The Frontstage is the New Backstage: Racism in the Public Square
by David J. Leonard | NewBlackMan
Three stories have captured the imagination of social media recently.
A Buffalo High school suspended several members of the basketball team because its members allegedly regularly chant racial epithets prior to each game. As reported in the Buffalo News, “Tyra Batts, the sole African-American on the Kenmore East High School’s squad,” said “her teammates would hold hands before the game, say a prayer and then shout “One, two, three (n——).’” Batts, who was suspended because of her involvement in a fight resulting from the repeated use of the N-Word by her teammates, disputed claims that it “was just a joke.” The efforts to defend its usage and to deny the racist and violent history have set off anger and debate throughout the web.
“Remember all of those debates we’ve had about whether or not the n-word is just another word?,” writes Britini Danielle. “Usually, our conversations dealt with white and non-black rappers and entertainers using the word ‘as a term of endearment,’ but this time we’re heading into the tricky world of high school.”
Not to be outdone, a P.h.D student at Rutgers University invited her white classmates to a screening of the Disney Classic Song of the South. An editorial in The Daily Targum describes the circumstances as follows:
This email invited “her fellow non-racist racists” to a private, guilt-free viewing of 1946 musical Song of the South in her home, where together they could engage in celebratory mocking of stereotyped 1940’s images of southern blacks. This was an event hosted by a “ragtime/minstrel loving fool” who was due “for some rollicking Disneyfied Ole Darkeyism.” The postscript read, “If you do come, hooch is most welcome, as are straw hats and other Darkeyisms. I might even buy a watermillyum if I get enough interest.” It specified who invited guests should bring, given that “I might yell racist things at the TV.” The author of this email articulated the hope that the experience would be a “communion with her shamefully preferred era of Disney.”
The celebration of dehumanizing representations, the efforts to create a segregated space, and the replication of longstanding stereotypes provoked outrage, condemnation, and ample conversation on Facebook and Twitter. Citing it as evidence of the absurdity of a “post-racial America,” the instance became another moment to protest the persistence of white supremacist ideologies within contemporary America.
Yet, none of the outrage would compare to the anger, protests, and denunciation that has followed Gene Marks ode to paternalism in Forbes Magazine. In “If I Were A Poor Black Kid,” Marks provides “advice” that rehashes bootstraps ideology all while playing on longstanding stereotypes about black laziness and disinterest in schooling. Following in the footsteps of Newt Gingrich and Donald Trump, Marks recycles those arguments that link black unemployment and poverty rates to work ethic and personal choice.
His comments have produced a strew of commentaries that have condemned the article for its arrogance, paternalism, and overall erasure of structural inequalities. “Mr. Gene just wants to give us some of that patented #WhiteLove™ that he has laying around the house,” writes Elon James White. “With a healthy sprinkling, poor ignorant black children can rise above their station into the magical world of reasonable participation in society! Mr. Marks has a step-by-step booklet for you to get your school game on track, not your wig pushed back … by poverty.” James, like so many of the responses, identified the arguments offered in Forbes as not a peripheral aberration but instead a central white racial frame within contemporary culture. Evident in The Help and The Blindside, reflected in political and academic discourses, and central to white racial framing, the narrative focus on black pathological failures and the potential through better parenting, better choices, and better work ethic, guides American racial discourse.