“Action Expresses Priorities”: The Sochi Olympics and a Culture of Complicity – The Feminist Wire | The Feminist Wire

The upcoming Sochi Olympics are already shrouded in violence and inequality. It is the Olympics after all, so the political, social, and cultural entanglements between the world’s largest sporting spectacle and the broader social realities (injustices) are nothing new. Yet, with the Olympics just over the horizon, 2014 will spotlight the ongoing oppression facing GLBTQ communities and their allies in Russia (and beyond).

As with U.S. outrage over racism within European fútbol or “hooliganism” in the world’s most popular game, the national response to Russian state-sanctioned homophobia has been wrapped in a narrative of American exceptionalism. More than the rightful condemnation, the calls for a boycott of the Sochi Winter Olympics speak to a level of holier-than-thou exceptionalism that locates evil, hatred, and violence elsewhere, all while seeing goodness, love, and equality in the hearts and minds of people in the United States.

Don’t get me wrong: the anti-GLBTQ violence in Russia mandates protest and widespread censure. The Sochi Olympics are an opportune moment, but not because of a dehistoricized and naïve understanding of the Olympics as the apolitical celebration of the world’s humanity. Nor is Sochi an important space of intervention because homophobia and inequality run counter to the Olympic charter and its call for nations to put aside differences in a celebration of friendly athletic competition. I know these messages are what NBC and the International Olympic Committee are selling, but I ain’t buying.

At the core, the Olympics are about Western hegemony – a celebration of colonization and imperialism. Christina Ting Kwauk notes,

According to John Bale and Mike Cronin, modern sport is a legacy of colonialism. It is a product of the implantation of sport by Western colonizers into societies all over the globe in an effort to civilize the “savages” in the image of the Englishman. Bale and Cronin argue that although “modern sport may serve to promote the modern post-colonial state, they initially served as a form of colonial social control.” Through sport, colonialists could first train the body and then capture the mind.

White supremacy, misogyny, and homophobia, not too mention the violence and destructive logics of capitalism, have always been core to colonial projects and thus are central to understanding the history of the Olympics. The anti-GLBTQ violence is thus not out of step with the history of the games. To deny this broader history is a mistake and a shortcoming given the complicity of everyone from the IOC to the Olympics corporate sponsors.

And yet, the Olympics do provide a platform for resistance. “But this year’s Winter Olympics offer us all an opportunity to look beyond sports and athletics and focus on the ways that sports can often highlight and intersect with human oppression,” writes Wade Davis II. “As we move closer to the 2014 Olympics, the oppression and violence directed towards LGBTQ individuals in Russia takes center stage, alongside the determination of who’s the world’s best in various sports.” Whether challenging Russia’s discrimination laws, U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan, #every28hours, or transnational sweatshops, the Olympics provide a powerful space of opposition.

Continue reading at   “Action Expresses Priorities”: The Sochi Olympics and a Culture of Complicity – The Feminist Wire | The Feminist Wire.

#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.

Frat Rap and the New White Negro – The Conversation – The Chronicle of Higher Education

Frat Rap and the New White Negro - The Conversation - The Chronicle of Higher Education

Frat Rap and the New White Negro

August 29, 2013, 2:23 pm

By David J. Leonard

Adele, Justin Timberlake, Eminem, Teena Marie. White musicians and fans are embracing the cultural performance—jazz, rock ‘n’ roll, rhythm & blues, hip-hop—that African-Americans have given life to over the last century.

In 1957, Norman Mailer spoke to the existence of the “White Negro,” an urban hipster whose fascination and fetishizing of blackness resulted in a set of practices that reflected a white imagination: part cultural appropriation, a subtle reinforcement of segregation, and a desire to try on perceived accents of blackness. “So there was a new breed of adventurers, urban adventurers who drifted out at night looking for action with a black man’s code to fit their facts,” he wrote. “The hipster had absorbed the existentialist synapses of the Negro, and for practical purposes could be considered a white Negro.”

As the Princeton University professor Imani Perry has noted, “there is a sonic preference for blackness, the sounds of blackness, but there is a visual preference for whiteness in our culture.” It should come as no surprise, then, that white rappers are slowly beginning to dominate the college music scene with the ascendance of a genre that can loosely be called “frat rap.”

Be it the thumping bass of artists like Mac Miller and Mike Posner, or the blaring noise of Asher Roth, Sam Adams, or Hoodie Allen, the white rappers who are gaining a foothold in the college scene need to be seen as part of a longstanding tradition of white theft of black artistry. The popularity of those artists, alongside that of Ryan Lewis and Macklemore—who can be heard interrogating white privilege, marriage, and materialism in their music—cannot be understood outside their whiteness.

The frat-rap craze saw its origins in 2009, with the release of Asher Roth’s “I Love College.” This subgenre not only markets itself to white college students but also marries the aesthetics and sensibilities of hip-hop with the experiences and narratives of white, male college students. Rather than building on oppositional traditions of hip-hop, which the former frontman for Public Enemy, Chuck D, once identified as “CNN for black people,” frat rap rhymes about all things white and middle class: desires that begin and end with parties, drinking, girls, and fun.

The moniker of frat rap is powerful because it reflects a desired level of ownership. White-fraternity claims to the music and culture displace a long association of rap with blackness, urbanity, and the inner city. Instead, the music exists within the context of the university.

Continue reading at  Frat Rap and the New White Negro – The Conversation – The Chronicle of Higher Education.

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.

***

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.
 

On the Real: Virtual Exploitation and College Sports Games

Video games have been part of my research for many years; they have been part of my life for much longer.  Yet, the games that I always find hard to purchase or even play are those involving collegiate sports.  The games themselves are the product and perpetuation of the exploitation of student-athletes.  They are not unique in this regard but they symbolize so much that is wrong with college athletics.

The popularity of sports video games rests with the replication of “the real.”  Since those OG (Original Games) like Intellivision or Tecmo Bowl, the sports video game industry has been a race toward creating a virtual reality indistinguishable from the real reality.  This has proven to be an issue or a source of tension for N.C.A.A.  sports games, as it has justified its lack of compensation to current and former student-athletes by claiming the unrealistic nature of the games themselves.  According to Steve Eder and Greg Bishoff,

The issue of how close the games could mirror real life continued, as it became easier for game players to download rosters from the Internet that included the actual names of players. The N.C.A.A. did not sanction those rosters, and neither did E.A. But in April 2005, Myles Brand, then the president of the N.C.A.A., wrote to one of his executives that the organization should persuade university officials to “provide names and likenesses” for games, which would lead to a higher rights fee.

Not everyone within N.C.A.A. leadership appears to share these prevailing opinions.  This, also from The New York Times, makes that clear”

This whole area of name and likeness and the N.C.A.A. is a disaster leading to a catastrophe as far as I can tell,” the Nebraska chancellor Harvey Perlman, who served on the N.C.A.A.’s board of directors, wrote soon after the O’Bannon lawsuit was filed. “I’m still trying to figure out by what authority the N.C.A.A. licenses these rights to the game makers and others.

The decision from EA and the N.C.A.A. to sell realism while denying rightful compensation is just more hypocrisy; the N.C.A.A. should probably renamed N.H.A.A: the National Hypocritical Athletic Association.  In the context of immense profits for schools and poverty experienced by student-athletes, it is hard to even think about buying such a game.  In fact, the glorification of college athletics, and the erasure of the pain, the injuries, the hours of practice and class time, the financial difficulties, and of REALITY in fact contribute to an environment of exploitation.

Every time, I see a commercial for N.C.A.A. Football 14, or see its cover in the store, I find myself thinking about in  “The Price of Poverty in Big Time College Sport,” Ramogi Huma and Ellen J. Staurowsky:

  1. College athletes on full scholarship do not receive a “free ride”. For the 2009-2010 academic year, the average annual scholarship shortfall (out of pocket expenses) for Football Bowl Series (FBS) “full” scholarship athletes was $3,222.
  2. The compensation FBS athletes who are on “full scholarship” receive for living expenses (room and board, other expenses) situates the vast majority at or below the poverty level.
  3. The percentage of FBS schools whose “full” athletic scholarships leave their players in poverty is 85% for those athletes who live on campus; 86% for athletes who live off campus.
  4. The average FBS “full” scholarship athlete earns less than the federal poverty line by $1874 on campus and $1794 off campus.
  5. If allowed access to the fair market like the pros, the average FBS football and basketball player would be worth approximately $121,048 and $265,027 respectively (not counting individual commercial endorsement deals).
  6. Football players with the top 10 highest estimated fair market values are worth between $345k-$514k on 2009-10. The top spot was held by University of Texas football players. While 100% of these players received scholarships that left them living below the federal poverty line and with an average scholarship shortfall of $2841 in 2010-11, their coaches were paid an average of over $3.5 million each in 2010 excluding bonuses.
  7. Basketball players with the top 10 highest estimated fair market values are worth between $620k-$1 million in 2009-10. The top spot was held by Duke basketball players. While 80% of these players received scholarships that left them living below the federal poverty and with an average scholarship shortfall of $3098 in 2010-11, their coaches were paid an average of over $2.5 million in 2010 excluding bonuses.
  8. The poorest football and basketball players (generated combined FB and BB revenues of $30 million or more in 2009-10, yet live in the poorest bottom 1/3 of all of the players in the study live between $3,000-$5,000 below the poverty line in the report for further details.

The financial predicament facing student-athletes (and those who have left school, graduated or used their eligibility) stands in stark contrast to the gold-lined pockets of college coaches, the platinum realities of colleges and universities, or their diamond studded realities of the sports media.  The millions and billions that fall into their hands, while student-athletes struggle to make ends meet, in part through the profits and allure of video games, is sustained through myth of amateurism.  ‘

This fuels the exploitative relationship and the lack of compensation.  Student athletes are required to spend their wages at the “company store.” Akin to sharecroppers who not only worked the land for virtually no compensation, but what little compensation received had to be spent at the company store (usually owned by the land owner).  From food to tools, sharecroppers were forced to use their wages at these stores, often leading to debt and additional subservience.  Collegiate athletics is similar in that student-athletes MUST use their wage to pay for tuition, books, and room and board within the campus community.  According to McCormick and McCormick, “By this last arrangement, then, these athletes, unlike any other working people, are not free to spend their limited wages where they choose, but must spend them on college tuition, books, and other institutionally related expenses, regardless of their real needs or those of their families.”  Much of their wages cannot even be used to buy these video games. Hypocrisy

The N.C.A.A.’s decision to part ways with E.A. has little to do with the well-being of student-athletes; it is about protecting itself from lawsuits and insulating itself from demands for just compensation.  At a moral and educational level, nothing has changed. This decision, which is in line with past reforms, hasn’t transformed my thoughts about either the N.C.A.A. or the virtual fantasies known as sports video games.

Rather than fork over 50 dollars for a game, can you imagine if people started supporting student-athletes or an organization like the National College Players Association.  Now, that is a reality I can get with.

So you want to have a race conversation; how about investing in Ethnic Studies

Over the last few weeks, there has been a lot written about race; following the Fisher decision, the gutting of the Voting Rights Act, and more recently the acquittal of George Zimmerman, there have ample discussions online and within the media.   More than likely, there have been even more debates in public/private spaces; social media has had ample debates.

Not surprisingly, calls for more dialogues and encouraging words to continue the “race conversation” have been commonly articulated.  Although not a panacea, given issues of power, systemic racism, segregation and privilege, these calls are striking reminder of the importance of the work that is being done by teachers and community organizers; professors and others working at the grassroots committed to education, learning, and dialogue, all of whom spend hours each week strategizing approaches to foster critical engagement and thought about these essential questions of the day. President Obama weighed in last week, noting:

There has been talk about should we convene a conversation on race.  I haven’t seen that be particularly productive when politicians try to organize conversations.  They end up being stilted and politicized, and folks are locked into the positions they already have.  On the other hand, in families and churches and workplaces, there’s the possibility that people are a little bit more honest, and at least you ask yourself your own questions about, am I wringing as much bias out of myself as I can?

What is striking here is that schools, whether K-12 or colleges and universities, are not listed alongside of families and churches.  The call for dialogues within these segregated spaces, and the erasure of the research, scholarship and work already been done, represents a missed opportunity from President Obama and in the potential for dialogue.

The celebration of dialogues and the call for conversations is striking that amid efforts to close schools, to divest in education, to eliminate any emphasis on critical thinking through testing culture, and the overall assault on Ethnic Studies, African American Studies, Queer Studies, Women’s Studies, Chicano Studies, Asian American Studies and Native American Studies. Those demonized as “race baiters,” who are working in the name of justice and equality, are already doing this work.

There are ample people focused on creating the constructive space to foster these conversations; there are ample places dedicated to developing the tools to effectively dialogue toward transgression and transformation  The support for them is another story.   If “a more perfect union” is actually a goal, maybe schools and politicians, community leaders and communities themselves should start by supporting the very people working to foster dialogue and create change.  And this would need to include Critical Whiteness Studies, a necessity made clear by Dr. Stephany Spaulding,

Without Critical Whiteness Studies, we will continue living in a society that blindly privileges particular ways of organizing institutional practices and structures, not realizing that these ways are rooted in the histories and cultural beliefs of specific people.  It will leave me binging on chocolate, writing blogs and wishing I could tolerate the taste of alcohol every time some student vehemently argues, “But it really was the way he was dressed that caused him to look suspicious

If there is really a desire to actually have a conversation about racism, about gun violence, poverty, rape culture, inequality, and the criminal justice at the national level, at the state or local level, it would be nice to see investment in these spaces.  The failure to not only support, but in effect undermined and attack those committed to this work demonstrates the true agenda – investment reveals priorities — and ain’t that dialogue and it certainly isn’t change. The lack of support tells me everything I need to know about a desire to truly have a conversation about race.  I hope I am wrong.  This moment demonstrates yet again the important work that so many people are doing and why it is crucial to support this work; but I am not holding my breath.

I haven’t been optimistic for a while, which led me to write this piece last year. The last week (month, six months, year) has demonstrated why White America needs Black Studies.  The level of denial, the efforts to silence, and the need for “context” reveals the necessity for greater education as it relates to race in America society.  As important as speeches, television pieces, and columns are in complicating the discourse, education systems need to change.   American education has to do more to give voice to the experiences of communities of color, to push back at stereotypes and implicit bias, and to otherwise provides the tools and skills necessary to not only have conversations but change institutions toward that more perfect union.  Change is not simply the result of time; change requires work.

Recent months have seen a wave of campus racism at America’s colleges and universities, including Fordham University, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Cornell University, Northwestern University, and the Ohio State University.  While racism is as commonplace at America’s “liberal” training grounds as binge drinking, I found myself wondering about occupying America’s universities.  I found myself wondering how Black studies and ethnic studies have the potential to change America’s racial path.   How Black studies and understanding the ongoing history of racism is essential to a quest for a “more perfect union.”

Imagine if every student took at least one Black studies course per year during college alongside of Chicano Studies, Asian American Studies and Native American Studies.  What if students, what if white students, starting in kindergarten and through graduate school, American’s future leaders, teachers, and voters learned a 4th R – racism – alongside ‘reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmetic?  Surely institutional racism would remain an obstacle, but Whites who inhabit those institutions, from the classroom to the Capital, would likely be changed.

Learning about minstrelsy and the history of racist imagery would surely impact the decision from White students to don blackface for the sake of fun, parties and Halloween.  Learning about the history of slavery and lynchings would hopefully encourage thought from entire communities the next time a noose appeared on campus, the next time someone scrawled lynch on a chalkboard or dorm room door.  There would be no more excuses and claims of ignorance about these histories.

Can we imagine a world where White students didn’t commonly use the “N-word” behind closed doors because they understood the history of racial violence?  Would the hurling of racist jokes and epithets lessened as all students began to think about the consequences and daily harm?  Would the exposure to alternative perspectives, to unseen history, and to conversations with students of color, change those students? I would hope so.

Through knowledge, critical thinking and dialogue, colleges can transform themselves–and their students.  According to Howard J. Ehrlich, director of The Prejudice Institute, between 850,000 and one million students (roughly 25 percent of students of color and five percent of White students) experience racially and ethnically-based violence (name calling, verbal aggression, harassing phone calls and “other forms of psychological intimidation”) each year.  What if each of the students who hurled the slurs at Cornell or graffitied “Long live Zimmerman” at the Ohio State University taken a Black studies course surely there worldview would have been different.  Surely, those White students who sat idly by, who watched and said nothing, would have challenge their peers had they any real knowledge of race and racism.

Yet, the need for a world of Black Studies as multi-year required isn’t simply to teach White students about prejudice, but the erased experiences and voices of Black people.  Knowledge about Black culture, history, and identity would come not from Basketball Wives or The Help but in James Baldwin and Tayari Jones, Daughters of the Dust and Killer of Sheep.  We would no longer hear about Martin Luther King’s dream of colorblindness, but instead his dream of justice, reparations, and equality of outcome. The civil rights movement would be a history told not through King and one great speech, but people like Bayard Rustin and Ella Baker, heroes and sheroes who refused to accept American Apartheid.  This is my dream, a dream where White students learn alongside of students of color about the history of racism, about privilege, and inequality; about the contributions and humanity of communities of color; about histories of resistance from “Aint I a woman?” to “Let freedom ring.”

While a freshman at the University of Oregon, I took my first African American history class.  This class and so many others changed my life.  Beyond learning about African American history, beyond reading the likes of DuBois, Frederick Douglas and Carter G. Woodson, beyond hearing for the first time names like Turner, Garvey, Delany, and Hamer, I learned to think for myself, asking why wasn’t I learning this history and what does it mean that the history, literature, and culture I learned during my formative years was a story of whites.

A couple years later, while at University of California, Santa Barbara, I enrolled in a Chicana feminism class. Being the only White male in the class, I felt apprehensive and unsure as to my place in the class.  With the encouragement of the professor, I remained in the class.  During a small group discussion about race and privilege, I shared my anxiety within the class, explaining how I felt like an “outsider.”  A classmate quickly responded, noting “Now you know how we feel in every class.”  But in fact, I did not and couldn’t know since I felt uncomfortable, as an outsider, and as representative of “my community” twice a week for 75 minutes.  When class was over, I returned to the sea of Whiteness, privileged in my invisibility and empowered by a world that normalized Whiteness.  I can only wonder how the world might look if more students had this type of experience. It is a world I think is worth fighting for.