Walter Rhett

Bokors, Spells, and Buzz Words

In Arts, Living, SC on November 20, 2010 at 1:53 pm





Living Bad Dreams


Gail Collins in her Saturday column cited an unusual phantasmagoria–a zombie jamboree as an extended conceit for American politics. Here’s my spin: Gail, change your brand of popcorn! I much prefer the image and ideals of the Red Queen. Why she never munched a kidney, but loved her tea. And she embraced the impossible things. Practiced them and proudly acquired the knack. (I refer to Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass–And What Alice Found There.) She of course, is the model for Michele Bachmann, who looks straight into the lens and sees and tells the impossible things. $200 Million a day travel caravans, a billion for a five day work week! Too bad about Christine O’Donnell. I was counting on her to be the understudy.Actually, Haiti’s concept and descriptions of the “bokor” is a wee bit more apt. These are priests and priestesses with special spellings and an insatisible appetite for chaos, destruction, and inflicting pain as a means of enhancing their power. Their fury and willingness to overlook or withhold truth leave effigies of the common good in the marketplace and fuels their mimicry. The whole while, they remain fully alive, but in a detached, dream state.

Thursday’s charge led by Eric Cantor against NPR, in which a legal albeit controversial (to some laudable) action led to a frontal attack on the free press and free speech, is the kind of rites that bokors perform. In Haiti, they are legend. They lead their followers in lock step to complete support their actions. Their band rushes and attacks the weak.

A Bokor’s offering guidance rests on denials; they claim their dark magic is genuinely benevolent. Kind of like having a tax cut reduce the deficit. But the civility of the Red Queen, her earnestness, still has great appeal. She is beseeched by dilemmas. Can you hang someone if there is nothing there? Is hers the impending model of our national policy? On energy, education, nuclear arms, job growth, QE, health care?

Oh dear. More tea.

The Clouds Above the Dawn’s Early Light


American denial expands as its power shrinks. The economic deflation which many are wary of has already hit the spirit. Its worse than Jimmy Carter’s malaise. It’s more self destructive.We have lost sight of our own interests. Abandoned our inner compass that always pulled us up short before things spiraled out of control. We have become witnesses to our own implosion. Detached, we seem to derive a strange dignity from our self-inflicted sacrifice. We offer our hearts far too willingly to the wrong priests.

The New York Times op-ed pages have parallels today, so the pull of the force is strong. A colleague writes of zombies, but the bokors are the ones who raise up the zombies; nothing happens on its own. There is money and power behind our malaise. How else can South Carolina rank 46th in income with unemployment over 12%, while producing the convertible BMW’s for the world and soon, Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner. The state also manufactures paper, Honda ATVs, and cement. Yet 20% of its families have been below the poverty line for 30 years!

A Mandala of the I Ching



A Mandala of the I Ching

I am reminded of what a Professor told me long ago. That throughout history, most of the world, its leading states and empires so celebrated, has been in a state of decline. Egypt, Rome, China, Spain, Mali, the Cheek, the planters of the south, all have passed as time faded their powers.

Yet I recall from the I Ching that such a fade is not inevitable. If we are careful and bold like the fox, to use our eyes to see the steps along the path while using our ears to detect the dangers ahead that are beyond our sight, they we can successful achieve our mission without blame, finding the proper place for things. Will our results be good fortune or nothing that will further? Stumbling block or steeping stone, it all depends on how we use

A Mississippi Saturday Night, 1937.

A Mississippi Saturday Night, 1937.

our feet and hearts and minds. Stay resolute and steadfast. Success will overcome our misgivings.


Racial Crosstalk

Race involves crosstalk. Flying recriminations of race reflect the times. Laughably, even before Booker T. Washington,  conversations and buzz words about race are buried in history.

A personal favorite of mine is “drapetomania.” It referes to a colonial era disease that supposedly infected slaves and caused them runaway! More recently, “white power,” a not-to-original copy of “black power,” has been used to rally those who oppose those who crafted the original slogan!

Tracing discussions of race through history shows several paradigm shifts. The early discussions during slavery were often dominated by biology and biological terms. Blacks were described as genetically and mental inferiority by biology; biological descriptions abounded of low foreheads, thick brows, bungling muscles,; hence, Africans were hopelessly child-like and simple–or brutes and savages.

Then, in the 1800s, political terms and values were introduced to the discussion by abolitionists and by slavery’s defenders. The rhetoric of race entered a golden age. It took on the form of high art on both sides.

Charleston-born, Philadelphia President of the Underground Railroad Robert Purvis, (his mother Jewish and Morrocan, once slave; his father wealthy English; he, born 1810) offers an eloquent plea: “We love our native country, much as it has wronged us; and in the peaceable exercise of our inalienable rights, we will cling to it . . . Will you starve our patriotism?”

But a Purvis contemporary; Beaufort, SC politican and slavery supporter John William Grayson spins his “support” for those “starved” quite differently than Purvis. “Slavery is the negro system of labour. He is lazy and improvident. Slavery is that system of labour which exchanges subsistence for work. Slavery makes all work, and it ensures homes, food and clothing for all. It permits no idleness, and it provides for sickness, infancy and old age.”

Fast forward pass “Jim Crow” to the civil rights movement. During the civil rights movement, The word “agitator” expressed scorn on both whites and blacks who worked to break segregation. The extreme epithet of the era was “communist,” often applied to Dr. King.

Anti-Civil Rights Demonstrators Use Racial Epithets on Their Placards

Anti-Civil Rights Demonstrators Use Racial Epithets on Their Placards. Image for the Library of Congress.

Today the American debate on race has a moral/behaviorial/political context. It is summed up by a term appropiated by both sides. Racist!

Both sides concede the basic right of equal opportunity and freedom for all. So the key to the present debate is to recognize that “racism or racist” as an allegation or as tar and feathering, has an embedded code. For both sides, it has a hidden flash point designed to rally supporters of different views.

In today’s contrived gibberish, Black “racists” fully intent to take rights away from white people (Beck hears the Nikes coming). For those folk, as blacks gain, whites lose.

For the other side, white “racists” are psychologically impaired. They unable to accept the new status quo. They are trapped in the pain of losing something they deeply cherished and thought unassailable: their legacy and birthright to reign.

Anybody who talks about race, is pulled toward to align with one view or the other. The NAACP video clip of Shirley Sherrod showed this when a number of commentators insisted the long standing cultural practice of nods and words encouraging and supporting the speaker to bring forth the story (not to agree with its actions, but to support its telling and confession) was a sanction of “racism.”

Race will still be around and new buzz words will shape the discussion. It’s a fact of the American legacy. On that score, there’s not much we can do.







  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by walter rhett, walter rhett. walter rhett said: Bokors, Spells, and Buzz Words: […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s