#Justice4Marrissa #31forMarissa

I was on CNN yesterday, talking Marissa Alexander and domestic violence, with Esther Armah and Don Lemon. Of course, I am replaying the interview in head, processing and thinking about the many more things I want to say.  Here are a few more thoughts:

(1) To understand why Marissa Alexander remains in prison requires talking about racism and sexism, patriarchy and institutional racism. It reflects societal sanctioning and perpetuating of violence against women. The violence she lived through, and her prosecution and incarceration reflects the insidious violence directed at women on so many levels: at home by an abuser, by police, prosecutor, and criminal justice system that punishes the victim, by a prison system that locks women in yet another unsafe and violence place, and a society that remains silent.  At the same time, it reflects the lack of institutional care/empathy/ concern/legal protection afforded to black bodies, particularly those of African American women.  Yes, intersections matter.

(2) Domestic violence is a societal injustice; it cuts across class, race, sexuality, and geography. It’s rooted in patriarchy; it’s rooted in pathological definition of masculinity; it’s rooted in media and popular culture that turns domestic violence into a spectacle, a source of profit and pleasure.  Clearly we can think about race and class operates here.  Domestic violence is rooted in the legal and cultural views about the “home” as a man’s castle, which contributes to systemic views about it being a  “private issue.”  All of this embodies domestic violence culture, where violence, the pain and bloodshed, the despair, and heartache, the injuries and terror are imagined as a personal and familial issue. In all, domestic violence culture ignores the rights, futures, wellbeing, and humanity of women, particularly women of color.

(3) Angela Davis once noted that, “prisons do not disappear problems, they disappear human beings.” The incarceration of Marissa Alexander and the national silence on this injustice (and domestic violence) reflects an effort to make the victims of domestic violence disappear.  The fact that a women is assaulted every 9 seconds in America reveals how the problems, the violence, and the despair are fully present.

(4) As noted in a discussion between Suey Park and Summaya Fire: “Black women are 35 percent more likely than white women and 2.5 times more likely than any non-Black woman of color group to experience domestic violence. However, they are also less likely than other women to use social services. More Black women are likely to go to the hospital for domestic violence than social services.” In this same discussion, Summaya Fire points out how the stereotypes of black women has not only shaped the conversation/media coverage/ response from the criminal justice system but also plays out in terms of the lack of services/intervention from social welfare as it relates to black women.  The history of movements against domestic violence, media coverage, and even political discourse has erased the experiences of African American women. I wish we had more time to discuss these structural barriers to safety and security; to understand Marissa Alexander is to look at racism and sexism.

(5) A few statistics to know: Estimates range between 70-80% (some studies are lower) of women convicted of murder acted in self-defense against their abusers. One study found that cases involving domestic violence victims defending themselves against abusers had a higher conviction rates than in other cases.  That is women defending and protecting themselves from violent men were more like to be convicted.  They were also more likely to be given longer sentences (on average 15 years).  Additionally, African American women convicted of killing an abusive spouse/partner were the most likely to be convicted.  All women, and particularly black women, face harsh punishments from the criminal justice when trying to protect themselves from a violent partner.  Marissa Alexander and the thousands of women locked up for defending themselves against violent is evident of this horrifying reality.

And finally, the parallels between Marissa Alexander and Trayvon Martin are ample: neither Trayvon nor Marissa were given the right (legal or moral) to stand their ground.  Race and gender matters; racism and sexism matters.  Both Trayvon and Marissa have been criminalized despite being victims of violence; each have been blamed, question, and otherwise convicted within the criminal justice system, within much of the media, and within the public at large. We already know the outcome in the struggle for #Justice4Trayvon. The fight for Marissa’s release and the dropping of the charges continues.

White Victimhood and the Media Erasure of Black Death by David J. Leonard | NewBlackMan (in Exile)

White Victimhood and the Media Erasure of Black Death by David J. Leonard | NewBlackMan (in Exile)

White Victimhood and the Media Erasure of Black Death by David J. Leonard

by David J. Leonard | NewBlackMan (in Exile)

Racism is racism. Extreme or mainstream, racism is racism. If it looks like white supremacy, talks like white supremacy and acts like white supremacy, it is white supremacy. What does it mean when the extreme and mainstream trumpet the same tune. What does it mean if white nationalist on Stormfront and Fox and friends similarly lament white victimhood? What does it mean when Skinheads and talk radio similarly rally the white community through fear of black criminals? This convergence and shared ethos has been crystal clear in the aftermath of the Zimmerman trial.

Over the last month, the Right\’s endless trolling about Chris Lane and Delbert Belton is yet another instance where facts are tossed aside for demonization and criminalization of black bodies. According to Jamelle Bouie, “If Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and Fox News sell anything, it’s white anger and racial resentment. And for them, Christopher Lane isn’t a person as much as he’s a product.” In fact, their response points to three core principles of the Right: (1) white resentment; (2) a sense of white victimhood; and (3) fear and criminalization of blackness. If a story or a reality doesn’t fulfill those prerequisites, they ain’t got time for it.

Either forgetting or ignoring fact that killing of Trayvon Martin did not make news for weeks, if not months, after his death, erasing the specifics of the case, the narrative about the media not covering “Black-on-White” crime with equal vigor as “White-on-Black Crime” is at its core about an imagined white victimhood.

If the Right and the mainstream media wants to have a conversation about media coverage and the impact of race, that is a conversation to be had, yet it will need to start with the muted media coverage of the killings of Darius Simmons, Bo Morrison, and Jordan Davis; what about the systemic failure to shine a spotlight about #every28hours.

Or how about the almost no coverage of the killing of Kollin Elderts and the trial of Christopher Deedy? It will need to account of the recent shooting of Donald Maisen Jr, who one minute was playing tag and another was lying on the ground in a pool of blood. No coverage from Fox and their Friends across the media; no condemnation from John Boehner, James Woods, or Rush Limbaugh

For such a conversation, it might be useful to look at the spectrum of research regarding not only the overrepresentation of news coverage of cases involving black perpetrators (or those alleged to have committed a crime) or the silence when involving victims of color. It might be helpful to not only look at media silence, but also the crickets from the criminal justice and from the populace as a whole when involving victims of color?

If the Right wants to talk double standards, lets talk about Rekia Boyd and Mark Carson; Anna Brown and Islan Nettles. WDD and the efforts to play up white resentment through a narrative of white victimhood is the true story, not media bias, not political correctness, or not the attack on white America.

Continue Reading at White Victimhood and the Media Erasure of Black Death by David J. Leonard | NewBlackMan (in Exile).

Criminal illness or sick criminals? Race and Gun Violence

Last night, 60 minutes aired a segment that focused on mental health and mass shootings, highlighting the consequences of systemic neglect of mental illness.  Documenting the history of policy that has transformed America from a nation of asylums (those dehumanizing warehouses) into a prison nation that makes those with mental illness disappear all while creating entire populations of untreated mental illness, the segment offered an important intervention.

The criminalization of mental illness has led to mass incarceration and divestment in necessary treatment.  The cost and consequences of these policies has been evident as it relates to mass shootings. It introduced the issue as follows:

The mass shooting at the Washington Navy Yard two weeks ago that resulted in the deaths of 13 people, including the gunman, was the 23rd such incident in the past seven years. It’s becoming harder and harder to ignore the fact that the majority of the people pulling the triggers have turned out to be severely mentally ill — not in control of their faculties — and not receiving treatment.

Although the segment neglected to reflect on how masculinity (and the reproduction of narrow definitions of masculinity) operates within this discussion, it raises important questions in terms of the criminalization of mental illness and the deadly consequences of American policies.


While the result of many decades of neglect, the segment documented the cost and consequences of the Reagan revolution and the “small government” mantra of the GOP.  On the eve of a government shutdown, it should be a striking reminder of the deadly consequences of policy decisions and neglect.

While a very important topic, it also represented a missed opportunity to push the conversation to reflect on how mental health and the lack of available treatment options has consequences as it relates daily violence. Where is the conversation about mental illness as it relates to gun violence? Where is the discussion of PTSD as it relates to Chicago, Stockton, or New Orleans? Where is the conversation about the consequences and dangers of a criminal justice system that only fails to treats mental health issues, that ignores treatable illness, but actually creates a sick population (seemingly guaranteeing sizable prison populations). The entire segment seemed to imply that certain violence, that which is disproportionately carried out by white boys and men, is treatable; yet those instances of gang violence or “everyday gun violence” are unavoidable. No discussion about mental health as it relates to other types of violence, in communities where violence is imagined as inevitable and natural.  We need to have a conversation about mental illness and violence, mental illness and guns in multiple contexts not just as it fits the dominant (white) definitions of innocence and guilt, safe and dangerous, treatable and criminal.

If solutions, interventions, and transformation were a true goal, we might begin to ask “why?” We might begin to look at issues of mental health in every instance of gun violence; we might begin to talk about PDST and trauma in EVERY CASE.  We might look at a recent study from the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH), which concluded that 50 and 65 percent of male and female juveniles experienced traumatic brain injuries.

“This shows us that we have a real serious organic medical problem among the adolescents,” Dr. Homer Venters, assistant commissioner of the city’s Correctional Health Services, said at a Board of Corrections meeting in March. “We often end up giving someone a mental health diagnosis, who does not have a mental health problem, but rather TBI.” …. In 2008, the city Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, which runs Correctional Health Services, created a surveillance and tracking system for new injuries suffered by inmates at Rikers Island, including head injuries. But Venters recognized that head injuries sustained even before an individual is incarcerated could also impact his patients and affect their mental health and even their length of stay in jail.  Two of the most significant manifestations of traumatic brain injuries are emotional dysregulation and impaired processing speed. “This means you can’t control your emotions and you can’t follow directions,” Venters told the corrections board. “These are two very serious complications for people who find themselves in jail.”

The high rate of TBI, which likely predates incarceration, surely needs to be part of the conversation about “crime.”  It certainly needs to be part of the “why” or is that a question one only asks when violence occurs involving people we don’t expect to kill or for those we don’t see as “legible” (Neal 2013) threats.  If only we asked the same questions, demanded the same answers of why, we might be able to move forward to actually address mass shootings and “street violence.”   But that would require seeing humanity outside of our race-colored glasses.

Reality ‘Written in Lightening': On ‘Fruitvale Station’

(Al Seib/Los Angeles Times)
by David J. Leonard
Originally published| NewBlackMan (in Exile)

Walking out of the theater in West Los Angeles, I felt a lot of emotions.  Even before Ryan Coogler’s Fruitvale Station started, I felt the film at a visceral level: I was sad, anxious, angry, and disheartened as I sat down. Emotionality is central to the film.

As brilliant as the film is at tapping into the emotionality of Oscar Grant’s killing, it is not simply a film of anguish or one that builds upon the outrage and sadness compelled by murders #every28hours.  It is a work of art; a tapestry of images, narratives, and movements.  It is a story of depth about a layered life put together through sight and sound, image and voice.

There is a lot to be said about the film at an intellectual, artistic, and cinematic level.  For example, Coogler’s ability to “make Oakland a character” is crucial to the film; it is done with great precision and depth.  The shots of street signs, the Bay, BART, and several Oakland landmarks are critical to the film’s situating of Grant’s life and death within a physical landscape.  To understand Oscar Grant and to reflect on his death, requires an ability to see and hear, feel and understand, Oakland in post civil rights, post 9/11 America.  His life and death is a story of Oakland; it is also a story of neighborhoods and communities across the nation.

With its use of the camera, from the close-ups of Tatiana scrubbing crabs to the various moments that brought Grant’s humanity to life, Fruitvale Station forces viewers to not only confront Grant’s death and his killing in 2009, but his life: his relationship with his girlfriend, Sophina (Melonie Diaz); his adoration for his mother Wanda Johnson (Octavia Spencer) and sister; his beautiful interactions with his daughter; and the many obstacles he faced in an unforgiving America.  Wesley Morris offers an important assessment of the film when he writes:

Fruitvale Station speaks to that yawning discrepancy. What feels slight, shaggy, and ordinary about it is also rather remarkable. To present Grant this way — as a son who loves his mother, as a father who loves his daughter, as the sort of person who comforts a dying dog and pleads with a shop owner to permit a pregnant woman to use his restroom — is to remove the stigma. He’s a lower-middle-class kid who got mixed up with crime. But most of the narrative belongs to a charming, charismatic, devoted young man, someone striving to better himself. It’s not only that this Grant is a person. It’s that, to a fault, he’s made to be more than black male pathology.

Rahiel Tesfamariam similarly emphasizes the film’s cinematic and narrative success in humanizing Grant – in challenging the systemic flattening of black bodies.  Fruitvale Station gives voice to Grant and the injustice evident in his death and in doing so challenges America’s racial landscape.

We also see this vulnerability play out in his dealings with the matriarchs in his family… These women are his anchors in life. Sophina keeps him honest, holds him accountable and brings out his sensual side. Through their relationship, we see his desire to be a protector and provider. His mother Wanda grounds him in prayer and nurtures him through wise words and good food. Her “tough love” approach often haunts him in his actions and decision-making. Then, there’s Grandma Bonnie who keeps him connected to tradition and the family history that proceeds him.

This backdrop is so important to the film, and to a larger landscape of anti-black racism; yet as I watched and cried, I found myself asking myself: does the persistence of segregation in Hollywood constrain the impact of such an important film?  Does the nature of distribution limit the reach of films centering African American voices and experiences into “red state America”?

Given the ubiquity of the criminalized black body, and given the widespread practice of blaming Grant or Trayvon Martin for their own deaths, it is disheartening to know that those who continue to peddle and profit in/from anti-black racism will unlikely watch Fruitvale Station.

It is infuriating that those who blame inequality on “single mothers” and “children born out-of-wedlock” will never be forced to digest the beautiful relationship that Tatiana had with her father Oscar, who would be part of that 72% statistic cited without any thought over and over again.

The anger I felt is about the killing of Oscar Grant – and Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis, Ayana Jones-Stanley, Rekia Boyd, Amadou Diallo; yet it was about a theater with only a handful of people; it is about knowledge of multiplexes across the country screening zombie movies and another about a snail rather than films that have the potential to transform a generation.  It is about knowledge that Madea, the Help, or the Butler will more likely be screened than the stories of Oscar Grant or Ruby.

Frustration, sadness, and anger.

Almost 100 years after the release of D.W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation, a film steeped in white supremacy and anti-black violence, Fruitvale Station brings a level of black humanity that has remain on the periphery of the Hollywood imagination for a century.  Almost 100 years after the release of a film that celebrated the rise of the Klan as the necessary force to thwart black savagery, Fruitvale Station stepped into a cinematic and larger racial landscape to offer a powerful counter narrative to the anchors of contemporary racism.  Yet, 100 years after Birth of a Nation was celebrated as “history written in lightening,” the prospect of Fruitvale Station receiving similar treatment feels to the right of impossible.

As with the struggle for justice itself, the actual hearing and seeing of Grant, Martin, Diallo, and so many others remains a distant possibility.  As with the activists who have used their cell phones to document the specter of police violence and anti-black/brown racism, Coogler uses his camera to further force a nation to confront these realities.  Fruitvale Station shines a spotlight on this empathy deficit and the denied humanity.  And like the killing of Grant, this is the source of my frustration, sadness, and anger.

But be clear, Fruitvale Station is reality written in lightening; a piercing ray of truth telling that is painful.  It is a disheartening, infuriating, and devastating reality; one that everyone should confront before another train arrives at Fruitvale Station.

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Profiling Trayvon…Again

“Angry Trayvon App”

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Profiling Trayvon…Again

Originally Published at NewBlackMan (in Exile)

Watching the George Zimmerman trial has been a daily reminder of the ways that race and the criminal (in)justice system collide. The trial has been a daily display of the different standards, scripts, and narratives afforded to both victims and the accused, and how race sits at the center of these “two Americas.”  Media coverage of the trial has presented judgments  on whose life matters, whose future matters, whose pain matters, whose suffering matters, whose experiences matter, and who deserves, is entitled to, and will receive sympathy, mourning, and justice.
Just as every person within America is profiled as guilty or innocent, as desirable or undesirable, violence is profiled as well.  Gun violence is profiled racially. Victims are profiled racially.  Perpetrators of violence are profiled; the families and friends are profiled as well; communities are not spared from this process. Ultimately, the narratives embraced are dissimilar across communities whereupon race creates a dividing line that marks them as separate and unequal.  This is racism at its core.
“Deep in the white American psyche” rests the controlling belief that sees “the impossibility of Black innocence” (Mann 2013).  Inside this same dominant worldview is that impossibility of white guilt.
The perpetual criminalization of Trayvon Martin is telling; the efforts to blame him for his own death; whether from the defense questioning of Sabrina Fulton or the mentions of trace amounts of THC in his system at the time of his death, are evident in the ubiquity of depicting Trayvon as a “thug,” a “suspect” and a “criminal” (a CNN “expert” even justified Zimmerman’s profanity-laced 911 call because he thought he was following a criminal).
All of this is operates from and perpetuates the presumed guilt of Trayvon Martin and black bodies in general.  Zimmerman, on the other hand, is presumed innocent and a good person who is now being victimized.
On Fox News recently, Greg Jarrett and Kimberly Guilfoyle lamented the costs and anguish experienced by Zimmerman, citing his weight gain as evidence of his victimization.  “You eat when you’re under stress and pressure and stuff like that,” Guilfoyle reminded the audience, “So, you know, he’s already been punished to some extent. We’ll wait and see whether a Jury punishes him further.” “This is an individual that was trying to do some civic duty by being on the community watch,” Jarrett noted, “that was the purpose of why he was there that night.” In other words, Zimmerman was a victim; victimized in the past, on this fateful night, and through the process.  Sympathizes should rest with him.
While the verdict has not been read, the trial itself, the media coverage of the trial,  the focus on the Newtown shootings as opposed to gun violence in Chicago, as well as the demands for background checks and not jobs, and the focus on mental health and not schools, are testaments to the ways race sits at the center of discourses of gun violence, and the criminal justice system.
Black death and white death are conceived as separate and unequal within the dominant white imagination; yet the stories about life and death in black and white are contingent upon one another. White life is privileged over anything else.
The scripts we see with regards to Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman, or  Newtown, and Chicago, are the stories of guilt and innocence; they are the stories of blacks and whites—evidence of the persistence of racism and the illusion of post-racial America. At the core of dominant discussions of guns and violence, like those of crime and punishment, is a presumption of black guilt and white innocence.  White America clings to the profiles of guilt and innocence as a religion.
To look at the stories told of Adam Lanza and James Holmes is to look at the difference in the profiling of and narratives associated with Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis, another unarmed black teen shot to death in Florida. W.E.B Dubois once asked when writing about America’s race question, “how does it feel to be a problem?” Contemporary discussions of gun violence, from inner-cities to the suburbs, highlight the continued relevance of his words within America.

While the judge limited the ability of the prosecution to bring race into focus and to talk about racial profiling, among other things, race remains at the center of the trial and the criminal justice system—at the heart of life and death. The demands for colorblindness amid the realities of a racist America means that this trial, like those before, are playing out according to the hegemonic script: black criminalization and white innocence.  It is my hope for a new ending where justice and mourning no longer remain a dream deferred.

It’s Gotta Be the Ink: Crime, Athletes and Tattoos

 
It’s Gotta Be the Ink:  Crime, Athletes and Tattoos
 
Sports media is often a place ripe with racial, class, and gendered meanings; it often is a site where stereotypes and profiling are articulated; where bodies, particularly bodies of color, are subject to scrutiny and examination, ridicule and demonization.  Sports media, especially when the coverage moves beyond the game, is often dominated by generalizations and grandiose arguments that spill over outside of the arena and playing field.  This has been evident with two recent columns about John Wall and Aaron Hernandez, both of which extrapolate meaning and pathology from tattoos – or better said the meaning in an inked body of color.
 
In a recent column, Jason Reid cautioned the Wizards (he provides clarification here) against signing a contract extension with Wall because of his decision to get and unveil his tattoos:
 
Posing shirtless recently for an Instagram photo, Wall revealed several tattoos. Wall’s interest in body art is surprising, considering he previously said he did not have tattoos because of concerns over his image for marketing reasons. Many NBA players do have tattoos, and Wall isn’t breaking new ground in sharing his ink with fans through social media.
 
But not every player flip-flops on a topic in such a public way. Factor in that Wall is expected to receive a huge payday from the Wizards next month, and the timing of his tattoo revelation raises questions about his decision making. For a franchise with a history of backing the wrong players, that’s food for thought. . .
Reid makes clear that Wall’s decision to get tattoos leads him to question his mindset, his character, and his priorities since he previously stated that he wasn’t getting any tattoos because of a potential reaction from fans and the organization.  Yet, now he has them, causing Reid to wonder about Wall’s focus on the game and the fans.  It’s gotta be the ink.
 
Reid’s effort to read meaning into Wall’s tattooed body is nothing compared to Jason Whitlock’s recent column, which is disturbing even by Whitlock’s standards.  Amid the many troubling points of “analysis” that nostalgically pine for popular culture and a sports world of yesteryear, Whitlock uses the arrest of Aaron Hernandez as an instance to pathologize and demonize today’s athletes, and accordingly goes in on tattoos:
Athlete covered in tattoos is linked to several violent acts, including “accidentally” shooting a man in the face. Modern athletes carry guns. They do drugs. They mimic rappers and gangster pop-culture icons.
 
Athletes want street cred, and they costume themselves in whatever is necessary to get it. Nike, Reebok, Adidas, etc., were the first to recognize the importance of authentic street cred when it came selling product to American youth.
Sadly Whitlock was not done:
When he stood in chains before a judge at his arraignment, in a white T-shirt and his arms decorated in ink, Hernandez did not look out of place. Guilty or innocent, he looked like someone who had prepared for this moment. He didn’t look like an athlete. He looked like an ex-con…
 
We can no longer distinguish bad from good. We no longer even aspire to be good; it has considerably less value. That’s what Aaron Hernandez represents, to me. Popular culture has so eroded the symbolic core principles at the root of America’s love affair with sports that many modern athletes believe their allegiance to gangster culture takes precedence over their allegiance to the sports culture that made them rich and famous.
There is so much wrong here that I am not sure where to start but let me unpack a few arguments.  (1) He seems to argue that America’s crime problem (despite declining crime rates) is the result of its faulty values. Popular culture is the teacher to blame. The celebration of Jay-Z and Tony Soprano (and I am not fooled by the inclusion of Tony Soprano to obfuscate from the racial arguments) has created a culture of criminality, as evidenced by Aaron Hernandez.
 
 
Whitlock writes that Hernandez, “stayed true to his boyz from the ‘hood. He mimicked the mindset of the pop-culture icons we celebrate today.” While acknowledging the costs and consequences of “a 40-year drug war, mass incarceration,” Hernandez is a product of “a steady stream of Mafia movies, three decades of gangster rap and two decades of reality TV have wrought: athletes who covet the rebellious and marketable gangster persona”—a  little nostalgia to go with Whitlock’s simplicity and reductionist linear narrative.
 
In amazing level of erasure of history, of violence, Whitlock, who clearly plays a sociologist, psychologist and media studies scholar on both TV and the Internet, pontificates how to thwart crime and violence: revamp the television guide and top-40.   Yes, it’s got to be the television.  Rather than address structural realities, it is time for politicians, activists, and communities to address the real menace: popular culture.  If only he was kidding.
 
(2) I wonder if he or others who like to blame rap and popular culture for everything invoke these arguments in other cases or just those involving people of color.  I must have missed an examination of the listening habits of Adam Lanza or James Holmes?  I wonder what sort of influence hip-hop and Allen Iverson had on the Boston bombers, Catholic priests, or Wall Street executives.  Clearly, it is time for Whitlock and others to listen to Michael Franti’s “It’s a crime to be broke in America.”
They say they blame it on a song
When someone kills a cop
What music did they listen to
When they bombed Iraq?
Give me one example so I can take a sample
No need to play it backwards
If you wanna hear the devil
Cause music’s not the problem
It didn’t cause the bombin’
But maybe they should listen
To the songs of people starving…
More than reminding me of the scapegoating of music which truly masks the criminalization and demonization of bodies of color (nobody has made issue of George Zimmerman’s tattoos), I recall a response to David Whitley’s piece about Colin Kaepernick because sadly I can just remix this “Dear Mr. Whitlock” because same message different day.
 

Still Hating Marshall Henderson

Still Hating Marshall Henderson

Original version published at NewBlackMan (in Exile)

Marshall Henderson has been busy since his Ole’ Miss squad lost in the 2nd round of the NCAA tournament.  Once his season ended, which included his giving fans the finger, and the media celebrated his contributions to the tournament, he moved onto more important activities: encounters with the police.  In fact since March he has several face-to-face visits with the police, including a May stop where after being pulled over for speeding, he was found to be in possession of both marijuana and cocaine.  Ultimately, he wouldn’t be charged with any drug crimes, but instead was citied for not having insurance.  Say, what?  Given his history, and the draconian nature of American drug policy, the lack of intervention from the criminal justice system should give pause.

Reports of this and other incidents only surfaced after his coach announced that he was suspended indefinitely (not kicked off the team; not removed from school) from the team for violating “team rules” (as opposed to state law or school policies).

The media response to the suspension and to the reported arrests has been muted to say the least.  Called a “knucklehead;” “someone who has been enjoying himself;” as someone who is “battling a beast” and a sickness; as someone who keeps messing up; as someone who needs to get his life together, who needs help.  Not a thug, not a menace, not a criminal; not someone who should be kicked off the team, kicked out of school or sent to jail.   Understanding and compassion at every level.

Chris Herren, a former basketball player whose battles with addiction have been well documented, furthered the poor Marshall narrative:You can never minimize the fact that you’re jeopardizing your future. It’s tragic for me to see his situation knowing what I know, what I went through, what I did.”  Herren, who like Marshall was afforded many 2nd chances, further noted, “Ultimately, he needs to get down to the reason why a substance is more important than yourself, your family and your future,” said Herren. “Whether it’s basketball, football, baseball or any sport at a high level, the price to pay is a lot of pressure. That’s why he needs to incorporate some balance in his life and surround himself with people who have the same dream he does.”

With these events, and his continued ability to cash in on his “whiteness,” to get a pass because he does not elicit racial fear and outrage, I continue to hate Marshall Henderson.   There I said it. I hate that every time I see his name I am reminded as to white supremacy, about racial standards, of the history of the 3/5 clause, and of dreams deferred.

I realized long ago that my disdain for all things Marshall runs deep, where I couldn’t help but sit in front of the television to watch Ole Miss-Florida in the SEC tournament finale.  I am more likely to watch the Real Housewives of Iowa than an SEC basketball game, yet it was must see-TV because of my disdain for Marshall Henderson.  From March until now, from his trash-talking to his arrests, from his 2nd and 10th chances, he is emblematic of the racial scripts that pervade American society.

But let me clear, I am not a hater.  I don’t have sour grapes; I got outrage to injustice and he is indicative of this entrenched injustice.  My feelings have little to do with Marshall Henderson.  I don’t know the man. Nor do I have an investment in his daily performance.

My thoughts about Henderson have as much to do with the myopic celebration of his accomplishments, “colorful” personality, and “swagger” given the sordid history of integration at Ole Miss.  Given the “ghosts of Mississippi,” and given the historic mistreatment directed at African American students at this “rebel campus,” it is telling that Henderson has elicited praise.  It is telling that he has been elevated at the expense of his teammates, erasing their contributions to the team.

My emotional reaction is not about Henderson himself but the narrative, the media coverage, and the double standards that he is embodies.  “Marshall Henderson is the Charlie Sheen of college basketball – an unapologetic poster-child of white privilege,” notes Charles Moriano. “Despite a litany of on and off-court behavior that normally send sports media pundits into “what about the kids” columns with African-American athletes, Henderson has been most often been described as ‘passionate’, ‘colorful’, and ‘entertaining’.” Greg Howard describes the double standards that anchor the media response.

He messes with any racially essentialist expectations of what a white basketball player is supposed to be. He’s an incessant shit-talker who tosses up 30-footers, rarely passes, and has a conspicuous lack of “hustle” stats. He tokes an invisible joint after made three-pointers…Marshall Henderson by all rights shouldn’t exist. And if he were a black athlete, he wouldn’t—not as far as big-time basketball is concerned.

My contempt is about the public persona that he has created along with a media that seems not only OK but rejoicing in behavior that has become the basis of the sports-punditry-hater-industry when it comes to today’s black athletes.

Matt Rybaltowski is illustrative of everything I loathe about the Marshall Henderson story: “In an age of political correctness and the contrived sound bite, Marshall Henderson is an anomaly, a free-spirit college basketball hasn’t seen since Jason Williams brought his killer crossover to Gainesville in the late 1990s. Dating back even further, it’s not a stretch to consider Henderson a Bill Walton in a shooter’s body.”

Sports pundits are incapable of offering comparisons that are not racially segregated.  Whereas Bill Walton loved the Grateful Dead, protested the Vietnam War (he was even arrested during his junior year), and joined Kareem Abdul Jabbar and others in support of the civil rights movement, Henderson loves playing quarters and his “hoes.” I guess we can say Henderson protested injustice, calling those coaches who didn’t vote him first team all-conference as losers.  Comparing Henderson to Walton is like comparing Justin Bieber to Eric Clapton; white and involved in same vocation.

Whereas black ballers are continuously criticized for selfishness – “there is no I in TEAM” – Henderson’s aspiration to “get his money” or his propensity to taunt fans is a sign of his being free spirit.  He is celebrated for saying what is on his mind even if his mind seems to begin and end with himself.   It is a striking moment of hypocrisy where not only does Henderson get a pass for his trash-talking, self-promotion, and his shot selection, but when he is imagined as exceptional.  In an age of media scrutiny, where (black) athletes are routinely criticized for deviating from the prescribed scripts, it is striking that he is celebrated by the same media that makes millions off telling today’s (black) student-athlete to shut up and play.

This past fall, Cardale Jones, a student-athlete at Ohio State University, had the audacity to tweet: “Why should we have to go to class if we came here to play FOOTBALL, we ain’t come to play SCHOOL classes are POINTLESS.” Not surprisingly, he was pillared, critiqued, and cited as evidence of what’s wrong with today’s student-athlete.  There were no headlines about his refreshing challenge to political correctness and no celebratory articles about his free-spirit and the passion Jones has for his sport.

Marshall Henderson has had more collegiate addresses than John McCain has homes.  He has taken his talents across the nation, playing in multiple time zones. He is the Bobby Petrino of collegiate basketball.  Over three years, he has attended the University of Utah, Texas Tech University, South Plains Community College, and Ole Miss.

Yet, the story told has not been one of a checkered past or an ability to commit, but instead one worthy of celebration.  He has travelled a difficult road in search of his dreams.  Despite a Kardashian-esque level of commitment, Henderson’s road to the NCAA tournament has come to signify his “rags-to-riches” story of redemption.  His past is evidence of the difficulty he has overcome and why ultimately we should love him.

He is praised for individuality and for his refusal to accommodate societal demands.  Henderson shares in this celebration, noting, “That’s just who I am, on and off the court, I like to wear my hat, my hoodie and some shades.” Yet, as Moriano notes, his ability to be himself, to express his own individuality is the essence of white privilege. “Young African-American men have no such luxury – on or off the court. At worst, wearing a hoodie can help get you killed like Trayvon Martin, and on just an average New York City day, it will get you ‘stopped and frisked’.”

Henderson is praised for the “joy” and “passion” he plays with, yet every athlete is not created or critiqued equally. Not every athlete is entitled to taunt Florida fans, to shoot with reckless abandonment.   Irrespective of fact that he shoots almost 15 shots a game, or fact that he shoots less than 40% from the field, he is depicted as scorer and an offensive talent.  He is the 14th leading scorer in Division 1, yet has the lowest shooting percentage of any player in the top 40.

The fact that he shoots and shoots and shoots is a sign of fearlessness and passion as opposed to arrogance and selfishness.  Henderson, despite embracing the aesthetics and practices long associated with hip-hop and blackness, is imagined as  “breath of fresh air for an American public “‘tired of trash-talking, spit-hurling, head-butting sports millionaires.’”  He is the walking embodiment of “everything but the burden.”  According to CL Cole and David Andrews, “African American professional basketball players… are routinely depicted in the popular media as selfish, insufferable, and morally reprehensible.”  Henderson is not burdened but instead celebrated for his “swagger” and “passion.”    Each and everyday he is able to cash in on his whiteness.

Yes, his whiteness.  While his father Native American, and while his twitter name, reps his indigenous identity, in the world of basketball, whereupon blackness is imagined as “normative,” as “non-black baller” he becomes white before our eyes.  He has a white pass, one he plays every time he sticks out his tongue or taunts an opponent.  And he seems quite aware of his white privilege.

“It’s a freaking game. It’s a basketball game. People take it so seriously that it’s funny for a little white guy like me to just come around, talk trash to people and the fans,” notes Henderson. “Like, what are you going to do in the stands? What am I going to do on the court to you in the stands? It’s funny just to mess with people.”

While Henderson imagines himself as a victim, who is criticized because he is “a little white boy” who “talk trash to people and the fans” in the end he is lovable villain, a person worthy of celebration.  He, unlike those other trash talkers, is a good kid and therefore should be judged unfairly because of them.

The privileges cashed in by Henderson are not limited to the basketball arena.  In 2009, according to a statement given to the secret service, Henderson, then a senior in high school, used “$800 of counterfeit money given to him by a friend to buy 59 grams of marijuana in two separate transactions.” With help from his coach and father, he was able to plea to a forgery charge, which led to a probation sentence.  While at Texas Tech, Henderson violated his probation by testing positive for alcohol, marijuana, and cocaine, serving 25 days in jail along with 7 weekends of work release.

Yet, he kept on playing basketball.

Compare his experience to two other African American student-athletes at Ole Miss.  Coach Andy Kennedy dismissed Dundrecous Nelson and Jamal Jones, following an arrest resulting from an officer discovering “eight roaches of marijuana made from cigarillos.”  While Jones was released, both were dismissed from the team.  As with Tyrann Mathieu, Nelson and Jones were held accountable in ways Henderson can only imagine.

Headline after headline, commentator after commentator depicts Henderson as hated, polarizing, and a villain.  Yet, this is our problem.  We are told over and over again that we are just haters; that we have problems with him because at worse he has a “chip on a shoulder” and at worse because he has swagger.  He is not a problem; it is us.  We just need to learn to love him.  No thank you.

I wonder when the level of understanding will be demanded for those “hated,” “polarizing” trash-talking ballers with a swagger, who are African American?  Maybe that is part of the post-racial fantasy we keep hearing about; until that is a reality, I will just keep hating Henderson, the sports, media, the NCAA, and those who chant “free Marshall.”  More than that I will find outrage about the stories we tell and sell about him.

In a week where the Trayvon Martin was put on trial in part because of marijuana use, where the ESPN Machine lamented over “yet another” drunk driving arrest in the NFL (yet again ignoring fact that NFL players are less likely to be pulled over for drunk driving than their peers outside the league) the differential reaction to Marshall Henderson’s arrests gives me pause.  The disregard for his history is the power of the whiteness.  The innocence seen is a sobering reminder of the separate and unequal nature of America’s criminal justice system, its media, and its other institutions.  So when I say I hate Marshall Henderson, what I mean is I hate injustice, I hate double standards, I hate hypocrisy, I hate white supremacy, and I hate that amid claims that race doesn’t matter reality shows how it matters in real and sometimes life altering ways.