of Other groups we’re allowed to view as Less Than. We’re evolving currently on the transgender and non-binary individuals, for example, and our current views may well seem awful in another 40 years. But, like @Kit, I’m not sure what point you’re trying to make here. Presumably, you think that there will come a time in which we move in the other direction, coming to see our current tolerance as stupid?

  15. Stormy Dragon says:

    But, rather clearly, we also retroactively whitewash our recollections of what was normal at various points of our lives, thinking ourselves and our society much more evolved at a given moment in time that we actually were.

    Human memory is reconstructive. That it was don’t “record” the experience what actually happens to us, but rather just remember summary details and then rebuild the experience from scratch when recall is necessary. One of the aspects of this is that information acquired after the event will be incorporated into the reconstruction in subsequent recalls.

    One big example of this is eyewitness misidentification. When an eye witness places someone at the scene of a crime who is later proved to have not been there, it’s not that they’re lying. It’s that news coverage on the suspect has caused “generic stranger mugged me” to get replaced with “guy TV keeps calling the mugger mugged me” and they truly are remembering it that way now.

  16. James Joyner says:

    @Robert Prather: Yeah. One that really hit me—and it’s fantastic as a rock song—is Bad Company’s “Gone, Gone, Gone” from their 1979 album Desolation Angels. Particularly this:

    Well I’m gonna miss your lovin’
    And your perfume and your smile
    I’m gonna miss your stealin’ all my booze
    And talkin’ all the while
    I’m gonna miss you cleanin’ round the home
    And helpin’ with my blues
    You know I think I’ll get myself a maid
    And take her on a cruise

    It’s great as rock and roll attitude. But holy shit.

  17. James Joyner says:

    @Stormy Dragon: Quite right. Gladwell actually had another excellent podcast on that topic earlier this season, which set up a follow-up arguing that we’ve really screwed over Brian Williams.

  18. Stormy Dragon says:

    @James Joyner:

    One big take away from this is to never believe an eye witness identification unless they’re identifying someone they knew prior to the incident in question.

  19. Kathy says:

    I’ve been listening to Gladwell since he launched Revisionist History.

    There are some issues. One, Gladwell is a very skilled writer and he’s very persuasive. He can knit a compelling narrative solely to make a point. He weaves in rhetorical tricks into it, and these can pass unnoticed as such. He also performs very well, which adds to his persuasiveness.

    Now, he usually backs things up with facts. But one has to be careful to note the facts do support his argument, rather than considering the argument alone.

    Here, for instance, he indicted Sammy Davis Jr. first, then he explained him, then he made a point to note Davis’ support for, and participation in, the Civil Rights Movement.

    With that in mind, it would be interesting to put the story in chronological order and see what comes out. For example, if Davis felt Kennedy treated him badly, while Nixon treated him well, and you see these facts in that order, the conclusions one can draw may be different.

    BTW, the best episode of his podcast thus far is the first in season one, about moral licensing. But he missed the boat completely by not making the case how Obama’s election contributed to a rise in racism against black people, and to a lesser extent against other people of color.

  20. James Joyner says:

    @Kathy:

    There are some issues. One, Gladwell is a very skilled writer and he’s very persuasive. He can knit a compelling narrative solely to make a point. He weaves in rhetorical tricks into it, and these can pass unnoticed as such. He also performs very well, which adds to his persuasiveness.

    Yes, concur. The Davis thing was clearly designed to give one impression only to flip it. It’s a technique Gladwell employes often.

  21. MarkedMan says:

    When I was a kid I helped out some friends with their high school cover band and one of my favorite songs they covered was “Stranglehold” by Ted Nugent. Ten years ago I got nostalgic and downloaded it (the eight track being long gone) and the music was still great. But my god, the lyrics are horrendous. It is no surprise that Nugent turned into the psycho he has become.

    You remember the night that you left me
    You put me in my place
    Got you in a stranglehold baby
    You’re gone, I crushed your face

  22. James Joyner says:

    @MarkedMan: Yuo. Another excellent example. And a bigger hit.

  23. Stormy Dragon says:

    @James Joyner:

    A similar one for me is how every year at Christmas, people keeping playing “Baby it’s cold outside”, which makes me cringe if you actually think about the lyrics.

  24. Kylopod says:

    @MarkedMan: I also love the song “Stranglehold,” but one important thing to note is that the lyrics are hard to understand, being mostly drowned out by the instruments (and it’s mostly an instrumental, anyway–1 minute of singing and 7 minutes of guitar solo). That’s true about a lot of rock music generally, and since the ’60s at least it’s been a strategy to sneak in risque lyrics (the Stones were a master at that).

    One song that really gave me dissonance was Charlie Daniels Band’s “Simple Man.” I like the music a lot, but the song is a frikkin’ ode to lynching (which seems to be something of a running theme in country music). Fortunately, I understood the lyrics from the moment I first heard it, so there was no shock in learning what it was about years later; it wasn’t concealed by mumbled or slurred singing like you typically find in rock.

  25. Kathy says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    If you lived through the 80s, you may recall a popular dance song in German called “99 Luftballons.” An English version came out. The lyrics are about a nuclear war and the end of the world, set in an upbeat tempo people liked dancing to.

    Also, I can’t listen to Belinda Carlisle’s “Summer Rain” without dissolving into tears.

  26. James Joyner says:

    @Kylopod:

    One song that really gave me dissonance was Charlie Daniels Band’s “Simple Man.” I like the music a lot, but the song is a frikkin’ ode to lynching (which seems to be something of a running theme in country music).

    Well, not lynching in the “string that nigger up” sense but rather in the “death penalty for everything—and hold the trial!” sense. And, really, the use of a rope is only mentioned once. There’s also “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth,” shooting with a .12 gauge, and the feeding of the accused to alligators. Subtlety was never really CDB’s strong suit.

  27. Kylopod says:

    @James Joyner:

    Well, not lynching in the “string that nigger up” sense

    That’s a matter of interpretation.

  28. James Joyner says:

    @Kylopod: I guess anything can be a “code word” but it seems a race-neutral, anti-crime rant:

    I ain’t nothing but a simple man
    They call me a redneck I reckon that I am
    But there’s things going on make me mad down to the core
    I have to work like a dog to make ends meet
    There’s crooked politicians and crime in the street
    And I’m madder than hell, and I ain’t going to take it no more
    We tell our kids to “just say no”
    Then some panty waist judge lets a drug dealer go
    Slaps him on the wrist and then he turns him back out on the town
    But if I have my way with people selling dope
    Take a big tall tree and a short piece of rope
    I’d hang them up high and let them swing until the sun goes down

    [Chorus]
    Well, you know what’s wrong with the world today
    People done gone and put their Bibles away
    They’re living by the law of the jungle not the law of the land
    The good book says it so I know it’s the truth
    An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth
    You better watch where you go and remember where you been
    That’s the way I see it
    I’m a simple man

    [Verse 2]
    Now I’m the kinda man who would not harm a mouse
    But if I catch somebody breaking in my house
    I’ve got twelve gauge shotgun waiting on the other side

    So don’t go pushing me against my will
    I don’t want to have to fight you but I darn sure will
    If you don’t want trouble then you’d better just pass me on by
    As far as I’m concerned there ain’t no excuse
    For the raping and the killing and the child abuse
    And I’ve got a way to put an end to all that mess
    You just take them rascals out in the swamp
    Put them on their knees and tie them to a stump
    Let the rattlers and the bugs and the alligators do the rest

    Unless the implication is that Charlie thinks most of these crimes are committed by black men, I don’t see racial animus here. (And we see the same sort of sentiments in the works, for example, of Toby Keith.)

  29. al Ameda says:

    Back when the parties were closer to each other on the political spectrum – think 1960 Kennedy-Nixon – it was not unusual for guys like Sammy Davis Jr, as an entertainer making a lot of money, to be Republican. The inner Bay Area suburb where I grew up used to regularly elect liberal Republicans, now that town votes at least 75% Democratic.

    Once the parties started to openly spit over the Vietnam war, civil and voting rights, the migration of conservative Southern Democrats to the Republican Party, and so forth, it started to appear to be tokenism when a few prominent Blacks signed on to the Republican agenda.

    Once social agenda hot-button issues became front and center the parties parted ways. We’re there. Conservative Christian evangelicals now (almost) unconditionally support a president of whom they do not care at all about his character.

    A positive result is that we no longer have to take seriously future conservative Christian complaints about the morality of many on the left.

  30. Stormy Dragon says:

    @James Joyner:

    I realize you were trying to mimic the speech patterns of racists and not reflecting your own views, but you really might want to consider editing that word out of that comment. Your point was made perfectly well without having to use that word.

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  31. James Joyner says:

    @Stormy Dragon: Fair enough, although I consider mentions of words different than use of them. At any rate, the comment has already been quoted by Kylopod and referenced by you, so editing at this juncture would be odd.

  32. Kathy says:

    @al Ameda:

    A positive result is that we no longer have to take seriously future conservative Christian complaints about the morality of many on the left.

    I wish. Next Democrat who even looks at another woman, or man for that matter, will be rhetorically stoned by the Evangelicals.

    Remember, it’s wrong only when the other party does it.

  33. Kylopod says:

    @Stormy Dragon: A while back I quoted from a news article that made mention of the N-word in some context, and my comment was immediately thrown into moderation, before being dug out by one of the hosts. This was under the old OTB system. Since then, I’ve been very careful not to use the word in full in any of my comments, and I’ve tended to err on the side of cautiousness in anything that might cause my comment to be blocked–with standard profanity, even with some of the more quaint ethnic slurs: I once self-censored out words like w*p, k!ke, and sp!c in a post where I was discussing the etymology of slurs. I knew it looked a little silly, but it was better than seeing my comment fall into moderation limbo.

    When I saw James use the N-word in full just now, I wanted to quote what he said in order to respond, and I considered rewriting the offending word as “n***er,” just to be on the safe side. But then I said “What the hell?” and decided to see what happened if I spelled it out in full in my post. Obviously, the new system allows the N-word, and doesn’t automatically send it to moderation.

    And speaking of the new system, James, when are you guys going to fix things so we can use the Preview button again?

  34. An Interested Party says:

    Speaking of Nixon, who could have guessed that he visited Coretta Scott King after her husband’s assassination…

  35. teve tory says:

    @Kylopod: I spent all that time learning alt-0252 just so I could evade the software and write fück, and now it’s unnecessary! 🙁

  36. James Joyner says:

    @Kylopod: @teve tory: I had several words and the names of some commenters manually blacklisted previously. I removed all of that, on the advice of our new IT guy, when we were having issues with so many comments stuck in moderation.

    I’m not sure why the Preview button doesn’t work but, alas, at $150 an hour to ferret these things out, I’m unlikely to get to it soon. I’ve invested several thousand dollars in the redesign and various bug fixes and the site brings in maybe a couple hundred a month in ad revenue—barely enough to cover hosting costs.

  37. James Joyner says:

    @An Interested Party: Nixon was a weird dude. Honorable and decent in his own way but possessed of a lot of demons, paranoia, and all the rest. He was an anti-Semite whose closest advisor was Henry Kissinger. And he clearly really liked Sammy. (Then again, so did Archie Bunker.)

  38. Kylopod says:

    @James Joyner:

    Then again, so did Archie Bunker.

    When the Nixon tapes came out, it was striking how Archie Bunker-esque he sounded at times. It’s no wonder Archie adored Nixon, yet most of this wasn’t publicly known until decades after the show’s original run.

    “The Jews have certain traits,” he said. “The Irish have certain — for example, the Irish can’t drink. What you always have to remember with the Irish is they get mean. Virtually every Irish I’ve known gets mean when he drinks. Particularly the real Irish.”

    Nixon continued: “The Italians, of course, those people course don’t have their heads screwed on tight. They are wonderful people, but,” and his voice trailed off.

    A moment later, Nixon returned to Jews: “The Jews are just a very aggressive and abrasive and obnoxious personality.”

    https://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/11/us/politics/11nixon.html

  39. Guarneri says:

    @James Joyner:

    If this makes you uncomfortable you ought to look at the lyrics of the great blues men, starting right with Robert Johnson. Hold on tight to your teddy bears……

  40. Guarneri says:

    And since we’re at it, Hey Joe, better burn your Hendricks records, and take your Neil Young collection and throw it in the water down by the river. And heaven forbid we have any lemon squeezing going on. Damned mysogenists.

    Thank God Muscrat Love is still safe for politically correct listening…………..

  41. Guarneri says:
  42. Kathy says:

    @James Joyner:

    And he clearly really liked Sammy. (Then again, so did Archie Bunker.)

    I’ve been wondering in the matter of tokenism, why does the majority group bother with minority tokens?

    These days indubitably it’s to fend off charges of prejudice. But what about when prejudice was respectable? What was the benefit then? I’ve no clue as yet.

  43. CSK says:

    @Kathy:
    The pleasure of the company of someone who’s genuinely accomplished or talented?

  44. MarkedMan says:

    Re: the “surprising” relationship between Nixon and Davis is not at all surprising except when viewed from the current state of the Republican Party. Remember, the Southern Strategy wasn’t embarked upon until ‘64 and even into the ‘80’s Republican officials were saying privately that it was a temporary measure and that no real policy change was needed, only dog whistles. But of course, when you whistle, the dogs come running and then they expect to be fed.

    Well into the 70’s there were civil rights Republicans. Until the Southern Strategy it was not by any means preordained that it would become the racist party.

  45. MarekedMan says:

    @Kathy: I can’t know what Sinatra, Martin, et al were thinking but it is not automatic that they saw Davis as anything but a friend with a talent on par with their own, and in a similar style. They may have supported him publicly in a manner they felt threaded the needle. Remember, they were not political and were viewed only as entertainers. Their relationship with Davis was not approved of among the racists and it prevented bookings in the South (there was a tradition of the Rat Pack and some others touring together). Just because they did not get on the soap box and denounce racism doesn’t mean they weren’t treating a friend right.

  46. MarkedMan says:

    No idea why my comment was just moderated. Help please.

  47. James Joyner says:

    @Guarneri:

    And since we’re at it, Hey Joe, better burn your Hendricks records, and take your Neil Young collection and throw it in the water down by the river. And heaven forbid we have any lemon squeezing going on. Damned mysogenists.

    Well, I don’t have a Neil Young collection. But the point of the observation wasn’t that the records are unlistenable but that the music of my youth (those artists’ heyday was before my time) that seemed perfectly unobjectionable at the time is sometimes cringeworthy now. It’s about how our perspectives change over time.

  48. Kylopod says:

    @Kathy: First of all, by Nixon’s day overt racism against black people was already taboo. Second, the taboo did not appear overnight; it was gradual, happening over several decades. Back in 1940 when Hattie McDaniel became the first African American to win an Oscar, most Americans held what we would describe as racist beliefs, and indeed her role in the film as well as the film itself were illustrations of it. But the idea of excluding all blacks from prestigious awards was still controversial. And you can go back even further than that: think of the many black people to hold public office during Reconstruction.

  49. MarkedMan says:

    @James Joyner: And to me there is a big difference between a bunch of late teens / early twenties partiers singing about sex and actual misogyny. The young progressives in this country are inadvertently joining up with religious fundamentalists of all persuasions in turning sex into a weird and dysfunctional area that requires much bowing and genuflecting to the proper gods and the right words ritually chanted before it can be talked about. And given that I am a true midwestern boy at heart and rarely bring up sex in any conversation and am always in danger of turning red when I do, for me to think it’s gone to far is really saying something.

    FWIW, it doesn’t feel like a pendulum swing. It feels different somehow, but I can’t explain it.

  50. Kathy says:

    @MarekedMan:

    I don’t know what Sinatra’s view son race were, or those of the various members of the Rat Pack.

    But I meant people like Nixon, whose views are known, and who are political.

    Look, my father was racist. Not rabidly so, but he’d make racist comments about black people from time to time. He often traveled to NYC on business, where he dealt with various suppliers of fabrics, lace, buttons, zippers, etc. Sometimes the suppliers came to Mexico on business. There was one, I remember his name was Bob, who called on my dad whether he had business with him or not, and they met for dinner or at least coffee. Bob was black.

    I just don’t get it.

  51. wr says:

    @Kylopod: ” James, when are you guys going to fix things so we can use the Preview button again?”

    Or so we don’t have to type in name and email address on every new message?

  52. wr says:

    @James Joyner: “I’ve invested several thousand dollars in the redesign and various bug fixes and the site brings in maybe a couple hundred a month in ad revenue—barely enough to cover hosting costs.”

    Well, sure, but what’s thousands of dollars of your money compared to a minor inconvenience for me?

  53. James Joyner says:

    @MarkedMan: So, I’m still fine with, for example, Bob Seger’s “Night Moves” and “Horizontal Bop.” They were both about sex but very inherently consensual. Of the songs mentioned in this thread, AC/DC’s “Given a Dog a Bone” is similarly fine. Definitely one-sided but it’s not violent or dismissive of women. Bad Company’s “Gone, Gone, Gone,” by contrast, is more problematic—viewing women as essentially commodities that are good for nothing but cleaning up after and sexually servicing men. Nugent’s “Stranglehold” is a violent revenge fantasy made worse by the singer’s later misogyny. So, it’s a sliding scale in my view.

    But, again, my point here isn’t so much “Oh God, those songs are awful!” but “When those songs came out, they seemed perfectly unobjectionable. What the hell?!”

    @wr: Fair point.

  54. teve tory says:

    Well, sure, but what’s thousands of dollars of your money compared to a minor inconvenience for me?

    😛 😛 😛

  55. James Joyner says:

    @Kathy: A lot of people who are racist, misogynistic, anti-Semetic, homophobic, etc. are so in the abstract and have deep affection for specific members of those groups. Eventually, for most, cognitive dissonance sets in. But, if it’s just a few incidents, the outliers are exceptions that prove the rule or “One of the good ones.” I can’t tell you how many times I heard, “Well, there are black people and there are n—s. “

  56. Kylopod says:

    @Kathy: I’m not sure what your question is. Are you baffled that racist people have friendly relationships with individual members of a group they look down on? I guess I’m just so used to that sort of thing that I take it for granted. My grandmother was a racist who not only had black friends but voted for Obama (“even though he’s a Muslim,” as she put it). The thing about casual racism is that it’s just that—casual. You absorb beliefs about the general inferiority of another group, but you don’t think it applies to everyone in that group. The people you know and like are invariably the exceptions. Nixon was always talking about how the Jews around him like Kissinger were exceptions to the rule that you just can’t trust the Yids. Back in the days when dinosaurs ruled the earth and Alan Dershowitz hadn’t totally gone off the deep end, he recounted the following story:

    “[A] slightly eccentric Brahmin woman from Boston…came to see me about a legal problem. I concluded that her problem was not within the area of my expertise, so I recommended another lawyer. She asked whether he was Jewish, and I responded, ‘What difference does it make?’ She said that she didn’t ‘get along very well with Jews’ and didn’t know whether she could ‘trust them.’ I asked her why she had come to me, since I was obviously Jewish. I’ll never forget her answer: ‘The Jews I know are all fine. I have a Jewish doctor and a Jewish pharmacist whom I trust with my life. It’s those other Jews—the money-grubbing ones, the dishonest ones—that I’m not comfortable with.’ I pressed [her] about whether she had actually ever encountered one of ‘those’ Jews, and she responded, ‘Heavens, no. I would never allow myself to have any contact with such a person.’ The lawyer I recommended happened to be Jewish, and the two of them got along famously.”

    Isn’t this just human nature?

  57. @James Joyner: I have a story related to Ted Nugent and offensive songs. I saw him on the comeback tour for Aerosmith in 1986 in Biloxi, MS. He opened for them. He played a song called “Wang Dang Sweet Poon Tang” and pulled a girl out of the audience and “dry humped” her on stage.

    Every time I saw him in the Obama years talking about anything, especially morality, it drove me nuts that this guy had an opinion.

  58. Kylopod says:

    @James Joyner: One problem in interpreting music is that sometimes a songwriter is intending to tell a little story and maintain an ironic distance with the first-person narrator. But that can get tricky, since the common convention is to assume there’s no division between songwriter and narrator, unless there are clear indications for thinking otherwise. If someone does a song called “Sieg Hiel,” in which the refrain goes “Long live Adolf Hitler!”—are we really going to believe the artist when he says “It’s just a song told from the point of view of a Nazi, and I don’t really feel that way”?

    I guess you just have to consider each example in context. Dire Strait’s “Money for Nothing” has long been the source of controversy for the homophobic lyrics in the third verse (the song has been banned on Canadian airwaves, and the MTV version cut out the offending verse). Knopfler explained that the song came from listening to a rant by a worker in an appliance store where he happened to stop by. The narrator is supposed to be ignorant and bigoted. That’s part of the song’s point.

    Contrast that with how Axl Rose dealt with the controversy over his song “One in a Million,” which manages to insult gays, blacks, AND immigrants. Rose’s explanations have been a string of one tortured excuse after the next, and it quickly becomes clear that he wrote the song because that’s the way he feels. Obviously, it doesn’t necessarily reflect the way he treats members of the groups he disparages in the song. People are complex. But it did reportedly contribute to his falling out with the biracial Slash, and it tarnished the band’s legacy. They were always bad boys with a taste for controversy (they once recorded a song Charlie Manson composed while in prison), but there was a limit in what the public was willing to take.

  59. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @James Joyner: My guess is that Bunge is expecting an apology for your intolerance toward Trump and himself and for you to realize that (false modesty by inclusion allowed) he hasn’t a intolerant bone in his body.

  60. al Ameda says:

    @Guarneri:

    Hey Joe, better burn your Hendricks records,

    fyi …. *Hendrix
    and … if a 6 turned out to be a 9, I don’t mind

  61. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Stormy Dragon: Ironically enough, the local high school jazz choir (with a female director/teacher) did “Baby It’s Cold Outside” on their Christmas Concert. (ETA: Complete with choreography of the girls moving off stage and the boys pushing them back on.) You don’t listen to the lyrics when it’s a “classic.”

  62. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @James Joyner:

    Well, not lynching in the “string that nigger up” sense but rather in the “death penalty for everything—and hold the trial!” sense.

    I grew up in the PNW, so my experience may differ, but do you really see a distinction between the two? Really?

  63. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Kylopod:

    Nixon continued: “The Italians, of course, those people course don’t have their heads screwed on tight. They are wonderful people, but,” and his voice trailed off.

    I really get myself now–Irish on my mom’s side, Italian on my dad’s. I’ve always wondered. Thanks!

    (ETA: Although, I disagree with Nixon on one point–I drink just fine, thank you very much. I think it has to do with taking Theophylline for asthma all those years.)

  64. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Kathy: A story from Kittitas County, WA, (about 100 miles east of Seattle) may help. While I was in graduate school, I had the chance to talk to “the natives” (i.e. not university students) about racial prejudice. A person from Roslyn (where Northern Exposure was filmed in part) mentioned that while it might be true that prejudice against Native Americans was common enough that it was difficult to say whether that would extend to blacks because there were (quite literally in fact) no blacks in the county.

    I asked about a black family in Roslyn (whose name I can’t remember) and was set straight–“They’re not black, they’ve lived in the county for 4 generations. In fact their great grandfather is buried in the Negro Miners’ Cemetery.”

    It’s sometimes a question of who “the other” is.

  65. MarkedMan says:

    Other than maybe something about people fulfilling stereotypes, this is completely tangential, but it turns out that Rand Paul is suing the guy who tackled him for pain and suffering. During the trial, we learned that the neighbor had complained to Paul years ago about an unsightly pile of yard waste adjacent to their yards, and in an effort to fulfill every negative stereotype I have about him, he proceeded to spend the next several years dumping all his yard waste in a pile next to his neighbors yard. It seems “the incident” occurred when Paul had dumped a huge pile, waited until his neighbor had cleaned it off himself, and then immediately dumped another pile that he had hidden elsewhere on his property until just the right moment to piss his neighbor off as much as possible.

    Ironically, it is because of people like Paul that Libertarianism is such a failure in the real world.

  66. Kathy says:

    @Kylopod:

    If someone does a song called “Sieg Hiel,” in which the refrain goes “Long live Adolf Hitler!”—are we really going to believe the artist when he says “It’s just a song told from the point of view of a Nazi, and I don’t really feel that way”?

    Not unless it’s satire like “Springtime for hitler.”

  67. James Joyner says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:

    I grew up in the PNW, so my experience may differ, but do you really see a distinction between the two? Really?

    Having grown up mostly in the South, “lynching” has a racial connotation. I don’t think the song—which advocates swift justice for dope dealers, rapists, child abusers, and those breaking into his home—does. There’s a theme in a lot of country music, at least in the 1980s and 1990s, about a system that’s too soft on crime.

    Take, for instance, the somewhat tongue-in-cheek Willie Nelson-Toby Keith mashup “Beer for My Horses” from 2002:

    [Verse 1: Toby Keith]
    Willie man come on the 6 o’clock news
    Said somebody’s been shot, somebody’s been abused
    Somebody blew up a building
    Somebody stole a car
    Somebody got away
    Somebody didn’t get too far yeah
    They didn’t get too far

    [Verse 2: Willie Nelson]
    Grand pappy told my pappy, back in my day, son
    A man had to answer for the wicked that he done
    Take all the rope in Texas
    Find a tall oak tree, round up all of them bad boys
    Hang them high in the street for all the people to see that

    [Chorus]
    Justice is the one thing you should always find
    You got to saddle up your boys
    You got to draw a hard line
    When the gun smoke settles we’ll sing a victory tune
    We’ll all meet back at the local saloon
    We’ll raise up our glasses against evil forces
    Singing whiskey for my men, beer for my horses

    [Verse 3]
    We got too many gangsters doing dirty deeds
    We’ve got too much corruption, too much crime in the streets
    It’s time the long arm of the law put a few more in the ground
    Send them all to their maker and he’ll settle them down

    I don’t see racial animus there, just a lack of patience for due process.

  68. Kylopod says:

    @James Joyner: Dude, what do you think the nostalgia for their “grandpappy’s” generation is referring to? What do you think the predominant use of vigilante killing through hanging was for back then? The most generous interpretation I can possibly come up with is that Keith, Nelson, and Daniels are so ignorant of the history, like some people who fly the Confederate Flag, that they don’t realize the implications of what they are singing about.

    By the way, I had “Beer for my Horses” specifically in mind when I talked about this being a running theme in country music, but I couldn’t remember the name.

  69. James Joyner says:

    @Kylopod:

    Dude, what do you think the nostalgia for their “grandpappy’s” generation is referring to? What do you think the predominant use of vigilante killing through hanging was for back then? The most generous interpretation I can possibly come up with is that Keith, Nelson, and Daniels are so ignorant of the history, like some people who fly the Confederate Flag, that they don’t realize the implications of what they are singing about.

    I think you’re reading too much into it. I think the Toby Keith song, in particular, is nostalgia for the fictional West portrayed in cowboy movies of honest men forming posses and going after evildoers. Everyone featured in the video—lawman and evildoer alike—is white. And it’s full of black and white photos, cowboy-style six-shooters, Texas Ranger badges, and all the rest.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o1JOFhfoAD4

    Beyond that, there was a huge, national backlash in the 1960s and 1970s against the Warren Court specifically and against liberal judges “letting criminals off on technicalities” more generally. That notion continues to animate a lot of folks in rural America.

  70. Kylopod says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:

    I really get myself now–Irish on my mom’s side, Italian on my dad’s. I’ve always wondered.

    Having been born in 1977, I don’t think I’ve ever personally encountered anyone who was seriously bigoted against specific European ethnicities such as Irish or Italians. I’ve seen it in fiction (Archie Bunker talked that way all the time; Stephen King characters often do), but nothing in the real world beyond a few jokes, which are basically not taken seriously by anyone anymore. That’s what I find so odd about the Nixon tapes; I have to remind myself that it wasn’t too long ago in history that Irish-Americans were seen as an “other” almost as much as Latinos are today. Now, they’ve almost completely disappeared into the white mainstream.

  71. Kathy says:

    @Kylopod:

    I’m not sure what your question is. Are you baffled that racist people have friendly relationships with individual members of a group they look down on?

    Yes, exactly.

    I judge people individually by what they do and say, not what they are. I do judge groups of people when such groups are voluntary associations, and subscribe to principles that are abhorrent. take, for example, Evangelical Christians as the latter. And not all of them, but those who subscribe to the political religious right and support it.

    I don’t make friends with most such people. The few exceptions depend on how egregious their actions and words are. So, could I be friends with someone who voted for the Cheeto? It’s possible. Could I be friends with someone who supports some of the Cheeto’s policies? Again, it’s possible. Could I be friends with someone who supports all his nutcase, self-destructive policies? I’ll give you three guesses 😉

  72. Stormy Dragon says:

    @Kathy:

    I judge people individually by what they do and say, not what they are.

    You may not intend to judge people by what they are, but you do, just like every other person who has ever existed.

    1
    1
  73. An Interested Party says:

    I have to remind myself that it wasn’t too long ago in history that Irish-Americans were seen as an “other” almost as much as Latinos are today. Now, they’ve almost completely disappeared into the white mainstream.

    Funny how that works…so many people can’t function unless they have an “other” to direct their animus toward…