Guidance in troubling times.

This Fall, the Buffalo Humanities Festival kicks off our 6th year with the timely presidential campaign cycle focus: “Democracy: Of the People? By the People? For the People?” For three days of fierce and free-wheeling critical debate, we invite the Buffalo community to join prize-winning writer Ibram X. Kendi (author of the forthcoming How to Be an Antiracist), Chenjerai Kumanyika (cohost of the podcast Uncivil) and former Buffalonian and best-selling journalist, Matt Taibbi (author of the forthcoming Hate Inc: Why Today’s Media Makes Us Despise One Another) for an exhilarating series of talks designed to address the visible and troubling strain American democracy has suffered in recent years.

On Thursday September 19 (6:30pm at Asbury Hall), New York Times Best Selling Author and National Book Award winner, Ibram X. Kendi, will join us for a town hall styled conversation to discuss intersections of race, identity and citizenship. Kendi’s fearless observations in his many prize-winning books range through issues of ethics, history, law, science, alongside his own personal narrative, in order to pressure what we continue to mean by “equality” in American society, as the resurgence of white nationalism becomes a regular feature on the daily news. As he reflects in How to Be an Antiracist: “The good news is that racist and antiracist are not fixed identities. We can be racist one minute and an antiracist the next. What we say about race, what we do about race, in each moment determines what—not who—we are.” Kendi will be joined in conversation by journalist and Rutgers Communications professor Chenjerai Kumanyika, host of the Peabody award winning podcast “Uncivil,” which showcases forgotten and untold stories of race, resistance and corruption during the Civil War, highlighting ideological fractures within our concept of American democracy that have been embedded in this country since its founding.

Meanwhile, on Friday September 20 (8:00pm at Asbury Hall), New York Times Best-Selling Author, Matt Taibbi offers riveting, and often scathing insights about our media saturated political landscape, presenting a portrait of kleptocracy and corruption in late stage American democracy. “In a society governed passively by free markets and free elections,” he laments, “organized greed always defeats disorganized democracy.” The author of multiple New York Times Best Sellers, Taibbi’s forthcoming book Hate Inc: Why Today’s Media Makes Us Despise One Another builds on a noteworthy career characterized by bold and relentless investigative reporting. Often described as “our country’s most fearless journalist,” Taibbi is a regular political commentator known for speaking truth to power and for his searing accounts of political and financial corruption in the highest offices in the land.

We are thrilled to welcome to Buffalo voices characterized by gripping analysis, intellectual heft, and derisive humor—an antidote to the political spin and venom that has come to characterize both our political institutions and, too often, the media that covers them.

The Buffalo Humanities Festival is the result of significant collaborations between several community and campus organizations: the UB Humanities Institute, Canisius College, Niagara University, SUNY Buffalo State, Humanities New York, and the Office of the Vice President for Research and Economic Development at the University at Buffalo. Without their dedication and support, we would be unable to host such dynamic speakers in Buffalo every Fall.

Looking for guidance in troubling times? Please join us for the Buffalo Humanities Festival this September 19-21.

 

 

An excerpt from Matt Taibbi’s Hate Inc.: Why Today’s Media Makes us Despise One Another

The following excerpt is courtesy of OR Books.

Hate Inc.: Why Today’s Media Makes us Despise One Another will be released on October 8. We encourage you to shop local and visit our friends at Talking Leaves Books or Burning Books. Buy the paperback and/or e-book versions of Hate Inc.: Why Today’s Media Makes us Despise One Another online at OR Books, Amazon, or your favorite other online bookseller.

FROM THE INTRODUCTION TO HATE INC.

Now more than ever, most journalists work for giant nihilistic corporations whose editorial decisions are skewed by a toxic mix of political and financial considerations. Unless you understand how those pressures work, it’s very difficult for a casual news consumer to gain an accurate picture of the world.

This book is intended as an insider’s guide to those distortions.

The technology underpinning the modern news business is sophisticated and works according to a two-step process. First, it creates content that reinforces your pre-existing opinions, and after analysis of your consumer habits, sends it to you.

Then it matches you to advertisers who have a product they’re trying to sell to your demographic. This is how companies like Facebook and Google make their money: telling advertisers where their likely customers are on the web.

The news, basically, is bait to lure you in to a pen where you can be sold sneakers or bath soaps or prostatitis cures or whatever else studies say people of your age, gender, race, class, and political bent tend to buy.

Imagine your Internet surfing habit as being like walking down a street. A man shouts: “Did you hear what those damned liberals did today? Come down this alley.”

You hate liberals, so you go down the alley. On your way to the story, there’s a storefront selling mart carts and gold investments (there’s a crash coming – this billionaire even says so!).

Maybe you buy the gold, maybe you don’t. But at the end of the alley, there’s a red-faced screamer telling a story that may even be true, about a college in Massachusetts where administrators took down a statue of John Adams because it made a Hispanic immigrant “uncomfortable.” Boy does that make you pissed!

They picked that story just for you to hear. It is like the parable of Kafka’s gatekeeper, guarding a door to the truth that was built just for you.

Across the street, down the MSNBC alley, there’s an opposite story, and set of storefronts, built specifically for someone else to hear.

People need to start understanding the news not as “the news,” but as just such an individualized consumer experience – anger just for you.

This is not reporting. It’s a marketing process designed to create rhetorical addictions and shut unhelpfully non-consumerist doors in your mind. This creates more than just pockets of political rancor. It creates masses of media consumers who’ve been trained to see in only one direction, as if they had been pulled through history on a railroad track, with heads fastened in blinders, looking only one way.

As it turns out, there is a utility in keeping us divided. As people, the more separate we are, the more politically impotent we become.

This is the second stage of the mass media deception originally described in Noam Chomsky and Edward S. Herman’s book Manufacturing Consent.

First, we’re taught to stay within certain bounds, intellectually. Then, we’re all herded into separate demographic pens, located along different patches of real estate on the spectrum of permissible thought.

Once safely captured, we’re trained to consume the news the way sports fans do. We root for our team, and hate all the rest.

Hatred is the partner of ignorance, and we in the media have become experts in selling both.
I looked back at thirty years of deceptive episodes – from Iraq to the financial crisis of 2008 to the 2016 election of Donald Trump – and found that we in the press have increasingly used intramural hatreds to obscure larger, more damning truths. Fake controversies of increasing absurdity have been deployed over and over to keep our audiences from seeing larger problems.

We manufactured fake dissent, to prevent real dissent.

The Love U Give is Needed

by Karen Sands-O’Connor, SUNY Buffalo State

[On the full festival day, Saturday, Sept. 22, join Karen Sands-O’Connor for a book discussion of The Hate U Give at 2:30pm in Rockwell Hall 306. Click here to view the full schedule and details.]

This past year, Angie Thomas’s debut novel, The Hate U Give, was awarded the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP) Amnesty Honor book prize. This prize is given at the same time as Britian’s Carnegie and Greenaway medals for the best children’s books published that year. This is the second year Amnesty International has given the prize, which looks at books that celebrate human rights, and particularly the rights found in the United Nations’ Declaration of the Rights of the Child. Although The Hate U Give has been called “the Black Lives Matter novel” by the press, the organization is not mentioned in the novel. Angie Thomas says she was inspired by the movement, but isn’t affiliated with it (http://www.mtv.com/news/2991910/qa-angie-thomas-on-the-hate-u-give-black-lives-matter-and-writing-an-unapologetic-black-girl-book/). Her distance from the movement is nonetheless not distancing; it allows Thomas to depict a variety of complex characters with equally complex motivations and increasing investment in human rights.

This is most obvious in her main character, 16-year-old Starr Carter, who starts the novel living two separate Black lives: one in Garden Heights, a drug- and gang-plagued African-American neighborhood, and one at the posh prep school, Williamson High, she attends across town, where she is one of two African-Americans in her grade. She thinks of “Williamson Starr” as “normal Starr” (71): “Williamson Starr holds her tongue when people piss her off so nobody will think she’s the ‘angry black girl.’ Williamson Starr is approachable” (71)—by which she means, approachable to white people who, Thomas subtly infers, even Starr sees as the “norm”. She sacrifices her own rights as an individual to serve the perceived needs of a larger (and whiter) group. Early on in the book, she is able to “flip a switch” in her brain to become the appropriate Starr for the appropriate setting. But her ability to do this begins to fail as the order of the world around her also falls apart. Her former best friend Khalil is killed in front of her (not a spoiler, as this is on the blurb describing the book); Starr has dealt with shooting deaths before, but her friend Natasha, also killed in front of her, did not die a second death at the hands of the police and the press. Khalil, on the other hand, is turned into “a drug dealer and a gangbanger,” as one white character puts it, “Somebody was gonna kill him eventually” (341). It is at this point that Starr realizes that not only is “being two different people . . . so exhausting” (301), it’s wrong. Wrong for herself, and wrong for the people she loves. Starr realizes that she has to fight for Khalil’s right to have a name, and her own right to be treated as a human by police—a right she realizes her expensive private education cannot buy her.

The person she thinks she has to be to fight for these rights is “angry black girl,” but Angie Thomas does not let her character off the hook so easily. Being the opposite of Williamson Starr means pushing away people who want to help, including her white boyfriend Chris. Chris is a figure of fun at times, especially for Starr’s brother and father, but Thomas gives him a stubborn will to help, even participating in a protest that turns into a riot, that convinces Starr that white people are not the enemy. Neither are the cops, at least not in a body; Starr is at first angry at them all, including her Uncle Carlos, but he stands up for her to the point of taking a beating and being suspended. Thomas argues through her depictions that it isn’t how you look or what you wear, but the actions that you take or don’t take that make you a good person or an enemy.

And acting out of love is something in Thomas’s book that happens, not just between individuals, but between an individual and the community. Here again, the message is complex but ultimately places human rights at the forefront. Starr’s mother wants to, and eventually convinces Starr’s father that they should, move out of Garden Heights for the safety of Starr and her siblings. Starr’s father initially thinks this is a betrayal of the Black community, but the conclusion of the book—which I won’t give away—has him realizing that betrayal can happen within the community, and “We ain’t gotta live there to change things, baby. We just gotta give a damn” (436). Starr—now neither Williamson Starr nor Garden Heights Starr—gains both the ability to act out of love and use a “weapon” (410); her weapon is not a gun, or tear gas, but the “biggest weapon” of all: her voice. Thomas’s book indicts no group wholesale (not police, and not all drug dealers either), but does argue that young people have a choice to make between love and hate. In order to honor the dead, and help the living, the love you give through visible, audible action is needed. The love you give matters.

Karen Sands-O’Connor teaches children’s and contemporary British literature at Buffalo State College. She has been a Leverhulme Visiting Professor in Newcastle, England, and has recently won a SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Scholarship and Creative Activities. She has provided consulting for several British literacy and children’s charities on issues of race, including Amnesty International UK, and her most recent book, Children’s Publishing and Black Britain, 1965-2015, is available from Palgrave Macmillan.