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Michael Steele: Fakin' The Funk

So I see Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele "rolled" into the state the other day to drum up support for his party. Along the way, Mr. "Hat To The Back" stopped by a few places to encourage Republicans (presumably the white ones) to make more of a concerted effort to reach out to minorities.

And no, I'm not going to knock the man for trying. Even if I'm not sure if he has been all that helpful in banishing racial stereotypes, I realize he's a  leader of a major political party and so he's got to do what he's got to do. Still, I think he's got a tough row to hoe with this young minority outreach thing, especially among young black people -- and if you ask me, he's one very big reason why.

Certainly, there's also black folks' historical resistance to the right-wing message, no matter how earnest the Republican ambassadors who deliver them. And I think this resistance hardens even more among the younger black voters Steele has said he wants to appeal to.

But another truth is that there are a handful of GOP themes that resonate with many black voters,  due largely to the heavy influence that religion has in shaping a level of black social conservatism. No matter what the Armstrong Williamses of the world try to tell you in the course of selling a book, black people do not consider Republicanism new, maverick or "cutting edge." (We get it; most of us just disagree, OK?) Even so, you can still win plenty of votes among African-Americans with talk about God, family and "freedom," and the GOP has virtuosos who can hit those notes with perfect pitch at times.

But that's rare as compared to many other critical times minorities have seen the right wing as utterly tone deaf, not to mention hostile, when it comes to the issues and interests of many African-Americans, Latinos and others. And while I could riff almost infinitely about examples of this and why black folks in particular wouldn't be receptive to the GOP "brand," I am, as I said earlier, more compelled to think about why Steele himself is such a repellent.

From the moment he was named chairman of the RNC, Steele has launched into what, to this longtime hip-hop head, seems like one the lamest, bumbling and most crass attempts to develop crossover  "hip-hop appeal" to  younger, so-called "urban" voters that I've seen in some time. Dude wants to come off cool, but instead ends up embarrassing himself like some middle-age man trying to spit contemporary slang to a teenage girl at a kiddie disco. (He's also gotten some help in this regard from Michele "You Be Da Man" Bachmann and a few others.)

I can really only speak for me, of course, but Steele's timing seems incredibly poor, his ear for the broader black political conversation made of the worst kind of tin. At a time when he should be talking public policy to the audiences he wants to reach, he brags ignorantly about how he doesn't "do" policy. Just when he needs to be striking a pose of strength and intellectual independence, he bends over for the likes of Rush Limbaugh. ("I was maybe a little bit inarticulate???" Sorry, but that's just straight-up shufflin' in my book.) And when he should be trying to roll out something of a welcome mat for a black community rightly suspicious of right-wing policies, he's telling black voters that many whites in the GOP are scared of even him.

Just as bad, the hip-hop zeitgeist he seeks to channel is played out. Steele talks about hats turned backwards in an age when rappers like Jay-Z -- and the millions of young black, brown and white urban sophisticates who dig his style -- are trading in Timberland boots and sagging jeans for suits and sweaters. He's bopping around awkwardly tossing out 90s-era phrase like "bling bling" (really, Mike, even my mother knows that one's played). Cool to young hip-hop heads means something different in 2009 than it did 10, even five, years ago. And a big reason for it can be summed up in a short phrase: "The Obama Effect."

I get that Steele isn't a Dem, but if he really wants to make inroads, he should take a minute to realize how the election of the first black President has changed the game to the hip-hop generation. Obama raised the bar of expectation and offered young people glimpses of possibilities that, even to the post-civil rights crowd, used to be considered little more than wishful thinking.

And Obama didn't do it by strutting around and speaking in dated hip-hop catchphrases. Watching him campaign, for instance, it was clear that hip-hop flavored some of his style -- what hip-hop fan can forget how Obama "brushed his shoulders off" a la Jay-Z when dismissing critics or how he exchanged pounds ("terrorist fist jabs?") with his wife. But it all seemed natural and appropriate…and dignified. Steele, by comparison, seems to be little more than a bad caricature, a political version of Mudflap and Skidz in juxtaposition to Barack's Optimus Prime.

He starts from behind the 8-ball just by being a right-wing conservative, of course. Even though I think there are times when rap does indeed have its right-wing moments -- such as when MCs brag incessantly about how much money they've made and how they won't give you a dime of it -- I don't think this is the overarching sentiment that informs political thought among black voters who listen to rap. (Steele also probably doesn't help himself with young black voters when he attacks Obama, but like I said, that comes with the man's job so I get that part of his patter.)

Worse than that, though, are his frustrating, bizarre, mildly offensive, occasionally hilarious and always failed attempts to find the right pitch or pose. I think young people of color could accept that Steele's not really hip-hop and perhaps still listen to his message. But right now, he's fakin' the funk. And I'm pretty sure he won't convert many young voters -- not young urban ones anyway -- by coming off like a bad lounge singer struggling to retrofit old-school rhymes to his sleep-inducing musical stylings.

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  • 1

    I don't think that TIME should be sponsoring this type of rant against a politician, who is only exercising free speech. Good that this content is free, as who would pay for this. It is Darrell's longest column, and his most embarrassing. For all his ranting about another black man, who has risen to the top of a party against adversity (which point could and should be celebrated) I can't imagine why TIME tolerates this.

    It is shameful to attack another person who is not a terrorist or a murderer, but because as a black man. You don't like his swagger, or rap, or whatever. Actually a bit strange.

    Anyhow, I see thousands of black teens still wearing the jeans way down around the lower part of their buttocks, as this culture is alive and well in Detroit. I've yet to see a suit and tie in these young men. So why say it doesn't happen anymore? Maybe in your circles, but not in mine. You can come to my workplace and observe, if you would like.

    Darrell: Michael Steele has done an incredible thing, to become chairman of the Republican party. You may not like him, or his politics, but at least report his life's history, because he is a success story for black youth. You may not like his policies, or his personality, but please don't use your forum to attack him. It cheapens you and TIME even more that anything that Steele could do to represent Republicans. Get a grip. This is what you talk about to your friends, not representing TIME.

    And a disclaimer, I am not a Republican, or a Democrat, am an Independent, but don't appreciate these kinds of attacks about anyone. There is positive about Steele, so please be a little more respectful, as you would like someone to be towards you and your family, especially in racial or personal terms. Life is too short to be so bitter against someone, even if you have a forum.

    • 1.1

      It is a blog, blogs are for opinions, Darrel has just as much right to free speech as that clown Michael Steele. Darrell isn't making a personal attack on Steele, he is merely commenting on the ineffectiveness of the persona that Steele has created around himself. We should not need be blank unreactive vessels for public figures who use mass media outlets in an attempt to proselytize the public. Democracy demands that people like MIchael Steele are questioned in their methods and motives.
      I think if you got an honest answer from most republicans they would tell you Steele does more harm than good. I don't know if you have noticed, but the republican party has to go into damage control mode almost every-time he opens his mouth. I personally think people don't like Steele because they are smart enough to see Steeles' promotion to the upper ranks of the Republican party for what it is, a transparent attempt to counteract the good will among minority communities that the election of Barrak Obama brought to the Democrats.

    • 1.2

      I'm with 'rif' and Darrell on this, and see nothing bitter, disrespectful or shameful.

      This post is not about Michael Steele's politics or life's history. The author notes twice that he's separating presentation style from messaging that "comes with the man's job."

      It's not even about personality, in a sense, as Darrell doesn't claim he knows the real (off-stage, off-camera) Michael Steele . . . who I'd bet doesn't feign a hip-hop sensibility outside the spotlight. (I imagine his 2 kids would call Dad out for frontin' . . . or fakin' the funk.)

      And that, right there, is what I take away as a reader:

      This blogger, who knows more than I ever will Optimus Prime, Mudflap and Skidz, shares personal comments on what strikes him as lame, bumbling, crass posing and shuffling that "won't convert many young voters -- not young urban ones anyway."

      I'm outside that demographic and welcome one knowledgeable observer's insights.

      Doesn't mean he's right or wants to persuade every reader, necessarily. He's just sayin' . . . and does so quite articulately.

  • 2

    I thought these were journalists, not ranters using TIME magazine to attack people for their personalities. I am not saying that Steele is effective or not, I just find this type of attack against a public figure distasteful, unless they are a mass murderer or something like that. I expected more analysis from TIME in Detroit, not a forum for opininated attacks. But then maybe my view of journalism is outdated. I would expect some type of respect for what Steele has accomplished. I don't like name calling such as:

    " Dude wants to come off cool, but instead ends up embarrassing himself like some middle-age man trying to spit contemporary slang to a teenage girl at a kiddie disco. (He's also gotten some help in this regard from Michele "You Be Da Man" Bachmann and a few others.)"

    From reading the way this blog/article is written, I would say that Darrell, whom I am sure is a fairly ripe age himself, is the one trying to come off "cool, but instead ends up embarrassing himself like some middle-age man trying to spit contemporary slang to a teenage girl at a kiddie disco."

  • 3

    Darrell, this is one of the most ignorant blog postings I have ever read on here. I honestly don't understand how on earth you can justify attacking someone for trying to reach out to more voters or by trying to fix things that need to be fixed.

    I've talked to Steele one on one a few times, and I can tell you that as a minority myself, I can see that he gets it. He has told me that he knows that old republican "outreach" was nothing more than BS photo ops and events that didn't really do anything to help anybody. He is working to change all of that. He understands that the Urban areas cannot be ignored as part of the GOP platform or what the party / candidates address.

    Steele was in Macomb County for a breakfast event, I thanked him for coming back around to Michigan and said that I hope we see more of that soon. He told me "We'll be back, we have a lot of work to do in Michigan. And a lot of work to do in Detroit".

    It is just absurd that you choose to take this opportunity to take a look at Steele's difference in policy in a objective light and instead choose to make a rant comparable to those of Uncle Ruckus (since you have a Boondocks video on here, I'll assume you know who I'm talking about. Everyone else feel free to look it up).

    • 3.1

      Respectfully, 'CruzWeb,' you appear to criticize Darrell for reasons that go beyond what he wrote.

      It's totally in bounds to slam his slam of Steele for "fakin' the funk," of course . . . but I sure can't see where he's "attacking someone for trying to reach out to more voters or by trying to fix things that need to be fixed."

      This post is about HOW the Republican chairman is trying to reach out and fix the party . . . not about the fact that he's doing that. "I'm not going to knock the man for trying," says the third sentence.

      The focus here is style, not objectives; impact, not intent; fronting, rather than fixing effectively -- in the blogger's view.

      Hardly a "rant," which another kind of funk (the Funk & Wagnalls kind) defines as "a harangue; a loud bombastic declamation expressed with strong emotion." . . . Come to think of it, though, maybe we do have an example of that here now.

      Or, as Uncle Ruckus might say: "Well Lordy dawdy doo. Looks like we got ourselves a righteous ranter in da house."

  • 4

    It's always sad to see this type of black-on-black attacks, as it cheapens attempts to go forward. There are so many unemployed journalists now, with true gifts of insightfulness and writing skills.

    How sad that this is the best that TIME can find for an analysis of Michael Steele, and black Republicans in general.

    No wonder print journalism is going downhill so fast, if this is who gets hired. Like the person who wrote the article about Toyota brakes failing and used "breaks" instead of "brakes", and neither she nor any editors caught it.

    If this is the best that can be hired, then I have a bridge to nowhere to sell you, too.

  • 5

    I certainly would hope that more mature and intellectual black people in Detroit would look to Michael Steele for their "take" on the politics of being black, than would look to the very immature and obviously "mainstream media" brain drained Darrel Dawsey, whose above commentary says more about his inability to see greatness in another man than any important personal assessment he might think he is sharing with us on the makeup and motivations of Michael Steele. Knock, knock Darrel ... in case you haven't noticed the fringe media (formerly known as the mainstream media) treasonously refuses to give any positive air time to a conservative black man, much to the detriment of the entire Detroit Metropolitan community. Open your eyes, get with the program, conservatives like Michael Steele are more interested in producing greatness in all people, whereas you seem more intent upon dissing those who actually deserve your respect and admiration.

  • 6

    Boo Darrel, you've managed once again to be Time's own Glen Beck. A lot of bluster and very little substance. Reading your blog is like watching the Lions play- I always read expecting to see something I like or at least provoke intelligent debate and you somehow always manage to disappoint. This time with more political vitriol. I try to read every post here to see what's happening in my hometown, but I now I find myself wishing for to have an ignore function for bloggers. Perhaps easing up on the politically biased rants and focusing more on Detroit's failure and success (which I assume was the original intent of the blog) would actually help the city. It's the attitudes like yours that make the city an embarrassment and forced my job away from home. I'll keep reading but only with the hope that one day you'll ease up on the negative attacks and try to do some good for the city.

  • 8

    Mr. Dawsey: Could you actually rationally address policies by citing them, as opposed to just throwing out more platitudes, or is this beyond the scope of this blog?

    Perhaps you could juxtapose the exact Democratic proposals and policies that Congress and Presidents Carter, Clinton, and Obama have passed and implemented during the past 40 years, which you think have been a success, with the specific policies and platforms of Republicans and Independents, point by point. Even in the past 4 years or 6 months would be helpful.

    If you are not up to this type of heavy thought and analysis, perhaps there are some more serious writers at TIME or its affiliates who could do this? Or is actual analysis not part of your job description?

    • 8.1

      Well said, grewupindetroit! More substance, please. Blog doesn't mean "spew." If you want to be considered a journalist, use some facts--even if it's your "job" to spout opinion.

      I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Please bring back editors! They add a lot of value and would improve the writing of the bloggers.

  • 9

    If you look at Mr. Dawsey's TIME bio, (see below), it appears that he is more of a feature and comic writer (ie a book with comic Bernie Mac). It would be great if TIME could get a serious writer to examine the problems and politics of Detroit and of DC, as to how this relates to Detroit, and its present problems.

    I totally understand that the thrust of this blog now is to be sort of humorous, upbeat and "cool" but I don't think this appeals to some of us who are more interested in a
    real analysis of what is going on here in the year 2009.

    I don't think the TIME editors want to get rid of this sort of political junk humor, or they would not have assigned Mr. Dawsey to this blog. But to balance it out with more serious and balanced analysis by another writer would be much appreciated. Not just more platitudes, but a more factual look at Michigan's economy with insights beyond the obvious must be within the scope of TIME magazine? Maybe not? Is this beyond what TIME can present to us?

    "Darrell Dawsey is a respected author, journalist and commentator on urban life and culture. He has penned two books, Living To Tell About It: Young Black Men In America Speak Their Piece and the best-selling I Ain't Scared of You: Bernie Mac On How Life Is, co-written with comic Bernie Mac.

    Darrell has also worked at several major newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times, Philadelphia Inquirer and Detroit News. In addition, his work has appeared in Essence, Vibe, XXL, USA Today and other newspapers and magazines around the country, A freelance writer, he resides in metro Detroit with his wife and children."

    • 9.1

      If you look at what Random House says about Mr. Dawsey's first book, it appears that he is more of a sociological analyst and urban affairs chronicler. Excerpt:
      "Living to Tell About It is the first book to look beyond the statistics and perceptions at the real lives and experiences of most young black men in America today. Over the course of a year, journalist Darrell Dawsey traveled across the country, listening to a mosaic of young men talk about their childhoods, relationships with parents and women, sexuality, self-respect, spirituality, ambitions, the race that binds them and the diversity of class, education and geography that distinguishes them.
      "Interweaving interview material with powerful reflections on his own background as a single-parent child of the inner city and a young father, Dawsey portrays the trials, tragedies, and triumphs of young black men in a society where they have been the targets of disenfranchisement, neglect, racism, and hostility."

  • 10

    Grewupindetroit.....Wow....have you had some kind of negative personal experience with Mr. Dawsey? You are looking for real analysis but I am not convinced you would recognize it if it were sitting on your nose. You are condemning Mr. Dawsey as writer and as a man why? The only tangible issue I can pick up on is because you disagree with what he has shared about Michael Steele. Is it possible for you to disagree with a writer without trivializing their background and experiences? Is it alright for Mr. Dawsey to hold an opinion counter to yours and still be able to hang on to his manhood? Do you really think Time should pick writers based on their personal beliefs and opinions? And lastly....just because Mr. Steele appears to be an African American does not mean he speaks to the multitude of issues that are important to African Americans. Mr. Dawsey has just as much right to an opinion on politics here in Detroit and elsewhere as you do grewupindetroit.......Many Time readers, including myself, would prefer to read Mr. Dawsey....

  • 11

    grewupindetroit; There are literally thousands of blogs strewn across the internet where you can juxtapose any "exact Democratic proposals" you want, so please go to one of them and stop insulting people on this one.

  • 12

    Mr. Dawsey clearly wrote this from his experience as an African-American man, and that is his choice to go about identifying himself in that respect. He has chosen to lash into Mr. Steele in racial terms. He is only attacking him personally and not discussing one issue that the Republicans have brought up, including or excluding Mr. Steele. I am requesting that instead of only personally attacking a Republican, and then ALL Republicans, he or someone else seriously deal with the issues facing Detroit, This is a widely publicized blog dealing with Detroit's issues. I do not think that is too much to ask.

    I do think that Mr. Dawsey is acting unprofessional in this particular posting, and would hope that someone else from TIME whom is more serious and impartial can also start reporting about politics on this blog for TIME. It is very disappointing to see journalism sinking to this level, particularly when so many magazines are ceasing publication this year.

  • 13

    [...] since we all love laughing at fakes, I want all my fellow Detroit Lions football fans to check out detroit.blogs.time and tell me what you think about[...]

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