NewBlackMan (in Exile): Playing Dead: The Trayvoning Meme & the Mocking of Black Death

Playing Dead:

The Trayvoning Meme & the Mocking of Black Death

by Lisa Guerrero and David J. Leonard | NewBlackMan

The more things change, the more they stay the same. While new media and social networking is “transforming” our society, in certain ways, bringing people closer together, if only seemingly so, its “newness” seems only relative to its potential as a new frontier in which to deploy and recycle the same old narratives and tropes, to continue a history of injustices that define the American experience. As the technologies of communication appear new, the technologies of oppression are anything but. However, as we see with “Trayvoning,” the trend that has White youth posting pictures of themselves as if they were part of the Trayvon crime scene, the marriage of communication innovation with racist stagnation does constitute something new, though not improved, in the history of the system of racism in the United States.

“’Trayvoning’ is when you get a hoodie, Skittles and Arizona iced tea, and pose like you’ve been shot in the chest.” The Facebook page instructs participants in go through the following steps:

1. Get hoodie

2. Get skittles

3. Get Arizona

4. Wear hoodie

5. Go to Florida

6. Get shot 🙂

Trayvon Martin was a 17-year-old African American male who was unarmed and got shot by a raciest [sic] Mexican American.

During Step 7, participants are instructed to post their pictures on the Internet, which has led to widespread circulation of these disgusting and dehumanizing images.

In response to reports about “Trayvoning,” Jasiri X asked on Twitter: “Trayvoning? Really? Why is our pain, suffering & death, always mocked for laughs?” This question gets to the heart of not only the efforts to recreate and disseminate representations of the Trayvon case, but it is also a means to communicate pleasure in the murder of Trayvon. “Trayvoning” recasts and performs injustice by turning someone’s pain and suffering into a spectacle of white pleasure that further denies the humanity of black people. This is reflected not just in “Trayvoning” but with the Orlando businessman who has sought to capitalize by selling Trayvon shooting targets, the media that continues to criminalize and blame Trayvon, and those who have disparaged, mocked (see here for picture of someone who donned blackface), and made light of a dead young man.

The disregard for Black life, and the disparagement of Black death is nothing new; the pleasure and joy garnered from Black suffering and dreams deferred has been central to White supremacy throughout United States history. Evident in minstrel shows, the history of lynching, and jokes about racial profiling or the war on drugs, whites have always found joy in the violence experienced by African Americans.

The history of American public discourse is one marred with both the erasure of black and suffering, and efforts to find happiness and pleasure in the suffering of the OTHER. We saw this during Hurricane Katrina where the sight of African Americans wading through water in search of food or medicine, or stranded families clinging to life on roof tops elicited reactions of shock and horror as well as pleasure and joy at the knowledge that could never happen to White America. Dylan Rodriguez describes Katrina as a “scene of white popular enjoyment, wherein the purging/drowning of black people provided an opportunity for white Americana to revel in its entitlement to remain relatively indifferent to this nearby theater of breathtaking devastation.”

Such joy isn’t simply an outgrowth of the denied humanity of Black people or the refusal to witness and see Black pain, but it is also a celebration of, or at least the solidification of, White humanity, White power, and the protective armor that whiteness provides each and every day. This is the story of race in America, from lynchings to Katrina, from slavery to Trayvon Martin.

But the examples of racialized disregard that have surrounded Trayvon Martin’s death, most recently exemplified in the commodification and “meme-ification” of the tragedy by various White people. This marks a startling new mechanization of racism wherein there has been a complete evacuation of humanity…on both sides, that of people of color and other marginalized groups, the dehumanization of which is, sadly, no longer surprising, but also that of dominant groups who willfully participate in acts of oppression like “Trayvoning” whose humanity becomes increasingly and insidiously taken over by consumption and performance. The joy historically, as well as contemporaneously, taken by many Whites in the violence against and suffering of African Americans has become nearly indistinguishable from the joy of consuming.

Continue reading @ NewBlackMan (in Exile): Playing Dead: The Trayvoning Meme & the Mocking of Black Death.

NewBlackMan: Can We All…Get It Right?: Remembering the LA Uprising

Can We All…Get It Right?: Remembering the LA Uprising

by David J. Leonard | NewBlackMan

There are few days in life where you can say without a doubt, “I know what I was doing 20 years ago today.” This is the case today, on the 20th anniversary of the start of the Los Angeles Uprising.

Having dropped out of the University of Oregon after 2 quarters, I was living in Los Angeles working and taking two classes at UCLA. Like many middle-class white youth I presume, I paused when the verdict was delivered and noted the injustice that spurred my outrage before getting back to my life. I was angry, like many others, because a jury of THEIR peers concluded that 4 police officers did nothing wrong in beating Rodney King 56 times, but the anger lasted only for that second. That was the reaction from many in West Los Angeles. “That’s outrageous, can I get a cold beverage”; “what an injustice, is the mall open yet?”

I remember thinking little about the case after hearing the verdict,. I headed to work and then to my class at UCLA. Driving to my class, through the wealth of West Los Angeles, all was calm. Entering class, an introduction to sociology course that focused on inequality systemic racism and privileges, it was clear that the verdict changed little. Class was planned as usual. Yet, before long, with news reports of violence breaking out in South Central, Los Angeles, our professor announced the end of class out of concern for OUR safety. In a city immensely segregated, defined by systemic divisions that thwart interaction all while enacting violence on its residents of color, it is immensely telling that the Rodney King Verdicts/LA Uprisings became meaningful, if not visible, when people thought the riots were going to cross La Brea or other markers dividing the two LAs.

For the rest of that night and next day, I was paralyzed, watching television almost endlessly. In retrospect, for myself, and maybe others, the LA Uprising put a crack in the walls of segregation. Although living less than 15 minutes from South Central, Los Angeles, it might as well have been 10,000 miles away. That is the specter of segregation in Los Angeles. Even the media reporting then, and the ways that the verdicts and LA Uprising were being talked about demonstrated this fact as people continued to talk about what was happening “over there” concerned that it might “migrate here.” I was uncomfortable with the detached feeling paralyzing me so I decided to leave the state-protected bubble of West Los Angeles and I drove down to South Central on day 2 to donate some food, clothes, and stuffed animals to the First AME Church.

I was most certainly driven by my desire “to help,” as I imagined what that meant twenty years ago, which most certainly reflected my white privileged understanding of privilege. Yet, I was also angered by the clear segregation of Los Angeles, not only in terms of geography, economics, and daily reality, but sentimentality and emotion.

The lack of sadness and anger within West Los Angeles was telling because the LA Uprising was not happening in our world; it was somewhere else, happening to someone who didn’t look like “us.” The power of race and class in eliciting not only empathy and connection, but also sentimentality and humanity, was on full-display in the days after the King Verdict. When I told people that I was heading down to South Central, they looked at me like I was crazy, as if I was driving into a foreign land amid a war. To them, it was a foreign land, one that they neither visited nor thought about except in moments of fear (“will the rioters come to the West Side) or heading to Lakers’ games. Despite voiced concerns about my driving just a few miles down the 10 Freeway, it was rather “uneventful” except in how this moment transformed me.

The drive forced me to reflect on my own assumptions and stereotypes, to think about why neighborhoods so close to my own were places I had never been (and thought of as so far away); it forced me to think about the violence and destruction that predated April 29th and bare witness to communities that West Los Angeles had abandoned; and finally, it forced me to reflect on the power of community, to see beyond the televisual representation of South Central Los Angeles rioting, to see families collecting food, kids playing, and people coming together. It forced me to look inward, to think about whiteness and privilege, to reflect on my stereotypes and assumptions. Even my ability to get my car and drive to South Central Los Angeles is evidence of privilege given the levels of state violence experienced by black and Latino youth entering LA’s white enclaves in West Los Angeles. What should have been a moment of introspection, of racial reconciliation and systemic change, instead became a moment, one that too many of us retreated as we are driving back to the “comfort” of a gated community.

Continue reading @ NewBlackMan: Can We All…Get It Right?: Remembering the LA Uprising.

NewBlackMan: The Elbow Heard Around the Nation: The NBA and the End of ‘Peace’

The Elbow Heard Around the Nation: The NBA and the End of ‘Peace’

by David J. Leonard | NewBlackMan

The Elbow Heard Around the Nation: The NBA and the End of ‘Peace’

by David J. Leonard | NewBlackMan

When Ron Artest announced his intent to change his name to Metta World Peace, I had discussions with several people about potentially changing the name of my book, After Artest (May 2012, SUNY Press) to reflect his metamorphosis. Examining how the Palace Brawl forever changed the NBA, while also highlighting the larger scripts of race and criminalization, After Artest reflects on the processes of demonization and criminalization directed at Artest and his black baller brethren in the aftermath of the 2004 fight between the Pacers-Pistons-Piston fans.  While deciding against changing the book’s title for a myriad of reasons, one principle issue for me in pushing back against a title like “Peace after the Palace” was that in spite of efforts from the NBA, its fans, and the media establishment to police, punish, and control blackness in their efforts to secure peace, neither condemnations and suspensions, dress codes or age restrictions, would bring about peace for the league because of the ways that race and racial narratives operate within the American cultural landscape.  The efforts to recreate the illusion of a racially-colorblind Jordan-esque landscape were futile given persistent anti-black racism and governing stereotypes.  Peace after the palace was not possible because of the ways that blackness and anti-black racism overdetermined its meaning within the national landscape.  Artest and what he embodied in the national imagination guided and served as a lens as the NBA sought to deracialize itself within the national imagination.  This is why I start After Artest as follows:

“The real question, how does it feel to be a problem” – W.E.B. DuBois, 1903 (Quoted in Jackson 2006, p. 9)

“Ron Artest more than likely will be suspended, but so should Kobe” (Resnick 2009)

“Kobe vs. Artest: Proof Artest Will Kill Your Team” (2009)

“NBA Bad Boy Ron Artest of L.A. Lakers Admits He Had A Problem: Drinking During Games! ” (Douglas 2009)

“Trevor Ariza loses shoe, Ron Artest tosses it into the stands” (2009).

Artest, who’s trying to put his bad-boy image behind him, said he could simply display his ring in his living room or he could wear it.’ But I think it’ll be more important to give back to something I believe in, which is providing kids with someone to talk to because it’s so expensive. I pay for parenting counseling, marriage counseling and anger management, and it’s very expensive. This will be for children of all demographics, rich or poor — preferably the rich can pay for their own psychologists — but it’ll be a great way to help kids who don’t know where they’re going in their life at this point’ (“Ron Artest Plans” 2010)


Artest, who’s trying to put his bad-boy image behind him, said he could simply display his ring in his living room or he could wear it.’ But I think it’ll be more important to give back to something I believe in, which is providing kids with someone to talk to because it’s so expensive. I pay for parenting counseling, marriage counseling and anger management, and it’s very expensive. This will be for children of all demographics, rich or poor — preferably the rich can pay for their own psychologists — but it’ll be a great way to help kids who don’t know where they’re going in their life at this point’ (“Ron Artest Plans” 2010)


At first glance, the above headlines point to the fact that Ron Artest’s personal history, and especially his association with the Palace Brawl, continues to determine the public narrative assigned to him by the dominant media and broader public discourse. Even those instances of praise and celebratory redemption does so in relationship to his past indiscretions. Despite the banality of his exchange with Kobe and his tossing of another player’s shoe off the court (his sportsmanship was questioned by an announcer), and notwithstanding his efforts to admit to a past drinking problem1 or shed light on the issue of mental health, each in varying degrees have been the read through the lens of the Palace Brawl.

In 2009, Ron Artest admitted to drinking alcohol at halftime while he was a member of the Chicago Bulls. Hoping to teach kids by sharing his past mistakes, Artest’s admission, not surprisingly, prompted much media and public debate. Although some people questioned the truthfulness of his admission, others used this moment as an opportunity to speculate about whether Artest was indeed drunk when he entered the stands in 2004. Likewise, his tossing of Trevor Ariza’s shoe into the stands, along with his physical and verbal altercations with Kobe Bryant, were given amplified meaning and importance considering his role. In all four instances, Artest’s past and his character are used as points of reference.

Often invoking his involvement in the 2004 Palace Brawl, the dominant frame that facilitates his representations is not only constrained by Artest’s personal and professional histories, but by the prism of race and blackness. He is consistently imagined as a problem. The nature of these representations point to the ways in which blackness overdetermines not only the meaning of Artest, but of all black NBA players in a post-Brawl context. Post-Artest, blackness is the hegemonic point of reference for both the commentaries and the policy shifts within the NBA, demonstrating that the Palace Brawl changed the racial meaning of the NBA and thus changed the regulatory practices governing the league. . . . .

The Palace Brawl was the culmination of the recoloring of the NBA. It represented a moment when the blackness of the league was irrefutable and thus needed to be managed, controlled, and, if necessary, destroyed. After Artest argues that the Palace Brawl served as that “aha moment” in which blackness displaced the racially transcendent signifier of Michael Jordan. This blackness, and its representative threat, were undeniable and, as such, necessitated intervention, termed as an assault within this book’s title. Not surprisingly, anti-black racist/white racial frames have anchored the debates and policies that have followed Artest; frames based on racial transcendence or colorblindness remain in the background. In this sense, Artest mandated a reversal wherein race/blackness had to be noticed (and controlled/destroyed), leading to public articulations of the white racial frame instead of denials of racial significance.

With this in mind, it is not surprising that the sports media establishment, and the social media world is all abuzz following a Metta World Peace foul on James Harden on Sunday in a nationally televised game.  A hard foul that was reckless and dangerous; one that warranted an injection (unlike others I have no idea his “intent”) and a suspension; and one that was disappointing to say the least and not worry of defense. I am not here to defend the foul or explain, although those who use the foul as a referendum on Metta, the NBA, or blackness need to check themselves.

It was unfortunate; yet equally unfortunate and more destructive have been the response.   Hayden Kim, on The Bleacher Report, referenced Metta’s “unstable mental stable” and an inability to maintain control; worse yet, he described his outburst in the following way:  “As he pounded his chest, acting like a gorilla during mating season, he caught James Harden with an ill-advised elbow that could have caused an earthquake” (the original piece no longer has this language but can still be found here and here).  The hyperbole notwithstanding, the descriptor of Metta as a “gorilla” given its historic meaning is disturbing to say the least – disgraceful, in fact.

Ken Berger focused more on the typical hyperbole and ‘what ifs” with his discussion of the elbow heard around the world.  “Metta World Peace’s vicious, dangerous elbow to the head of James Harden Sunday was no garden variety NBA elbow, and it probably will result in longer than your typical elbowing suspension,” writes Berger. “It should, anyway. This was about as cheap as a cheap shot gets. It’ll have nothing to do with the fact that Metta World Peace is really Ron Artest, he of Malice at the Palace fame. World Peace, after all, has come a long way since his 73-game suspension for going into the stands in Auburn Hills, Mich., in 2004, and even won the NBA’s citizenship award last season (when his name was still Ron Artest).”  Berger, unlike so many others notes his recent citizenship award, falls into the trap that he cautions against: reading the incident through the Palace Brawl.

Continue reading @NewBlackMan: The Elbow Heard Around the Nation: The NBA and the End of ‘Peace’.

NewBlackMan: No Victory, No Redemption: The Continued Demonization of Tiger Woods

(Photo: Reuters / Brian Snyder)

No Victory, No Redemption: The Continued Demonization of Tiger Woods

by David J. Leonard | NewBlackMan

The national media experienced a major buzz kill last weekend. Prepared to launch the “Tiger Woods redemption” tour – part celebration of his ability to persevere and make it back and bigger part jubilation for the willingness of the American public to accept Tiger back in good graces – the media found itself with Bubbha instead of Tiger. Having won a tournament a few weeks back, his first in three years, Woods was on the precipice of receiving national absolution, through stories of redemption and forgiveness. Unfortunately for the media salivating at the prospect of celebrating itself and an exceptional American populace that can look beyond Woods’ “transgression,” Woods failed to deliver, finishing in a distant 40th place.

The efforts to link redemption to victory is telling in itself as it illustrates how winning and athletic success determines the narrative and value placed upon Tiger Woods within the public discourse. When winning, he was “America’s multicultural son,” yet his fall from the leader board, even more than his infidelity and personal difficulties, is the source of both the criticism and the calls for him to redeem himself before the alter of the American public.

Worse yet, in the eyes of the media, he has continued to act not like “gentlemen.” Calling his performance “embarrassing” and his club kicking unacceptable because of what has happened over the last three years, Michael C. Jones describes his 2012 Masters in the following way:

Woods needs to clean up his act, and he’s smart enough to know that he needs to do so for more than just his public image. He’s being scorned for his attitude throughout the debacle at Augusta National and rightly so. As an ambassador of the game, he’s showing mental weakness that is a far cry from the signature psychological edge the old Tiger used to display during each one of his 14 major victories.

His mind is in a wandering state, and he’s gotten away from having fun on the golf course. He needs to get back to that for the sake of his game. Beyond just the club-kicking, Woods’ demonstrative displays of bitter anger at one of the most sacred venues in golf’s history show that he has no control and no regard for the way he carries himself. If he truly means what he said in his famous apology in February 2010, then he will act accordingly and at the very least refrain from making a complete fool of himself.

The constant references to his marital situation and the club kicking is revealing because it reflects an overall subtext that imagines the world of golf as a place defined by whiteness and its upper-class identity, as a space of proper decorum, desired values, and gentlemen disposition. “Golf has always placed a special premium on honor and good sportsmanship,” writes Orin Starn in his newly published The Passion of Tiger Woods. “You’re supposed to maintain a respectful, church-like silence every time your playing partner is about to hit a shot.” (p. 46). Reflecting the history of race, class, and notions of civilization, the culture of golf oversees its operations on and off the links. Similarly, David Whitley, noting the ample public shaming directed at Woods in recent years, describes Woods as a 5-year who needs public scolding as part of his redemption process.

Evident here, Tiger has failed to uphold these values; evident in his infidelity and his kicking a club, Tiger once thought to be the future of golf has betrayed this possibility. Yet, in reading this column and others, all would be forgiven if he just won, revealing what values matter most within America’s victory culture.

What becomes clear in reading the media narrative is as follows: (1) Tiger is immature; (2) Tiger is a bad person; and (3) without success on the course, he has little appeal. His redemption starts and ends with titles, particularly Majors. This point was sadly illustrated in a troubling and surprising column from Robert Lipsyte, whose relationship with the likes of Dick Gregory and Muhammad Ali leaves me baffled by his piece about Woods. Entitled “The Lost Boys” (reference to Lost Boys of Sudan?), Lipsyte laments Woods’ fall from grace, linking his career to that of Tyson and Simpson:

When Tiger crashed his car in 2009 and the turgid details of his psycho sex life emerged, I had the same thought I had in 1997 when Mike, after three years in jail for rape, bit off part of Evander Holyfield’s ear while losing a title fight: This is how you declare emotional bankruptcy when you’ve been conditioned to never quit, when blowing up your world is the only way out.

Maybe O.J.’s blundering kidnapping and armed robbery caper in 2007 was also a psychic suicide. It seemed too silly to be judged seriously, so I figured he was sentenced for being acquitted of murdering his ex-wife and her friend in 1995. I had been ridiculed for my theory then that O.J. was protecting the real killer, his son, knowing he could beat the rap while the kid couldn’t. I’m delighted that the theory has reappeared in a new book. O.J. is 64 and in prison until at least 2017.

Continue reading at NewBlackMan: No Victory, No Redemption: The Continued Demonization of Tiger Woods.

NewBlackMan: More than a Ball Player: The David West Interview

More than a Ball Player: The David West Interview

by David Leonard | NewBlackMan

One of the more thoughtful and socially active professional athletes, David West, a forward for the NBA’s Indiana Pacers talked with NewBlackMan regular contributor David Leonard, about the current NBA season, the residue of the NBA lockout, the stereotypes of NBA players and what he’s reading these days.


DJL – How has the compressed season been physically and mentally?

DW: The games are just coming. It becomes a grind. 4 games in 5 nights. 12 games in 15 nights. This is physically taxing. There have been injuries around the NBA. You do what you can to get your body prepared but sometimes the body won’t respond. It is not going to get better.

DJL: How does the compressed season impact family

DW: Families are rarely taken into account in a regular season and that is even more of an issue this season. There is really no time. Guys make sacrifices in a normal season and that is even greater right now. There is less time to do anything outside of practice and games.

DJL: Describe your assessment of lockout looking back in terms of relationship between players and owners, how race played out

DW: I went to a few meetings and there was some cryptic language that was used. I was offended by the idea we may not understand certain things. Beyond that, when you are dealing with a certain amount of money in business, there has to be a middle and level ground. In the media, we were portrayed as not knowing anything, as greedy and selfish – to just shut up and play basketball. We expected that.

I always tell people that we very fortunate to be in the NBA but there are a lot of personal sacrifices. So during the lockout guys were able to invest time in themselves, something that often went under the radar. This generation of athletes is a bit more conscious than they get credit for, how they spend and invest their money. I have been in the league for 9 years and when I started out there were high-end cars every where in the player parking lots and now you see less of that. That goes unnoticed. The lockout was a personification of that because guys were prepared to miss paychecks, to miss games. This is a change in the mindset of players.

DJL: It seems that one of the struggles was battling the caricature of today’s NBA player

DW: Every guy doesn’t have the machine behind them. As an individual, it is hard to fight the assumptions made about us. When I first entered the league, people were like “David, what are you talking about” because I wasn’t talking about basketball and I wasn’t talking about mundane things that people expected from me. That puts into perspective what people expect of you; people don’t expect athletes to have anything to offer other than being a source for entertainment. The mind is seen as 2nd or 3rd rate. So often the conversation starts and ends with sports. You find yourself boxed in. I have been labeled as stand-offish because when people engage me they often just want to talk about basketball, and that is not what I always want to talk about. Most guys deal with it and just walk around in a bubble because there is no space for original thoughts from athletes within sports.

DJL: What are your passions, what drives you?

DW: I am passionate about knowing more. Every day I wake up, I want to learn something new. I read a lot on African American history, African history, and history in general. I love to read; I want to be engaged with what is going on socially. I love music, the language that is inside the music, what guys are trying to say, especially with hip-hop. It doesn’t have to be the “conscious rap.” All rappers are conscious because they have the wherewithal and freedom to say something. Regardless of what you hear, even the most childlike rapper or those who rap at the highest level, there is a message there. I like to speak to young people; I don’t like to box myself in just because I have been successful as an athlete.

Continue reading @NewBlackMan: More than a Ball Player: The David West Interview.

NewBlackMan: Beyond the Classroom and the Cell: An Interview with Marc Lamont Hill

Beyond the Classroom and the Cell:

An Interview with Marc Lamont Hill

by David J. Leonard | NewBlackMan

Marc Lamont Hill and Mumia Abu-Jamal are two of the most visible intellectuals of my generation. Separated by the walls of injustice, The Classroom and the Cell: Conversations on Black Life in America brings these two giants in the struggle for justice together.

Discussing family, life and death, hip-hop, love, politics, incarceration and so much more, this book highlights their prominence and passion in the fight to “make America again.” As Susan L. Taylor describes in her endorsement of the book: It “gives voice to what is rarely heard: African American men speaking for themselves without barriers or filters, about the many forces in their lives.” Inspiring and illuminating, informative and insightful, The Classroom and the Cell: Conversations on Black Life in America is a conversation about issues and about these prominent figures. Amazing as the book is, I had the opportunity to talk to Marc Lamont Hill to discuss the book and its power.

David J. Leonard: How did the book come about?

Marc Lamont Hill: The book really emerged naturally out of my relationship with Mumia. I have been working on his defense, advocating for him for years, but it was in 2008 when we actually started a direct personal relationship. He called me out of the blue, right in the middle of the Democratic primaries, and we talked. He reached out and told me that he read my work and that he had seen me on TV; he appreciated the work. It was all love so we rapped about the work; we talked about Obama, we talked about whether or not he could beat Hilary Clinton and that almost became the source of our weekly conversations.

He would hit me every Friday at 5:30. We would just talk and as we began to talk more we developed a critique of Obama and what it meant for him to become President. We also talked about our lives, about our children, and about the other intellectual interests we had; we talked about culture and so much other stuff that we developed a bond and friendship that continues until now. After a while, we said lets do some work together.

Initially we thought we would write a book, a more traditional book on black life in America. It was an interesting project. We started to write essays together and the thing that we noticed was that we were melding our voices into one; we were losing our distinctiveness, we were losing the thing that made our conversations so rich: we had similar politics, we had similar values, but we also different perspectives, we came from very different places, we occupy very different social locations.

We decided that instead of trying to transform these conversations into something else we would spotlight the conversations in the tradition of Cornel West and bell hooks, and James Baldwin and Margaret Mead.

We decided to do a book of conversations, talking about the things that matter to us, the stuff that we care about. Politics came up, issues of life of death, leadership, education, love and relationships. Over the course of a year, we talked every Friday at 5:30 and that became the basis of many of the chapters in the book. Between prison visits, letter writing and phone conversations we produced this book, which I hope reflects the depth and breadth of our conversations as well was the deep love, commitment and respect we have for each other

DJL: When I was reading I was thinking about the West-hooks and Baldwin-Mead dialogues of the past, but this book felt different because of the level of respect and the love between the two of you; it felt more intimate than what we often get with dialogues and discussions between two prominent public figures. You give readers not only your assessment about the world, but also insight about yourselves.

MLH: That is what we wanted to do. We have each written a lot; we each occupy public lives and because of that, certain parts of who we are get exposed all the time; our ideas, our perspectives, our ideologies all get revealed. But we wanted to locate ourselves in this work. We wanted to give more perspective on who are we, but we really wanted to go deeper, to show who we are, to expose our anxieties and fears; we wanted to link the ideas to our personal stories. We wanted to tell a different story and we also wanted people to know that people conversing in this book are people who care deeply for each other and can model a kind of love ethic necessary for social change. It should feel more personal because it was.

Continue reading @ NewBlackMan: Beyond the Classroom and the Cell: An Interview with Marc Lamont Hill.

DJL @ NewBlackMan on: “The Year in ‘Race Matters’: (in case you missed this during the holiday)

Colorlines recently published a 90 second video summarizing the year in race, an amazing feet given what has happened over the year.  Statistical measurement define 2011, in many ways:

  • 45 percent of the 131,000 homeless veterans in America are African-American
  • 26 percent of African American families earn less than $15,000
  • 1 in 9 African Americans live in neighborhoods where 40%+ of its residents live in poverty
  •  Black women earn 68 cents for every dollar earned by men; for Latinas this number is 59 centers
  • 16.2 percent of African Americans are unemployed
  • 17.5 percent of black males are unemployed; 41 percent of black teenagers are without a job
  • 11.4 percent of Latinos are unemployed; 21.3% of Alaska Natives and 19.3% of members of Midwest indigenous communities are unemployed
  • In 2011, blacks and Latino were twice as likely to face home foreclosures
  • Between January and June of 2011, the United States carried out more than 46,000 deportations of the parents of U.S.-citizen children”

Yet, meaning of this year transcends these numbers.  We have seen ample intrusions of blatant racism into the public square.  I recently wrote about this, arguing:


In Two-Faced Racism, Leslie Picca and Joe Feagin explore the ways in which racial performances are carried in both the frontstage (integrated and multiracial public spaces) and the backstage (those private/semi-private all-white spaces where race talk and racist ideas reveal themselves in profound ways).  Their research found that the backstage offers whites a place to “perform, practice, learn, reinforce, and maintain racist views of and inclinations toward people of color.  These views and inclinations play a central role in generating and maintaining the overt and covert racial discrimination that is still commonplace in major institutions of this society” (27-28). 

Increasingly, however, the frontstage is replacing the backstage whereupon whites are publicly performing, learning, reinforcing and maintaining their racist views toward people of color.  Evident in college students donning blackface and then putting pictures online, evident in Gene Marks, Newt Ginrich, Donald Trump and their reactionary pals lamenting the laziness of black youth, evident in the usage of the N-word, evident in white-only movie screenings and white-only swimming pools, the lines between the frontstage and the backstage are blurring before our eyes.   In other words, the frontstage is now the backstage, leaving me to wonder what sorts of ideologies, stereotypes and racial talk is transpiring in backstage.  Or maybe, in a “post-racial America,” widespread racism has returned (did it ever leave?) to the frontstage thereby illustrating the importance of challenging and resisting in each and every location.


From Rep. Doug Lamborn referring to President Obama as a “tar baby” and Brent Bonzell describing President Obama as “a skinny, ghetto crackhead” to Fox’s headline for President Obama’s birthday party –“Obama’s Hip-Hop BBQ Didn’t Create Jobs” and Eric Bolling “criticizing” President Obama for “chugging 40’s in IRE while tornadoes ravage MO,” there have been ample examples of the ways in which public expressions of racism have defined the 2011 political sphere.  The racism and sexism directed at Michelle Obama (just one example) and the astounding types of political commercials (just one example) are also evident of the ways in which violent rhetoric has dominated the public square.

Not surprisingly, Rush Limbaugh (calling President Obama a “oreo cookie” and Michelle Obama as “uppity”), Ann Coulter (“our blacks are better than theirs”), Pat Buchannan (“Blacks bought a lot of propaganda of the liberal plantation”), amongst others, all illustrate the ways in which racist language and ideologies define the nature of political discourse during 2011.  Beyond the ample instances of racism, it is important to see beyond the starling ease that racism operates within the public square to look at the ways race plays out within the deployed narratives and ideologies.  Take Pat Buchannan, who reminisced for Jim Crow during 2011: “Back then, black and white lived apart, went to different schools and churches, played on different playgrounds, and went to different restaurants, bars, theaters, and soda fountains. But we shared a country and a culture. We were one nation. We were Americans.”  In language and the vision for America, race defined the past year (and the years before).

The last year has also seen quite a bit of recycling.  From the Moynihan Report and culture of poverty, to bootstraps ideology and efforts to blame the poor, 2011 has seen a comeback (not that these racist narratives ever went away) of these troubling ideas.  Two of the most illustrative examples were Newt Gingrich and Gene Marks.  Gingrich, who has made a career of race baiting (calling President Obama a “food stamp president” and one defined by a “‘Kenyan, anti-colonial worldview’”), recently offered policy prescriptions to deal with black unemployment: teach black youth the value of work.  He stated:

Really poor children in really poor neighborhoods have no habits of working.  And have nobody around them who works. They have no habit of ‘I do this and you give me cash’-unless it’s illegal.  What if you paid them part time in the afternoon, to sit at the clerical office and greet people when they came in?  What if you paid them to work as the assistant librarian. What if they were the assistant janitor, and carried a mop?

Deploying longstanding stereotypes about black laziness and criminality, all while crafting economic policy based on bootstrapism, Ginrich shows how 2011 has been so much about sampling and redeploying the racist ideologies of yesteryear.  Gene Marks, whose article prompted widespread condemnation because of its paternalistic tone and acceptance of widespread stereotypes, is equally reflective of this trend.

I am not a poor black kid.  I am a middle aged white guy who comes from a middle class white background.  So life was easier for me.  But that doesn’t mean that the prospects are impossible for those kids from the inner city.  It doesn’t mean that there are no opportunities for them. I believe that everyone in this country has a chance to succeed.  Still.  In 2011.  Even a poor black kid in West Philadelphia.

The racism of 2011 has not been limited to the political sphere, amongst punditry and politicians, but has been visible throughout society.  Evident in a teacher calling black and Latino first graders “future criminals,” Alexandra Wallace’s racist diatribe against Asians, Psychology Today’s racist article about black women, billboards charging “abortion-as-black- genocide,” and a high school coach referring to a black player as “a future welfare recipient,” racist talk and imagery has been visible throughout the year.  We have seen Lowes’ refusal to run advertisements during All-American Muslim and the Right’s demonization of Nightrunner, “DC Muslim Batman of Paris.”  Amid the denials and the claims that whites face ample discrimination, the level of racial animus and the level of rhetorical violence during 2011 have been revealing.  The lack reflexivity and the hegemony of white privilege, with the use of the N-Word during Slut Walk, is telling about this year (see here for an apology).  In fact, 2011 has seen ample instances of the N-Word within the public square, from high school girls chanting it before their game to the recent slur directed at Rihanna.

Of course, 2011 has seen the violence and the injustices of racism in policy.  In the execution of Troy Davis, in the systemic deportations of undocumented mothers and fathers, in the judicial assault on ethnic studies, in the anti-immigrant policies of Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina,  and Indiana, in the many instances of police brutality, the persistence of racial profiling,  and the number of hate groups surpassing 1,000, this year has seen ample evidence of the fallacy of a post-racial America.

The prosecution and sentencing of, and the struggle for justice for, Kelly Williams-Bolar is emblematic of many issues surrounding race in 2011.  From the criminalization of people of color and the demonization of women of color, to educational inequalities and the generation of kids behind left behind, her case teaches us much about the continued struggle for civil rights in 2nd decade of the twenty-first century.  Jamilah King described the case in the following way:

Just in case you haven’t seen this story blow up on your social network this week: Kelley Williams-Bolar is headed to an Ohio jail. The mother of two was sentenced this week to 10 days in jail, three years of probation, and 80 hours of community service. Her crime? Sending her two daughters to an out-of-district school. . . .It’s an infuriating case, especially for anyone who’s even remotely familiar with educational inequity in this country. America still hasn’t made good on its half-century promise to desegregate its public schools, and academic achievement can almost always be measured by zip code.

The demonization of women of color extended into the realm of popular culture as well.

2011 was also the year of The Help, a film that recycled the hegemonic Hollywood trope of “white love” (h/t Elon James White) and racial redemption all while sanitizing the black freedom struggle.  Yet, it was also a year defined by the many powerful responses to this film; these effort resisted and challenged the film’s (mis)representation of black women’s work, segregation, social justice, and countless other issues.  From the Association of Black Woman Historians’ powerful statement to the many articles from black scholars – Dutchess Harris, Rebecca Wanzo, Mecca Jamilah Sullivan, Martha Southgate, Mark Anthony Neal, Aishah Shahidah Simmons,  Melissa Harris-Perry, and Honorée Fanonne Jeffers – many voices have challenged the narrative and representations offered by The Help, refusing to accept the cultural politics of the mainstream.  Yet, 2011 has also seen the release of Pariah, a film that explores the experience of a young black lesbian struggling for acceptance within her family and society at large.  Whereas The Help represents blackness as accessory, as the help, Pariah reminds audiences of the power and beauty of black identity, highlighting heterogeneity, diversity, and humanity.

2011 has seen ample moments of resistance, a refusal to accept and tolerate racism, sexism, and homophobia.  It has been a year of “speaking truth to power” and refusing the dominant narrative.  Following the airing of ABC’s 20/20 special entitled “Children of the Plains,” a group of Native American students from South Dakota produced their own video that refused the images and messages offered in the show: “I know what you probably think of us…we saw the special too. Maybe you saw a picture, or read an article. But we want you to know, we’re more than that…we have so much more than poverty.”  Then there were the students from Ohio University, who launched the “We are a culture not a costume” campaign to protest the racist stereotypes and racist images so prominent during Halloween.  Youth in California and Alabama fought vigorously to change the tide against anti-immigrant racism.  Hotel workers in New York protested Dominique Strauss-Kahn and the victimization of Nafissatou Diallo. And so much more.

The power of new media as a space of resistance has been on full-display, whether the consciousness raising happening on twitter and Facebook, or the ways in which Jay Smooth, Jasiri X, Issa Rae, Amie Breeze Harper, Ariana Proehl. Scholars like Alondra Nelson, Koritha Mitchell, Nicole Fleetwood, Danielle McGwire, Kellie Jones, Evie Shockey, and Manning Marable (who we lost this year) have also published important works that advance the study of race, gender, and sexuality in both history and our current moment.  In the face of erasure, dehumanization, and persistent inequalities, scholars and artists (see Lisa Thompson’s discussion of black women in theater), activists and organizers, and people from community big and small have met the racism and injustice with force.  There has been so much to challenge in 2011 yet the many instances of injustice have not killed our “freedom dreams.”  While these dreams will be deferred until 2012, the struggle will continue.