Shoes, Diplomas, and the American Dream – The Conversation – The Chronicle of Higher Education

(Christian Petersen/Getty Images for Nike, via ABC News)

Shoes, Diplomas, and the American Dream

September 7, 2012, 12:26 pm

By David J. Leonard

The media is abuzz with reports of Nike’s fall release of the LeBron X. Not surprisingly, the widespread commentary doesn’t focus on production conditions or even the technological components of the shoe, but instead on the cost of the shoes. According to The Wall Street Journal, the LeBron X would retail for a whopping $315 dollars; subsequent reports noted that Nike would market the model with all the hi-tech bells and whistles for only $290, with a basic model costing around $180. Pushing the boundaries of what constitutes a shoe (not just laces and “leather”), the LeBron X will include Nike’s + technology, which allows athletes to measure vertical leap, activity, and otherwise assess basketball progress.

Rumors of a $315 shoe led commentators to wax sociological, using the moment to lament the values and cultural priorities of the nation. More specifically, these sociological impersonators lamented the warped values of the poor, of inner-city residents, and of youth—blacks—who would probably flock to stores to purchase the shoes. “The lust for expensive LeBron X sneaker signals a bigger problem,” writes Daryl E. Owens, a columnist at the Orlando Sentinel. Whether linking it to warped priorities or reviving memories of black youths murdering each other for expensive shoes in the 90s (and more recently), Owens points to the dangers of consumption from certain communities: “For too many, the problem is a malignant mutated strain of conspicuous consumption, crossed with hardship and low self-esteem.” Greg Doyel of CBS Sports also objected that “LeBron is trading on the most vulnerable part of his fan base: their self-image.”

Imagining black youth as lacking values, self-esteem, and agency, Doyel and company see the shoes—and not poverty, job and housing discrimination, the prison-industrial complex, divestment in public education, etc.—as the destructive influence on the future of this generation. In other words, the allure of these shoes, and the desire to get one’s hands on them at any cost, is the explanation for persistent inequality. Painting a picture of black youth rioting and killing for these shoes, of a community lacking values, these commentators play on the worst kind of stereotypes and misinformation.

Yet it seems clear that Nike does have a message to market. The company is selling high-school and college athletes the prospect of not just a career but also a future. As with higher education as a whole, this is a message directed at the middle-class—at suburban whites rather than blacks. The LeBron X provides the electronic wizardry for student athletes to better their game. These shoes are imagined as yet another device or investment in a path toward the American dream. Akin to private coaches, the best equipment, nutritionists, private traveling teams, and other financial burdens, the shoes are yet another example of how sports achievement is tied to consumption and investment, to privilege. Akin to spending hundreds of thousands of dollars for a degree from an elite college, tens of thousands on private high schools or preschools because they are pipelines to the American dream. The shoe itself—and the reaction—is a metaphor for what is happening to higher education.

Continue reading @ Shoes, Diplomas, and the American Dream – The Conversation – The Chronicle of Higher Education.

NY GIANT Victor Cruz: Salsa, Sadness and the American Dream – Entertainment & Culture – EBONY

NY GIANT Victor Cruz: Salsa, Sadness and the American Dream

 The story of the Giants star is too often framed by racial stereotypes

By David Leonard Writer

The tremendous “rookie” season of Victor Cruz will come to an end on Sunday. While in his 2nd official year, the 2011-2012 campaign was ostensibly his first go-round in the NFL, and what a year it has been. While the nation obsessed over a mediocre quarterback at the expense of other players, Cruz had an amazing season. Rivaling the historic rookie season of Cam Newton, Cruz has been spectacular with 82 receptions, 1,536 receiving yards and 9 touchdowns, dominating during the postseason. Yet, that hasn’t been the story of Victor Cruz, nor has the media discourse sought to highlight his Black-Puerto Rican identity, forsaking for a narrative of sports as a great equalizer, of football as the melting pot, and ultimately the NFL story as evidence of the American Dream and American exceptionalism.

The media narrative surrounding Cruz has been simple, if not misleading. He rose from the ashes of poverty, despair and mistakes to NFL stardom. Focusing on disciplinarity and the efforts to pull himself up by his bootstraps, the celebration of Cruz has been much more a celebration of the American Dream and those in his life who made all of it possible. According to Ohm Youngmisuk, Cruz “nearly became another academic cautionary tale of a talented athlete who never made it because he didn’t take school seriously.” Reflecting tough love and an accountability, he was dismissed from University of Massachusetts because of his GPA and other academic failures. After attending Passaic County Community College and County College of Morris, he was able to reenroll back at UMASS. The media has eaten up the narrative, framing this path as unusual and part of his maturation process.

Equally telling, the story emphasizes how those adults outside of his family, helped him, demanding that he change his attitude and approach: “At any point, he could have strayed and never made it back to college — like so many others. But Marsh-Williams’ [the school’s assistant dean/provost of undergraduate advising] message stuck with him like a stingy cornerback,” writes Youngmisuk. And he adds: “Marsh-Williams demanded accountability, had little sympathy for one of UMass’ best athletes….(he)lectured Cruz with more tough love than the no-nonsense Tom Coughlin ever could.”

As part of the celebrated immigrant, bootstraps narrative, several stories chronicle his upbringing as one where he was “raised by a single Puerto Rican mother.” Playing on stereotypes of absentee Black fathers, the narrative erases the complexity and tragedy of Cruz’s life, turning him to a caricature of sorts. While his parents never married, it is clear that his father was part of his life. Mike Walker, a firefighter in Paterson, New Jersey, committed suicide in 2007 following a car-accident and a battle with depression.

The failure to talk about his relationship with his father (or to provide context about mental health, suicide and the African American community), and the efforts to celebrate how coaches, administrators and to a lesser extent his mom provided him with the necessary tough love and disciplinarity, is particularly disconcerting. Cruz is reduced to an advertisement for the American Dream, for the idea that hard work, discipline and proper values will lead to stardom.

Although much has been talked about in relation to his Latino/immigrant background, little has been said about his Black ancestry or even his Nuyorican identity. At one level, the media focus on his Latino background given their scarcity within sports culture. Among a group of 31, including the Patriots’ Aaron Hernandez, Arian Foster, Marc Sanchez, and Tony Romo, Cruz has come to embody a generation of Latino football players. Yet, the narrative surrounding Cruz seems more interested in celebrating his story as an immigrant story, a story of opportunity for Cruz and others to learn “the American way.” “It is a telling example of the natural progression the sport has made in Hispanic communities across the United States,” writes Jorge Castillo. “As the generations following immigrants from Latin American countries assimilate into American culture and, with it, take up America’s sport.”

via NY GIANT Victor Cruz: Salsa, Sadness and the American Dream – Entertainment & Culture – EBONY.