Hurricane Obvious or Not Incognito: The Destructive Pathology of White Male Pathologies | NewBlackMan (in Exile)

Hurricane Obvious or Not Incognito: The Destructive Pathology of White Male Pathologies | NewBlackMan (in Exile)

Hurricane Obvious or Not Incognito:

The Destructive Pathology of White Male Pathologies

by David J. Leonard | NewBlackMan (in Exile)

Just this week, Jason Whitlock returned to his familiar playbook: recycling culture of poverty narratives and those demonizing single-parented black homes. Responding to the sight of the Cowboys’ Dez Bryant passionately demanding that his team do better, Whitlock lamented “Dez Bryant\’s inability to control his emotions” which to him is “a family dysfunction issue.” Not satisfied, Whitlock continued this line of discussion:

But the reality is, Dez Bryant is swirling in a cultural tsunami every bit as destructive and powerful as climate change.

Let\’s call it \”Hurricane Illegitimacy.\” Its victims are primarily black and brown, but Hurricane Illegitimacy is a not black or brown problem. It\’s an American problem that is denied and exacerbated on the left and mischaracterized and exploited on the right.

Like climate change, Hurricane Illegitimacy is powered by man-made factors:

1. A lack of proper restraints on welfare entitlement programs for single mothers and fathers.

2. America\’s bogus war on poor people who use and sell drugs.

3. Turning incarceration into a for-profit business model.

4. A refusal to recognize that investment in the education of our poorest and weakest citizens could strengthen our entire society.

5. Our collective lack of courage and resolve to combat popular-culture forces that celebrate, normalize and profit from baby-mama and criminal culture.

Because of this melting-pot-country\’s history, we\’ve been conditioned to identify the race of a person misbehaving and examine the racial implications. We would be far better served looking at the family history.

Although there is much that can be said here, from its historic myopia (really, the “melting pot”? the 1980s wants your narrative back) to its misguided assault on social welfare and single-parented homes, I thought of a better way to respond to his new age Moynihan Sports Report.

I took the liberty of writing my own mini column in the tradition of Jason Whitlock. Just as Whitlock is obsessed with rap music, \”single mothers\” and \”hurricane illegitimacy,” I am inspired to write about \”two-parented suburban homes,\” white masculine entitlement, and a culture of violence/hazing with respect to Richie Incognito, whose rap sheet extends longer than his NFL career. Accusations of bullying, racism, hazing, and creating a hostile work environment are just the tip of the iceberg – hurricane obvious has been in development for many years.

The title of the piece captures a culture that has nurtured, sanctioned, and created Richie Incognito: Hurricane Obvious or Not Incognito: the destructive pathology of white male pathologies.

Like climate change, wealth inequality, and war, Richie Incognito is the result man-made factors. Hurricane Illegitimacy or Hurricane Obvious has produced America’s newest bully. We must talk about the root issues and the hurricane that produced him:

1. A lack of proper restraint on entitled white youth, whose sense of aggrievement and victimhood contributes to a societal tolerance. Where is the accountability for white youth who violate or laws and moral standards?

2. America\’s culture of tolerance for white males who violate rules and laws without consequences. Taking away milk and cookies or access to car and video games for 15 minutes is clearly not sufficient.

3. Turning football and sporting cultures into big business, which has fostered a jock culture defined by widespread pathologies, destructive values, and dangerous behavior. This is especially threatening when paired with the entitlement of children from suburban two-parented homes. How else can we explain multiple chances from college squads and NFL teams with respect to Richie Incognito?

4. Societal silence on the failures of two-parented homes to properly nurture kids who are loving, caring, and thoughtful boys. What lessons did his father teach him?

5. A refusal to recognize that destructive consequence of a masculinity defined by violence, physicality, abuse, and domination. Suburbia, we have a problem.

6. Our collective lack of courage and resolve to combat popular-culture forces that celebrate, normalize and profit from white masculinity. Rambo, and The Terminator – violent; Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity: where it’s OK to be a bully.

7. The failures of white suburbia to produce males who are accountable. Richie Incognito is yet another example of the failures of suburban American to produce adaptable kids.

Continue reading at Hurricane Obvious or Not Incognito: The Destructive Pathology of White Male Pathologies | NewBlackMan (in Exile).

Denial Runs Deep: The NFL and Concussions

I recently watched League of Denial, an important documentary on head trauma and the NFL. It looks at the relationship between football, concussions, and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE). In not only telling the stories of Mike Webster and Junior Seau, and the evolution of the medical understanding of concussions, League of Denial documents the failures of the NFL to protect its players from the horrifying consequences of America’s violent pastime.

I was little disappointed with this “controversial” documentary. I didn’t find anything about controversial unless you are a flat-earth/global warming hoax/concussions are no biggie kinda person.  Maybe that was who the film made for; for me, I wanted more nuance, more complexity, and less “got ya” NFL thematic focus

In an effort to trace the history of evolving understanding of the long-term effects of concussions the documentary also took the focus away from the players themselves.  In focusing on the failures of the NFL to adequately intervene, and even inform players of risks, it shifted the conversation away from the players.  Having watched a number of reports, I found Real Sports exposes to be far more powerful because they showed the consequences; it spotlighted the pain, the physical and mental toll on former players and their families.  The sight of childhood heroes, men often celebrated as warriors and gladiators, as fragile and wounded people, haunts me to this day.  The sight of fathers and sons, brothers and friends, suffering with depression, dementia, ALS and countless other neurological issues shapes my understanding of the concussions here – these stories and images, not the NFL doctor’s who denied or the NFL’s changing protocol, is what changed my relationship to football.  I wish League of Denial had done more to document and give voice to those who suffer because of the culture of football. Along these lines, I was surprised that the film did not address the growing research that links head trauma to ALS and tell the stories of those former players who are enduring this disease.

While not given much attention, the film does take on sexism (albeit briefly) within the medical community/the NFL as it relates to the dismissal of Dr. Ann Mckee’s important research, it failed to address the racism directed at Dr. Bennet Omalu.  It was not only a MISSED moment to comment on how racism and sexism (“white male racial framing”) contributes to systemic silence and erasure, but also how the NFL, like corporate America as a whole, remains a system mired by the “old boys network” and the hegemony of white male power.

While the documentary is on the specific situation within the NFL, it missed an opportunity to highlight the crisis associated with the long-term consequences of head trauma on countless playing fields.  The crisis documented within the film is one that is potentially talking place within the collegiate ranks, from football to women’s soccer.  In fact, research shows that female athletes suffer concussions at a higher rate than their male counterparts. The film missed an opportunity to reflect on a culture and society of silence.

One of the biggest shortcomings from the film is its lack of attention to masculinity.  The culture of denial and acceptance is wrapped up in the scripts of masculinity, which condone and celebrate violence.  The GOP and its friend’s obsession with the “war on football” and its claims about the America getting soft is part of a culture that perpetuates and sanctions at a game that is leading many down a lifetime of pain, despair, and life-altering (destroying) injuries.  Whether reflecting on the violence of football or the “put some dirt” on it mentality that surrounds football, and the larger cultural-political context,  it is impossible to talk about concussions without talking about masculinity.  I have written about this before:

To be a real man is not only to play football, but also to do so without regard for safety; to be a real man is to stay out on the field, to disregard pain and long-term harm as any warrior would do.  To be a real man is to ring an opponent’s bell, to knock him out, leaving you and him in a state of delirium. The demands to “suck it up” or “play like a man” within a league that is 68% African American deserves pause and critique, given the ways that race and masculinity operate within American culture. “Using white masculinity as a yardstick for a normal masculinity grounded in ideas about strength as dominance, African American men become defined as subordinates, deviant, and allegedly weak, and black men’s reported weakness as men is compared to the seeming strength of white men,” writes Patricia Hill Collins in Progressive Black Masculinities (edited by Athena Mutua). “Definitions of black masculinity in the United States reflect a narrow cluster of controlling images situated within a broader framework that grants varying value to racially distinctive forms of masculinity.”

The demands to “tough it out” or claims about choice cannot be understood outside these “controlling images” and history, one that includes nostalgia for an era of football defined by toughness, ruggedness, uber masculinity, and whiteness.

A culture that celebrates vicious hits, that develops highlights packages based around the most violent and physically dangerous contact, makes this clear.  Is this real choice? Is it a choice when these values are taught to young boys, who learn early how to play football? A football culture that questions a player’s commitment and manhood when he puts his health in front of anything else sends this message each and every day. Is this really choice? In a culture where “complaining about pain is tantamount to weakness” and “playing hurt is as common as a forward pass,” it is no wonder that guys “choose” to play hurt, to conceal injuries, to “risk” their long term health for a game. Sure, money is an issue and there are potential consequences of putting body and mind ahead of tackles, touchdowns and victories, all of which would certainly lead to a quick exit from the league. Yet, any refusal to subscribe to the prerequisites of football players puts more in danger than a paycheck, leading to questions about toughness, strength, and masculinity – are you a real man?

To this day, I still can recall the praise and celebration for not only every bone-crushing hit I had during my short high school football career, but every time my own bell was rung I heard nothing but praise and adoration. I can also recall a concussion I got playing baseball, which led me to actually sit out one game. I remember sitting out with a sense of pride and joy since a concussion was a measure of my commitment to athletic excellence and a battle scar that proved that indeed I was a real man. I was willing to sacrifice, play through pain (in the game where I was injured), and otherwise put my body on the line. Yes, I made a choice, one that was constrained and influenced by a culture that expected me to “play sports like a man”–a lesson that is contributing to the death sentences of too many of its students.

To ignore the harmful manifestations of masculinity is to ignore the root issues in play.  It would be like talking about health problems related to breathing without actually looking at the toxins in the air.

Likewise, the film fails to deal with race and racism as it relates to the lack of public outcry over concussions.  While clearly the league has been complicit through its public denial, the lack pressure from fans is also at play.  Race matters here.  According to Jason Silverstein, the racial empathy gap plays out in a spectrum of places; hard not to think about its relevance to the NFL.

The racial empathy gap helps explain disparities in everything from pain management to the criminal justice system. But the problem isn’t just that people disregard the pain of black people. It’s somehow even worse. The problem is that the pain isn’t even felt. A recent study shows that people, including medical personnel, assume black people feel less pain than white people. The researchers asked participants to rate how much pain they would feel in 18 common scenarios. The participants rated experiences such as stubbing a toe or getting shampoo in their eyes on a four-point scale (where 1 is “not painful” and 4 is “extremely painful”). Then they rated how another person (a randomly assigned photo of an experimental “target”) would feel in the same situations. Sometimes the target was white, sometimes black. In each experiment, the researchers found that white participants, black participants, and nurses and nursing students assumed that blacks felt less pain than whites.

The focus on the NFL at the expense of a discussion of the larger issues of race, gender, and sports culture limits the potential intervention here.  The film’s celebration of changes within the NFL, while ignoring the lack of transformation in the root issues at play, further illustrates its unfulfilled potential.  Thankfully it has started a conversation for the NFL isn’t merely a league of denial but one defined by pain, sorrow, and lives cut short.   It’s bigger than the NFL.

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.

The Masculinity Scorecard

The Masculinity Scorecard

March 11, 2013


Feminist Wire


Growing up, even into my teenage years, friends and family often described me as a “sweet boy.”  Whether from my grandmother or from a girl in my class, the mantra, “Davey is kind and gentle” was as commonplace as any other “compliment.”  I am a sensitive and caring soul so the description has always been appropriate.

Yet, for me, it didn’t always feel like a compliment.  What I heard was, “Davey is really sweet and sensitive, unlike the REAL BOYS.”  It was their way of saying that I was different, that I was unlike the other boys—those whom I looked up to, those whom I saw on television, and those whose footsteps I was encouraged to follow.  While the many women in my life — from my mom and sister to my classmates and co-workers (and yes, I cannot recall men offering similar praise) — were surely noting a different inscription of masculinity, I heard something else.  I didn’t feel as if the praise emanated from me offering a different sort of masculinity.  At times it left me wondering if I was not as manly or masculine as the other boys.

I spent my summers teaching nursery school.  I would rather take my sister to the movies than go hang out with friends.  And making dinner for the family (sometimes even quiche) or baking was my favorite pastime.  I was a “mama’s boy” and proud of it.  However, as I got older my insecurity about my manhood became more and more pronounced.  No amount of praise or encouragement counteracted the daily message about the proper ways to be a boy. I was in constant negotiation between the societal messages of how I was supposed to behave as a boy, and my passions, personality and preferences.

By high school, I began feeling as though I wasn’t equal to my male peers.   I felt as if I was at a masculine deficit, at least when I looked at the social manhood scorecard:

Sexual experience


Muscles and attractive physique




Lacking a girlfriend, sexual experience, muscles, attractiveness, and toughness, coupled with my enjoyment of all things related to cooking, working with kids, and being sweet, prompted daily questions about my masculinity.   Neither my Dad nor brother, much less my friends, were described with these attributes.  I was different . . . the other.  I didn’t “act like a boy.”  And I didn’t do “boy things.”  Instead, I was sensitive “like a girl.” And I cried “like a girl.” When I got into fights with my brother, I not only lost, but they usually ended with me hiding in my room crying. This was not how a boy—becoming a man—was supposed to act

From my inability to talk to girls to my incompetence in fixing my car (not to mention my lack of interest in cars), I was a walking embodiment of all-things not “masculine.”  It is no wonder that I spent much of my teenage years convincing others, and myself, that irrespective of my sweet disposition, my lack of sexual experience, my muscle and presumed penis deficiencies, and my sensitivity, I was a “real man.”  The public persona would highlight the qualities associated with an authentic masculinity.  My private male self would remain closeted when at school, when playing sports, and when out with my friends.  I recall many a nights where my own insecurity and the lack of visible diversity of alternative forms of masculinity prompted particular masculine performance, especially among male peers.

Often while out with “my boys” on Saturday nights, we would walk up and down various streets in Westwood (Los Angeles) or Santa Monica looking to get into trouble.  Chests puffed out, with the proverbial swag walk, we were the living embodiment of boys just trying to be hard.  On one particular night, I remember standing around when a group of police officers rode up on their bicycles.  Seeing them out of the corner of my eyes, I turned in their direction to make sure they heard me: “What is this, a fucking donut convention?”  In my mind, what could be manlier then screaming obscenities at the police?  Doing so was tough, confrontational, and fearless.  Never mind that my white, middle-class and male privileges allowed for my “boldness” and protected me from most all consequences.  Nothing happened, at least nothing more than my attempt to reaffirm my masculinity.  I was showing others and myself that, irrespective of anything else, I was a “real man.”

My own fetishizing of hip-hop culture and blackness—from the Malcolm X hat and Cross Colours shorts to my sagging overalls and braided hair—reflected my unconscious effort to prove my masculinity.  Stereotypical and media framed visions of Black masculinity were central to my own desire to reset the scorecard.  What could be more masculine than blasting NWA’s “Fuck the Police” or 2Live Crew’s “Me So Horny?” What could be more “masculine” than mimicking Doughboy’s swagger and O-Dog’s “don’t give a fuck attitude?”

The acceptance of media-generated stereotypes and the lack of vision for alternative forms of masculinity, coupled with my own security and ignored privilege, guided these disempowering yet rewarding performances.

This performative manhood guided so many of my teenage years.  I was always looking for fights; although, I never wanted to fight.  I wanted the rewards of proving my manhood without the potential of a bloodied lip or a black eye.  This is why sports were so important to me.  They provided an arena where I could highlight what I thought were the qualities of masculinity: physicality, brutality, and destructiveness.  Whether on the basketball court or on the baseball field, playing lacrosse, rugby, or football, I saw myself as an enforcer. I played with anger and a chip on my shoulder; I was a thug, an ass, and always on the edge.

I knew of no other way to be a man; no other way to prove my masculinity. Yet, as a white middle-class “kid” I was always innocent and presumed to be nonthreatening. Still sweet, even as I looked for fights on and off the court.

My identity as a tough jock didn’t end with the conclusion of the game.  My sense of manhood, based in notions of toughness, physicality, attitude, and force, anchored my entire life.   My refusal to read, my disdain for learning, and my willingness to walk out of class in the midst of a lecture is illustrative of how I envisioned masculinity. Intellectualism (i.e. “being smart” or “being a nerd”) was rarely considered masculine.  As someone who struggled with a learning disability, it is no wonder I embraced bar-jarring hits on the field, and contempt for learning as the basis of my masculinity.

My trash talking, bullying, my voicing and accepting sexist and homophobic jokes were all part of my effort to fit into the cookie-cutter definition of masculinity.  Even my beard, which I have been growing since age 16, was originally part of my quest to fulfill this illusive and constructed ideal.  I was stuck in America’s gendered classroom, refusing to and somewhat incapable of questioning my teacher’s lessons. I was failing. Rather than tearing up the test in the face of my teachers and rather than writing my own curriculum, I went to great lengths to be an honor’s student.  Sure, I wasn’t an honors’ student when it came to sex, physical embodiment,  and toughness.  And yes, I liked to cook, taught nursery school, and was sweet.  But, I was ready and willing to fight, which in my mind made up for my failures in my quest to be a “real man.”

Today, I remain in this classroom.  Yet, I am not stuck in a class described by Rafael Casal as Barbie and Ken 101.  I am working on getting an “F” there. Yet, I am learning.  Feminist teachers are schoolin’ me each and every day.  I am bearded and sensitive; I am sweet and competitive; I am soft and manly; I love to cook and cannot fix my car; I cry and do so often.  I am vulnerable and scared, especially as I write these words.  I don’t know if this makes me more or less of a man…because I don’t know what that means anymore.  And I don’t care.