A Moment for Oracles: Amber and Braunze

In the Obama rapture after South Carolina, what we wanted wasn’t experts (because there are none) or wiseguys (because Chris Matthews has them all). We wanted oracles.

Then came an email from a listener in New York: “Give me Amber, or give me death…,” thirsting for that fabulous firehose of crystalline commentary from talk shows past.

And then Braunze himself called from Alabama — another heroic one-off thinker and talker whose call-in handle, like Amber’s, has the hue of an alloyed heart and mind. Braunze, too, wanted to grope out-loud through scenes from a dream unfolding since the South Carolina went to the polls on Saturday. Could it really be happening — this regeneration of a demoralized world-nation? This gathering momentum and spirit around an African-American candidacy in a campaign that refuses so far to be racialized?

And so we recorded these conversations which, if nothing else, memorialize the dim, dawning awareness of a great shift in all our perspectives on possibility.

Click to listen to Chris’s conversation with Amber and Braunze here (44 minutes, 20 mb mp3)

Amber, if this voice is new to you, is a Barbadian orphan who has lived in proud poverty in Boston for more than a decade. She has no “papers,” as they say, but the spirit of a cranky super-patriot. In talk radio, we thrilled to hear “Amber is on the line.” And people still ask me: “How’s Amber?” about the ferociously articulate caller who tangled on the air with the best (including Gore Vidal, Camille Paglia, William Safire, William F. Buckley and Harold Bloom) and bested them all. “What is Amber thinking?” people want to know. “What is she thinking? Are you in touch?” Well, we are ever in touch, and she is ever her indomitable, industrious, provocative self. Here’s a touch of Amber this morning at the South Station stop on the Red Line subway through Boston:

Every day I’d go down to the edge of the water and stare way out at that horizon, and I was convinced at age 5 that America was just over that edge: terrifying, electrifying, important, deep, epic, beautiful, monstrous. That’s what America was to me, still is… So much of this campaign, this man, is wrapped up in that once again. I’m almost, almost — don’t get excited — almost a born-again American today. It’s not that I’m in love or in awe with Barack Obama. It’s what his moment on the American stage means… It’s a second chance for this place… This country is my religion. For someone who’s missed it… ached for it, I cannot begin to tell you how deliciously happy I am that this moment is here.

“Amber,” in conversation with Chris Lydon in the morning transit rush-hour, Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Braunze identifies himself as “an entrepreneur with insight.” He’s lived his life between Birmingham and Boston, a business consultant with tentacles deep in the information technologies, and also a singer, jazz lyricist and Miles Davis devotee.

I think that the dark cloud of just sadness and desperation — because you just can’t get there being a good guy — has been disproved by Barack Obama. He is a good guy and he is making it. His is kind of the Todd Clifton of America now — Todd Clifton from [Ralph Ellison’s] Invisible Man. Todd Clifton was a Harlem activist… eventually the symbol of hope in Ellison’s mythology. Barack is that person in real life come to be. It is almost as if Barack Obama was prophesied in Ellison’s famous line, “who knows but that on the lower frequencies I speak for you.” I think Obama is speaking for those on the lower frequencies, those who’ve not had the opportunity to demonstrate what they can do. I think that’s impacting white America, saying: hey, you know, we need to be a little bit more pro-active, those of us who believe, because if this guy can do it, we’re really, really underutilizing a lot of talent.

“Braunze,” on the phone with Chris Lydon from Birmingham, Monday, January 28, 2008

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  • Zeke

    BEFORE I listen to this, I want to say “Thank you” for bringing these voices to me Chris. Amber was always a hero of mine. I hope that in her “celebrity” she doesn’t change and become a parody of herself. I can’t imagine she will. I’m watching the bloviating Florida primary “analysis” on cable as I type this. Tomrrow morning I will need the cleansing of an Amber. I can’t wait!

  • nother

    “Individuals are not definable by any externality.” – Braunze And Amber’s description of her horizon was simply amazing!

    How refreshing to hear these voices released.

    Thanks, and thanks!

  • Potter

    Sorry – I don’t gush over Amber. I always found it hard to listen to that rat-a-tat machine gun style rap that whizzes by too fast to say “hey wait a minute” about the right and the wrong of it and “but-but- but”.

    I still wonder why she has not married us yet ( or can even really commit to Obama, no less actually vote for him)) but is forever the Amber looking at us over that metaphorical horizon while shivering in her boots that she will be found out. I think her schtick is she likes standing there on the threshold and particularly loves the pedestal Chris places her on. She is intelligent for sure and for sure she has her eyes on the prize of what some of us believe is what this country is all about. The trouble is the “some of us:” is not all of us and ultimately this country is about all of us, Amber included.

    She proves that all you need is schtick.

  • Well, from way up in Canada all of this seems strange. Without the assumptions of just what a Canadian is, let’s consider the future. There is above all a climate of strategy that cosumes ideas in politics. The tradition of having a person identify themselves as a brand, whether it is the republican chocolate bar or the democratic cereal, just doesn’t cut it. I will be the first to say that American culture dominates the others as far as the idea of the ‘dream’ goes. Yet, it is the vision that matters and this can not be seen in the glaze of a politician’s gaze. Imagine a situation where only the ideas are presented and politicians become mere rhertoriticians arguing persausively one side of an issue. When literary critcism began to differentiate between the speaker and the author, that is to say the writers voice is not always her own, the exploration of perpectives broke wide open. Build a planet on ideas and you have a world able to change its mind. By equating hope for a better future with one person or style of econmics, spirtuality, and policy, the room for criticim is crowded with the fear of power loss. The pressure to hold on to power overtakes the possibility of self criticism. Instead picture the kind of Socratic discourse that explores the issue of the day and let the public decide. Give me that and I will give you a population as interested in social justice as the details of the Red Sox’s home and away wins average.

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  • Potter

    I just listened to the Braunze interview and do not recall having heard him before. He’s wonderful and thank you.

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  • nother

    Wow! I gotta say I am floored by you post above, Potter. It’s one thing to parse out Amber’s ideas and point our how you differ. But your post above comes across as a personal attack on her integrity.

    She might very well read this thread, and she might very well be hurt by your words. You are a big part of ROS and your words mean something.

    Maybe I’m reading it wrong…I have to be reading it wrong, right?

  • Potter I’m surprised at the personal judgment. Based on what? It’s one thing to have your own feeling about someone, to dislike her speaking style, but to unleash such harsh accusations based on no evidence is, well, slanderous.

    I would hope for a little more graciousness where you disagree on perspective without making personal attacks.

    A little stunned here…..

  • Potter

    I am sorry Allison- I can only make it worse by going on. I have listened to her over the years and she still seems to be in the same place.. though a little less at war a little more hopeful but ever cynical. It’s just the way she strikes me. pPrhaps I should keep quiet. I will say I don’t feel I come anywhere near “slanderous”. Harsh yes. So perhaps you can tell me where the slander is.

    My feeling has been, and I may be wrong, so someone correct me, maybe Chris can, that she has refused to become legitimate. I am not one to say illegals should be sent back, no, not at all. I am talking about her desires to be one of us, not someone on the threshold looking in and criticizing.

  • Potter

    PS-Allison, I think you objected to my characterization of her rap as “schtick”. I don’t think that is “slanderous”, though maybe you mean something else in my post-I don’t find what. I do say she is sometimes right, and that she does have her “eyes on the prize”…( I just don’t get your stunned reaction).

    I said all that because my feeling is that it all seems to be coming from the same place of reluctance, cynicism, disappointment, and maybe also a confusion about belonging and not belonging at the same time. Her support of Obama could not therefore be whole (my perception). She has been disappointed so much it seems that she cannot let herself believe.

  • Potter

    Nother- I just read yours. I can’t defend myself beyond what I just wrote to Allison. I am sorry if I have offended.

  • Potter, “slanderous” was reactionary on my part. The overall feeling was one of you trying to invalidate her. “She proves all you need is shtick” is to say that she is nothing more than a facade. But she is a human being with her own background, perspective and who knows what reasons for not wanting to be known or “married to us.” While you imagine a “shtick”, there is are other possible imaginings. Perhaps there is someone in the past whom she doesn’t want catching up with her. Being off the books may be her safest option. She may have emotional challenges based on past traumas. Many people never recover from trauma. I don’t know, of course, but that’s the point. Neither do you. You use conjecture to slam her character. Toward what end?

    If we’d had an ROS gathering and she came to speak in a way that allowed her identity to remain unknown, would you have said these things to her face? In this way? And why? What does your perception of who she is or how she is trigger in you?

    I was stunned because I never would have guessed that my friend Potter would have posted such a thing. If I read that about myself, my feelings would have been hurt. Now, there are some other names that wouldn’t have surprised me….. 😉

  • Potter

    Your reaction takes my criticism way beyond what I said in my first post given that I said a lot more about what I feel her internal struggle is. That is not about façade or delivery. I ask questions that go beyond.

    So I do not need to be told she is a human being with her own background- that is kind of insulting to me too. Of course there are other possible imaginings, and I have had many of them as I think of her and have thought of her over the years and wondered who she is beyond the list of what is wrong with us and finger shaking at our loss of old ideals. Of course none of it is new, but it comes densely packed from her. This is no oracle, but for me severe criticism and perhaps reminder from a good vantage point ( outside or on the threshold). Her points are at times way too all encompassing, unjustifiably so in my opinion. We all did not by any means just accept GWBush as the legitimate President. I for one, as have many others spent these last 7-8 years angry about it, and more disappointed still that he was re-elected.

    I did say ( in my first post) that she is not taking into account that we are a huge country of many different views and much uninvolvement. The sum total of that is who we really are, what has to be seen from that window looking in… the pushes and pulls in all directions. It’s not only about how we righteous ones think and feel.

    I simply gush over Amber. Nor do I avoid her. I have listened well to the two interviews linked above ( the one from 2004 also). I have listened to her over the years when Chris had callers. I just got used to what to expect in tone- regardless of what was happening.

    This does not mean that I have not feeling for her ( actually quite the contrary) but I must say I have to get over and beyond the litany of some true some not so true criticisms she pours forth in what she calls with some pride her “black view” of contemporary politics and culture here. (Two exceptions New York and Obama) She actually I am a brown girl with a black view ( or something very close).

    I happened to agree with her wholeheartedly about Nader.

    I happened to agree with even more her wholeheartedly about New York. I would like to go on about that but this is long.

    I would gladly adopt her (really!) and get her legal. It’s hard for me to believe that there are not a number of ways that she could go to reach that end. It’s hard for me to believe that a young girl brought here involuntarily at age 8, illegally, along with undocumented parents who then left her orphaned, has spent 20 years here with no way of becoming documented. I think I remember, though I am not sure, thjat she has not wanted to. And it may be harder now.

    But I would like to know if we live in such a country where such a person cannot be welcomed. My brief look into this matter suggests there are ways and more ways being proposed. I have personal experience and knowledge of several who, with less claim, have made it through. I cannot see her going through the rest of her life this way either.- not such a person who has so much to offer. Think of all the ways she cannot partake and all the benefits she misses by being illegal. Think of a life of anxiety.

    This ( from my first post on) is hardly coming from a person (me) who does not care or feel beyond the schtick. But schtick is schtick… entertaining.

    Your friend ( still!!!!) (friends can argue you know and I would not go on so long if I did not care about what you think.)


  • Potter

    Correction- somewhere in the middle I should have started that paragraph “I simply do not gush over Amber.

    By the way- I thought Chris was excellent in both the 2004 and recent interviews. Just the right amount of push back with love.

  • I hear you, Potter. Nice to get a broader perspective from you. In your first post you wrote that she proves that sometimes “all you need is schtick.” That line read like a summing up of her totality. That ALL she is is shtick.

    Maybe, I don’t understand how you use the word. For me, a schtick is a fake presentation consciously adopted for a manipulative purpose. It has very negative connotations – except when applied to an entertainer who is using shtick professionally and it’s understood that this is the role.

    And still, it is your judgment that hers is a schtick. You’re apparently sticking to that. (Sorry, couldn’t resist …… 😉

    Love ya, Allison

  • Potter

    Vaudeville is schtick… entertainment. It’s a Jewish word used not in a negative way, kind of neutral but knocking nevertheless- sort of to say “there he/she goes again” (with their old act). Schtick got you on stage. Too much schtick can get you tomatoes and eggs ( or the cane).

    I really hope that Amber can become legitimate here somehow- and that she will get up the courage to face whatever when the time is deemed right. (Chris can’t keep meeting her that way!)

    Thanks Allison – and nother. I consider you friends.

  • nother

    “I really hope that Amber can become legitimate here somehow”

    A while back I spoke with a civil rights activist named Horace Seldon. He told me that he spent many years fighting to help African Americans with their problem of racism. Then in middle of the struggle he had an epiphany: racism was not the problem of black people, it was the problem of white people.

    If Amber is not legitimate in your eyes, then that is your problem, not hers.

    All your remedies above for Amber have to do with her fixing her problem someway, “It’s hard for me to believe that there are not a number of ways that she could go to reach that end.”

    It reminds me of the arguments of long ago when people would say, why do those black people stay in the projects…I know black people that have made it out.

    And as far as characterizing the whole of Amber’s conversations through the years with one word, “Shtick,” I’m disappointed that in your long post you could not squeeze in the tiny word, “sorry.” It’s amazing how hard it is for people to apologize for anything nowadays.

    Potter, I would never go as far as summing up everything you ever wrote on ROS in one word, but I will attempt to characterize what you wrote on this thread in one word: jealous.

    I do respect you and I’ve enjoyed reading you through the years. But your apology would not be for me, it would be for Amber. And if you met her face to face, I have a feeling you find that apology somehow.

  • Potter

    Nother-“If Amber is not legitimate in your eyes, then that is your problem, not hers.”

    A surprising statement from you, again taking mine to negative heights,especially given that I said I consider you my friend here.

    By not being legitimate- I don’t mean by me ,Nother ( I accept her)- I mean for her sake. In other words to receive the benefits of our society- a driver’s license, ID & passport, the right to vote, health care, employment. The last two which may make her anxious about her status… the others she can I suppose deal. I can’t see her spending her years this way and allowing this groove to set in attitudinally as well. Her hyper-criticism is related to her status in my view.

    You make this into my racial problem which I find insulting:

    “It reminds me of the arguments of long ago when people would say, why do those black people stay in the projects…I know black people that have made it out.”

    You put the racial thing onto mine. You said that, I did not. I don’t know where you get race in my comment above except when I quoted Amber about herself. I don’t see her color. I hear her.

    As for “sorry” Nother – I devoted a whole separate comment to saying I was sorry to you- with no acknowledgment but this nastiness about being jealous (???). I am disappointed since I too have enjoyed reading you. Apparently in your zeal to protect Amber from my criticism of her criticism you give no benefit of the doubt here. Am I not allowed not to gush??

    I do not need to apologize to Amber for caring about her situation beyond her words of criticism. Amber is about immigration for me, about belonging, about her feeling she belongs, not my feeling of whether she does.

    You surprise me as you are very big on immigration issues but here you don’t see this as one.

  • Potter

    Nother- It just occurred to me that you might have taken my first comment here above personally and you were really defending yourself, your feelings. This is your problem ( as you would say).

    Your response here was “thank you, thank you” – which mine often is here. I did not mean to insult you or anyone in particular) but rather to say that I am not swept up in the gushing for the reasons I have already given.

    As I said I devoted a whole post to “sorry” above. I feel I need one from you.

  • Potter

    An interesting entry on schtick:


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  • nother


    I am Amber. Allison is Amber, you are Amber. If Amber had disparaged you in the same way, I would have defended you with as much zeal.

    I was wrong to accuse you of not finding her legitimate. I know that is not what you meant and I used your word against you. I am sorry for that.

    I stand by the rest of the post.

    It sounds like you are misconstruing my race analogy the way I misconstrued your word legitimate. I think you know I wasn’t implying that you were judging her by the color of her skin. I stand by my analogy.

    In your first post you characterized the whole of Amber’s expressions with Christopher Lydon as “it proves all you need is shtick.” Now in your last post you seem to want to convey that what you meant was, you do not have to apologize for simply not gushing over her. As if that is the same sentiment. That is spin, Potter.

    And as far as apologizing to me, that’s like the old line, “I apologize to anyone I offended.” (I don’t apologize for the remark, only if you were offended). And you state that you were apologizing to me. I…do not want an apology.

    And as far as the jealous remark. I will give you my reasoning. You wrote, “It proves, all you need is shtick”. I ask you Potter, all you need is Shtick – to accomplish what? You are presupposing that Amber will say whatever it takes to get on the airwaves with Christopher Lydon, as if that’s is one of her grand ambitions. You have been affiliated with the program for a long time; you hold it in very high esteem, as do I. So I think it’s possible that you attribute being on the air with Christopher Lydon as something so redeemable that a woman such as Amber would compromise her integrity and employ shtick to accomplish those means. That’s where I come up with the jealous theory.

    This wounded woman places her trust in Christopher Lydon, opens up on the airwaves for his listeners (who she must value), and your response is “it proves all you need is shtick.”

    Maybe this would have been a good time to employ that old sang that our parents taught us, if you don’t have anything nice to say don’t say anything at all. Please tell me, in the scheme of things, what good comes from criticizing this lady. It’s one thing to criticize a public voice like a politician that Chris speaks with, I think it quite another to disparage a woman who Chris obviously requested to speak, and who goes on the subway and risks herself to express herself for his listeners.

    I will read your response if you choose to respond, but then I figure it’s best if we all just move on to the next thread. I still respect you and I will still read you.



  • Potter


    Yes after re-reading your I realized that I took offense that you were calling me racist and it was probably an over-reaction to your analogy. The analogy just was too close to being called a racist and I jumped to that conclusion. You were not calling me racist but you were saying that her legitimacy was my problem which was a misunderstanding on your part.

    The epiphany that racism is not the problem of the “person of race” but the racist’s problem I disagree with. I think it’s a society’s problem, one we all share. This revelation allows a feeling of liberation from a burden needlessly carried alone. The immigration problem we share. I do not have a racist bone in my body and I am totally pro-immigration & amnesty making people like Amber legal already.

    What I object to is that you have authorized yourself to police what my reaction/comments can and cannot be. I have already said that I apologized if I offended you which I apparently have. It should have been enough. But you insist on fighting for Amber. I have already said that I know I was somewhat harsh in my first comment. I have said some positive things about Amber which don’t seem to count or register, only the criticisms matter. So you are protecting her, from your first post on. You won’t allow any criticism.

    For me these appearances, and especially this last one in the subway, with all the background noise, brought to mind the people entertaining in the subway with their hats on the floor or their guitar cases open for your change. The line “it proves all you need is schtick” was a throw away line- a well-known cliché… If you parse it I suppose it means ( to me anyway) to get on stage ( ie to get attention) that is all you need… a good act. Like to have a hit tune you need a good “hook”. It was an impulse remark. But I think Amber is not seeking to be on the airwaves, she is being rather egged on “to do her thing”. I don’t think this does her a service. Just my opinion.

    I was more taken that she is still in this place where she cannot reveal herself even to meet in a studio. Surely this subway set-up was not part of the drama. No! I think it means a level of real fear on her part. What does that mean to you?

    No, Nother, I am old enough to be her mother. And I am tired of her situation already. I want her to resolve it if she wants to. Apparently she does, So pardon if I feel some of that. Pardon if I don’t gush. Not gushing allows me something else- to see her situation and feel for that.

    And I very much resent you telling me that I have to see her the way you do.

    My Aunt always said to me something my mother never did, that her mother, my grandmother, told her – if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all. Same thing you are telling me. I suppose that would be true of Amber too right?

    I have not lived my life that way. But I have tried in my life to say things that I had to say in a kinder way than I did here ( not always successfully).

    I am more of the school that believes that we owe each other something, how we see, even if it may hurt. My impulse was harsh, but I realize that it was a response to hers which was also harsh. I think she can take it. That I don’t think she can post here to say one way or another is the shame.

    That’s my schtick- best to you and let’s move on I agree.


  • nother

    Points well taken.

    Language is limiting…we know that. Add to that this static inflectionless type, and things get less clear.

    I think we both understand that each other are more than what these letters might type out.

    Thank you for discussing it further with me. See ya on the next thread!