Oh Roland, Oh Roland, Wherefore Art Thou At?

Dear Friend and Reader:

All politics is theater, and today’s script analysis is about the drama called “Roland Burris Goes to Washington, Or Tries To.” This show has the qualities of a strange Shakespearean sub-plot, an act in a play of four acts, or a play-within-a-play. A new King, Barack Obama is about to ascend to the throne, and the dukes, earls, and princes are vying for their very survival in the transition to power.

As we look at the events of the past few weeks the corrupt governor of Illinois (now a classic archetype) is caught in the act of trying to sell the appointment of Obama’s old senate seat to the highest bidder. While we are still in a nation where you are innocent until proven guilty, Blago really is shamelessly criminal and he not only knows it, he flaunts it. He won’t go down easily, and Burris is another piece of the puzzle he is using to keep up his profile and fuck with the new King.

In Suzan-Lori Parks’ Pulitzer prize winning play Top Dog, Underdog, she explores the psychosis of self-hatred prevalent in African-American culture. For American blacks, self-hatred is a psychological survival mechanism that perversely empowers you to dictate the terms of how others, in this case the dominant society, abuses you. You don’t just let the master emasculate and ridicule you in public, you do it yourself and do so brilliantly and better than he does, beating the master at his own game. Or so you think.В This is the legacy of being stolen from one’s country and culture, stripped of your humanity and turned into property. Roland and his mausoleum of career accomplishments is a living self-parody in the shadow of a greater king.

InВ Top Dog, Underdog, the principal players are two black men, blood brothers involved in a psychological struggle for dominance in their shrinking and hopeless world. The younger is a permanently unemployed ne’er-do-well with a penchant for violence bubbling under the skin. The eldest holds down a minimum wage job as a carnival act, playing the role of Abraham Lincoln in whiteface and paste beard, whose job is to be shot in the head by a gun loaded with blanks by carnival-goers for a buck a crack. Can you take a wild stab as to what character Roland would be playing in that show?

Even while looking at his chart, with aspects that I find personally abhorrent, I cannot feel real malice for Roland Burris, or the character he plays in the drama of filling the King’s old Senate seat. At this point, I can only feel compassion. He is in the role of a blunt political tool wielded by a desperate, brutish oaf who revels in the bloody butchery that is the working standard of politics in Illinois. That oaf knows full well he is really fucking with the King, and he has a willing news media just bored enough to play along as chorus. Gov. Blagojevich, the wielder of the tool called Roland, has neither scruples or principles. He is the real villain of this little play.

The only fault with Roland is that under the hot lights of high political theater, he doesn’t rise to the occasion. He stays true to form, agreeing to the terms the master contracted. He is perfectly cast as the tool, the top dog who is an underdog, and will probably play his part well. He is brought in to mouth the words that provide the driver needed to move the little story forward.

In the play he’s in, he looks to have a predilection to remain invisible, and in this act, his invisibility is exalted. Roland Burris may or may not be seated in the senate seat that Barack Obama has vacated and which Rod Blagojevich has set for him, but in either case, whoever Roland is whether he’s in or not, it really won’t matter. He really isn’t there.

Yours & truly,

Fe Bongolan
San Francisco

21 thoughts on “Oh Roland, Oh Roland, Wherefore Art Thou At?”

  1. From Jack and Jill Politics:

    Burris Refused Seat in Congress — Let’s Play Racial Chicken!

    Jan 6, 2009

    Author: Jill Tubman
    Breaking News — Roland has gotten the backhand while trying to join the 111th Congress today. Apparently:

    Standing amid a huge throng of reporters and television cameras in a cold and steady rain, Burris, 71, declared that he had been informed that “my credentials are not in order and will not be accepted.”

    You know I have to hand it to Blagojevich. It was like a lesson out of Sun Tzu’s Art of War — Attack While the Enemy Feasts. While everyone was getting there Christmas on, BAM! Out of nowhere he strikes and appoints long time crony Roland Burris.

    CNN’s Political Ticker called it “racial chicken” in which each party rushes the other aggressively until one backs down – the chicken. That’s a good analogy. I was sure Harry Reid was going to cave. On Meet the Press, he named practically every black person who knows and told America how much he loves black people. Although, that kind of behavior often precedes some racially antagonistic behavior a la: “I’m not a racist but…” I really thought he was going to break out some bongos and sing Day-O! or do a breakdance routine for realz. I’m telling you, David Gregory NEEDS to start dancing with his guests. Here’s the clip I’m talking about:

    Chris Bowers at Open Left had this to say:

    “Harry Reid was on Meet the Press this morning and, in regards to the Roland Burris situation, actually broke some real news on the program. This includes denying a report from yesterday that he urged Blagojevich not to appoint any of three leading Illinois African-American politicians to Obama’s vacant seat. No transcript yet, so here is the AP

    * Reid also denies telling Blagojevich that appointing three African-American lawmakers – Reps. Jesse Jackson Jr. and Danny Davis or state lawmaker Emil Jones – would be unacceptable. He says Blagojevich is “making all this up.”Additionally, Reid pushed back against Bobby Rush’s charge that Burris should be seated because there are no African-Americans in the Senate, by pointing out that Rush did not support Barack Obama in the 2004 Illinois Senate primary when there were also no African-Americans in the Senate. Zing!”

    Actually I think this is a classic Uncle Clarence Thomas maneuver — select a quasi-qualified or qualified enough black stooge, insert into office, call everyone who opposes stooge’s entrance to power racist, lather, rinse.

    Burris may have an ego the size of all creation, but he does have a long line of achievements. Blago was smart to try and create an ally in a powerful place. Yet, the Senate would be smart not to admit Burris. His career is indeed admirable — He was the first African American to be elected to a statewide office in the state of Illinois, and has run for Senate and Governor several times, including a 2002 run supported by Barack Obama). Blago’s alleged crimes inevitably taint Burris and would leave him weak as our only black leader in the Senate. African Americans deserve better than this and probably so does Burris.

  2. Not everyone runs in a special election for a Senate seat. Burrus’ APPOINTMENT is similar to a Kennedy APPOINTMENT (should that come to pass). Mississippi, Wyoming, Virginia are not having a special election. But you suggest that Illinois should – and perhaps they should and the Black people from Illinois will have an opportunity to vote.

    What I object with is the fact that this man, regardless of what you and the White media seem to hold as popular opinion, had the Seante door slammed in his face. Does that sound familiar?

    Are African Americans supposed to embrace the adage of pulling one’s self up by the bootstraps model? After all Obama did – now we’ve arrived – and we can ridicule this man. Ridicule that stupid Govenor!

    Do you believe that Africans might be a little offended by the treatment of Burrus, regardless of whether or not we like him?

    Contrary to your opinions and the opinions of the editorial staff hold dear, is it possible to look at bigger picture here with regard to race relations in this country.
    How many African Americans sit on the editorial board of this blog? What world view do you and the editorial board hold?

    Muckraking is a good thing in my opinion, but avoid having the muck fly in your face by embracing the ways of the white folks.

    Remember the refrain from an old LaBelle song…”What can I do for you? What have you done for me?” That way, I believe one can become more familiar with past practices.

  3. Fe writes… “I’d say that if we really want black people and all the people of Illinois to provide perspective, let them provide it from a voting booth in a special election[. . . ] Keep Blagojevich out of it. He is the villain of the play and the dangerous loose cannon.”


  4. sreynolds:

    Although I take your points to heart, I was with Planetwaves editorial staff and the chief editor when we went to print on this article. After discovering mis-calculations on the Burris’s chart, we did further digging and revealed some other questions about Burris selection which was not part of the original article. Top Dog, Underdog aside, if we felt the read was completely off the mark, we would have pulled the article off outright. We didn’t.

    With preliminary digging into Burris’ history as State Attorney General, it appeared there was continued pressing for the death sentence for two men proven innocent three times in court. It is not know whether or not Burris had a direct hand in that pressure or not, or what role he did play. He was in a bid for the governorship at the time, and it wasn’t the first time he was running for that office.

    In present day, just the barest intimation of impropriety would be easily taken in by a willing press and a Republican party looking for a very ripe, open Senate seat, which is exactly what Burris’ placement in Obama’s old seat would be. He could sit there well enough for the two years before actual elections take place, but he wouldn’t stay there. Both Harry Reid and the Democrats and the Republicans are thinking 2010 and not 2009. The Illinois Senate seat would not be Democratic for long.

    Blagojevich continues to go off on everyone, including his own party, and does not do Burris any favor by appointing him. Nor does Burris himself in the act of accepting the appointment from a governor whose motivations, even before Burris came onto the scene remain questionable. On appearances, Burris’ appointment is a completely cynical move on Blagojevich’s part. Why not Valerie Jarrett?

    I’d say that if we really want black people and all the people of Illinois to provide perspective, let them provide it from a voting booth in a special election, where the nominees for the Senate seat run for the office. Including Burris and Valerie Jarrett. Keep Blagojevich out of it. He is the villain of the play and the dangerous loose cannon.

  5. Fe, this article is a bit perplexing. First of all, Burris may not be a likeable person in your eyes. However being from Chicago and always talking with friends back home, there are many people who don’t share your opinion. Second, Blagovich has not been indicated, has not been removed from office and the charges filed against him are questionable. Understand, I am not a Blogovich or Burris fan. But I do realize that there has not been this much “who shot John” about any other replacement for any other Senator with perhaps the possible exception of Caroline Kennedy.

    Are you aware that there is not one African American Senator? This is not to say that because of that fact we should support Burris, it is to say, however, why have no other candidates been subject to this kind of scrunity. Let’s not talk about self hatred, instead let’s talk about race and hatred.

    Burris was placed in the Senate seat by the SITTING govenor. Just like Kennedy will be placed. Should Burris not accept that appointment because his Govenor is an asshole? How about scrutinizing the real culprit here, Gov. Blogaovich! And who cares what he has written on his tombstone! Fe, many people have their tombstones pick out and engraved (with accomplishments) awaiting the sunset date to be added.

    The Suzanne Lori Parks thing is unbelievable and incomprehensible to me. What is that all about anyway? Do yourself and your readers a favor..when you write about Black things, get a perspective from a Black person first. It would be helpful.

  6. Shanna:

    Amazing the things you hear at disparate places and times. Kind of like putting together the puzzle, one shard at a time. Those two comments seem to be a pretty common theme.

  7. On a lighter note, from Chicago, see the following. Jesse White is the Secretary of State of Illinois who refused to put his signature under Blago’s choice of senator, a couple of days ago. Link to tumbling video is found below.

    “The internationally known Jesse White Tumbling Team has been thrilling audiences since 1959. Their acrobatic performances can frequently be seen during half-time shows for the National Basketball Association, the National Football League and Major League Baseball games. The team entertains at business and sporting events year-round, including colleges and universities nation-wide.

    A number of the Jesse White Tumblers, beginning as young as 6 years old, are residents of Chicago’s Cabrini Green and Henry Horner housing developments. Other members of the team are residents from 10 communities within the Chicago metropolitan area. Jesse White, founder and coach, created the team in 1959 to provide a recreational, athletic, educational and cultural enrichment experience for the team members. This is a juvenile delinquency prevention program that is designed to help youngsters grow tall and straight. The members are required to abide by Jesse White’s strict rules, which include staying in school, maintaining a “C” average in academic coursework and staying away from gangs and drugs.

    Since the team’s inception, over 10,000 young men and women have benefited from the program. Jesse White’s key to success is “tough love.” He serves as coach, teacher, friend, mentor, confident and surrogate father to the members.

    As heroes in the Chicago area, the Jesse White Tumbling Team have attracted national and international attention. Their fans can be found from Chicago area neighborhoods to the White House, Tokyo, Japan, Hong Kong, China, Bermuda, Jamaica and Canada.

    They have appeared on Late Night with David Letterman, The Tonight Show starring Jay Leno, Good Morning America, The Jenny Jones Show, Disney Channel’s Mickey Mouse Club, CBS’ How’d They Do That, as well as several performances on Nippon Television in Tokyo…..
    The Tumblers also performed during the 52nd and 53rd Presidential Inaugural Parades. Fifteen current and former members of the Team have toured with the Ringling Brothers, Barnum and Bailey Circus as the Chicago Kidz. The tumblers have also toured and performed with the Harlem Globetrotters.

    The Jesse White Tumbling Team makes over 1000 appearances each year.”



  8. Passing along two comments I heard yesterday from commentators on NPR:

    “You know, when I met Burris, I thought, ‘This guy wants to be a senator in the worst way,’ and I’ll be darned but this guy did it! He became senator in the worst way…”

    “Yeah, Blagojevich’s tactics are like the guy who’s got the cops walking up his lawn, so he sets the next door’s neighbors’ house on fire.”

  9. bk:

    Its Valerie Jarrett.

    Burriss should ask that in this extraordinary time of scrutiny that his name be withdrawn by Blago and he instead run in a special election. From what we’re looking at in the deep background on this guy, I would want to let the public make a final decision on his record, not Blago.

    Its also true that this appointment is a juicy target for Obama’s foes to set on with the long knives. There’s a reason Reid needed to put up a show to block Burris at the Senate door. It takes brute force to handle a someone as baldly ruthless as Blago.

    I think slowing the process down abit might help matters. The decision to accept/reject does not have to be made right away. Questions on procedure and validity of appointment could gum things up. The Democrats could use the time to work back channels on this guy and the gov. In fact, I’m wondering if that isn’t happening now.

    Its on with the show.

  10. I agree with JanesDefense in that you can’t look at Chicago politics the regular way. If there really is a regular way. But there ARE rules. I don’t see Blago bowing out of the scenario, and, like Gardener, I do like your suggestion of a special election. This would take the onus off of the Senate (and Obama). I don’t remember her name (sorry), but the lady who is Barack’s friend and campaign advisor would seem to be an excellent choice and not just because of her skin color

    But how do we get from here (Blago/Burris) to there (wherever) without more disgrace and ugliness? Maybe with Mercury retrograde it will quiet down until after the swearing in on the 20th. That might uncover something that’s been overlooked or hidden and then it would all fall in to place. hahahahahah

  11. You know, dude, I don’t think you can look at Chicago politics the regular way. I try to explain it to people and I can see their eyes sort of settling on something behind my head. Chicago only posing as a modern city with modern politics like you read about Civics class.

    You gotta look at it like this:


    Otherwise it makes no sense at all.


  12. bk:

    We’re looking deeper into Burris now.

    I’ve been investigating the black political blogs about the Burris pick, and there’s controversy that reflects the very essence of our fractured view of race and culture in the country. The comments so far on the blog are another reflection of that as well. I like where this is going, even as we are validating the chart information on Burris.

    The question becomes who is an acceptable candidate of color to replace someone who raised the bar like Obama?

    What are the implications for his replacement — will just any just any Black person, or should the whole thing start all over again and a special election take place?

    Should Blagojevich be involved?

    I put these questions before the floor.


    Roland Burris was atty general not DA. Well, whatever he was, he wasn’t for truth and justice.

  14. Fe,

    I googled “Roland Burris character and reputation” and learned that when he was the Illinois DA, he pursued sentencing a man accused of murder to the death penalty, even though another man had confessed to it. This was in the ’90’s. What I read made Mr. Burris sound pretty bad and makes yours and Eric’s estimation of him quite plausable. Look forward to the analysis of this guy’s chart. Keep digging!

  15. I certainly agree about Blago – he makes Nixon look like a saint.
    Thank you Fe! You do very nice work – I just don’t entirely agree with the premise of the play.

  16. Hey bk:

    Yes, Eric had crafted a chart based on wrong data, and did a great analysis which he senses is still right.

    My sense concurs that Mr. Burris has some issues — taking on a post offered to you by someone as ruthless and greedy as Blago raised the red flag for me. Eric will update the chart in due course.

  17. Wow . . .this report kind of took me by surprise. I hadn’t heard anything so bad about Burris – other than he had a big ego and named both his kids (son AND daughter) after himself. Earlier your story included an email from Eric about him and it sounded very damning. What happened to it? Will we be seeing Mr. Burris’ (solar) birth chart on Planet Waves? Now I’m REALLY curious!

  18. Gardener:

    The question is, like they used to ask about Nixon: Would you buy a car from this man? I’m talking about Blago, who’s tainted, vs. Obama who worked his way up the chain to provide a new role model of African-Americans on the rise.

    Burris has played a good game to get to where he’s at, but my mind wraps itself around the actual, physical monument, a tomb, upon which is engraved his accomplishments. His resume. What does that say about your opinion of yourself? There lies the mystery, wrapped in an enigma, and sealed in a puzzle. Does this man perceive himself so invisible that he needs to engrave his accomplishments in stone to prove that he exists?

    Blago is the cynical bastard at the heart of all of this, and he is the self-serving troll trying to leech off the Obama trough. He was the one who said “Fuck him”, when all Obama could give him was his appreciation for letting Valerie Jarrett be considered as a nominee. Blago still wanted what he wants–the payoff.

    Burris could very well be what you describe, but I tend to wonder if he hadn’t thought twice about the quality of his benefactor before he jumped into the pool for him.

  19. I don’t know about this Fe – maybe sometimes it is true, but mostly what we used to read back in the 60s and 70s was that a black man or woman would take a promotion anyway they could get it, because it was the only way they could help other brothers and sisters move up. Roland reminds me of that mindset – that even though it came from the stinking white guy, in the end he gets to be a senator and that’s a legacy no-one can take from him (unless it is taken from him before he ever gets there – which looks likely). I don’t think it is self-hatred at all. It is a way to survive. It’s like a black man saying ‘yas’m, I’s a good nigger’ when all along the man is reading shakespeare and inventing the wheel or something.

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