I spent much of the last two weeks watching New York Knicks games, a painful reality given my unwavering loyalty to the Los Angeles Lakers, to participate in the phenomena that has come to be known as Linsanity. When not watching games, my days have been spent listening to interviews, reading commentaries, and debating and discussing Jeremy Lin’s meteoric rise. Among the many things I have noticed is how we as a society lack a level of media literacy, seemingly accepting the narrative disseminated by the national media. With little reservation or questions, there is little room to think critically about how Lin is being positioned within most media circles.
For example, we have been told that Lin “came out of no where.” Simultaneously erasing his experiences and the hard work that led him to become the starting PG with the Knicks and his past successes (at Harvard, including dominating performance against UCONN; during the NBA summer leagues), the “out of no where” idea reflects the “American Idolization” or the “The Apprentization” of American life. Discounting hard work, talent, and a myriad of factors, we increasingly live in a society that imagines the American Dream as simply around the corner, available with a little bit of luck and opportunity.
The appeal of Lin as “coming out of no where” does not reflect the power of stereotypes but a sense of pleasure that comes with our collective belief that our dreams can come true. Irrespective of the profession, we all believe or think we can “come out of no where” to garner success and appreciation. Such belief in meritocracy and in the American Dream reflects a certain level of Lin’s appeal, a fact that should elicit self-reflection and critical analysis.
Likewise, the belief that Lin is undermining, if not eliminating, stereotypes about Asian Americans, is optimistic to say the least. Timothy Yu’s “Will Jeremy Lin’s Success End stereotypes?” embodies this hope: “American culture tells us, in short, that Lin shouldn’t exist. Every time he drives to the basket, he upends stereotypes of Asians as short, weak and nerdy. Every time he talks to the media, he dispels the idea that all Asian-Americans are like foreigners speaking broken English.”
Jay Caspian Kang pushes this conversation further arguing that it isn’t simply Lin’s presence on the court that undermines longstanding stereotypes but the style that he plays with. “I’m sure we’d all like to peg the humble Asian kid as unselfish. But Lin can be a bit of a black hole [with the ball]. Some of his most exciting baskets have come on drives that start around half court.” Yet, that isn’t the narrative in circulation. As noted by Picca and Feagin, stereotypes “act, like self-fulfilling prophecies tend to be reinforced when new information fits them, while information that negates a stereotype tends to be rejected.” The stereotype, in itself, impairs our ability to see the reality.
For example, in the aftermath of the Knicks loss the New Jersey Nets, which was Lin’s first game playing alongside Carmelo Anthony, the criticisms directed at Anthony focused on his selfishness and ball-hogging approach in the game despite the fact that Lin took 18 shots compared to Melo’s 11. Understanding the desire to see Lin as a “game changer,” as someone who is ushering in a new racial moment, the persistence of inequality and institutional racisms leaves me questioning the level of optimism, one that seemingly places stereotypes on the doorstep of those who have been confined within the prism of racial expectations.
One of the emergent narratives, especially in the wake of the tweets from Jason Whitlock and Floyd Mayweather, ESPN’s headline and the MSG “fortune cookie” image, has been the ways in which racism has been directed against Asian American communities. While illustrating the profound ways that racism guides both public discourse and material conditions impacting AAPI communities, the efforts to create a hierarchy whereupon anti-Asian prejudice (institutional racism is never figured) is tolerated whereas anti-black or anti-Latino racism is met with opposition and condemnation represents a significant failure.
The emergence of Jeremy Lin as international superstar, and resulting tweets from Jason Whitlock and Floyd Mayweather, has prompted widespread debate about whether or not race matters in both the media representation and in understanding the arch of his career. Without a doubt, race matters when talking about Lin given his path to the NBA, prejudice experienced while on the court (see here for examples; see here broader discussion), and the larger context of anti-Asian racism. Lin is not evident of some post-racial fantasy, but instead a reminder of how race matters. It matters whether talking about sports, housing, education, foreign policy, economic inequality, media culture, and interpersonal relations.
Race matters when examining the media representations of Black athletes, whether were talking about the demonization of Michael Vick (the most despised athlete in America), Barry Bonds, or LeBron James; it matters in look at the stories of redemption afforded to Ben Roethlisberger and Josh Hamilton, or the lack of media attention directed at Kevin Love following his recent stomp. To deny the impact and significant of race with Lin is as absurd as deploying “the race denial card” in these contexts as well. To imagine Lin outside of the scope of race and racism, or to isolate race as something usual in this instance, especially given the ways that the NBA is associated with blackness (the subtext here feels as if the discussion is being reduced to anti-Asian prejudice from African Americans), represents an immense failure.
So race matters when thinking about Lin’s recruitment (or lack thereof) out of high school and his path to the NBA, as race matters when talking about employment discrimination.
Racism holds people back in every industry, from higher education to the business world. Researchers at the Discrimination Research Center, in their study “Names Make a Difference,” argue that racial discrimination represents a significant obstacle for employees. Having sent out 6,200 resumes with similar qualifications to temporary employment agencies, the authors found that those with names associated with the Latino and white communities received callbacks more frequently than those presumed to be African American or South Asian/Arab American (called back the least frequently).
Similarly, MIT professors Marianne Bertrand and Sendhil Mullainathan concluded that perspective applicants with “White sounding names” are 50 percent more likely to receive a callback after submitting a resume than were those with “Black sounding names.” They concluded that Whiteness was as much an asset as 8 years of work experience, demonstrating that race has a significant impact on one’s job future. In their study, “Are Emily and Greg More Employable than Lakisha and Jamal? A Field Experiment on Labor Market Discrimination,” the authors conclude, “While one may have expected that improved credentials may alleviate employers’ fear that African-American applicants are deficient in some unobservable skills, this is not the case in our data. Discrimination therefore appears to bite twice, making it harder not only for African-Americans to find a job but also to improve their employability” (“Employers’ Replies to Racial Names” 2003).
In a society where those with “Black sounding” and “Muslim sounding” names receive call backs from perspective employments with 50% less frequency, this an opportunity to talk about systemic racism.
Jeremy Lin and the Persistence of Racial Stereotypes
by David J. Leonard | NewBlackMan
The recent success and national visibility afforded to Jeremy Lin has both inspired Asian Americans and has been driven by the adoration and pride he elicits from some within the community. Whether on twitter, Facebook, or in the stadiums, it is clear that Lin is not simply a national phenomena but a treasure for the Asian American community.
According to Jamilah King, “regardless of how the rest of the season goes for Lin, and the Knicks, his moment in the spotlight is an important time to reflect on how the country views its Asian American athletes.” Whereas past Asian athletes, whether it be Yao Ming or Ichiro captured the global Asian Diaspora’s imagination, Lin is the most widely recognized Asian American athlete on the American team sport scene. Timothy Dalrymple highlights the appeal of Lin to Asian American males:
He particularly has a following amongst Asian-Americans. And some Asian-American young men, long stereotyped as timid and unathletic, nerdy or effeminate or socially immature — have fought back tears (which may not help with the stereotype, but is understandable under the circumstances) as they watched Jeremy Lin score 25 points, 7 assists and 5 rebounds for the New York Knicks.
In “Asian Americans energized in seeing Knicks’ Jeremy Lin play,” J. Michael Falgoust elucidates his cultural power within the Asian American community in quoting the thoughts of several different people:
“I don’t care about the outcome. I just want to see him in action. He’s as good of an Asian American athlete as there is” — Rose Nguyen
“I’m so proud. I don’t care if he is Chinese or Korean. I had to see him … my boyfriend has been talking about him so much” — Christine Lee
“I’m really excited. He breaks so many stereotypes. And my friends are just as excited. If you go to my Facebook feed, it’s all Jeremy Lin. I like that he plays smart. But then he’s from Harvard. So that is expected. He is also humble. He reminds me a lot of Derrick Rose, who’s always crediting teammates” — Andrew Pipathsouk
Andrew Leonard similarly argues that Lin’s popularity amongst Asian Americans is emblematic of the power of social media and also the pride that athletic success garners for Asian Americans, otherwise seen as “nerds” not “jocks.” While problematically invoking the language of “genetics” that erases Lin’s tremendous athleticism/speed, Leonard concludes that Lin inspires Asian American kids who yearn for a masculine role model given persistent invisibility and anti-Asian racism within the public square. “He’s a triumph of will over genetic endowment, a fact that makes him inspiring to an entire generation of Californian kids restless with their model minority shackles,” he notes.
On Monday, the social media world was also getting worked up about Michigan Republican Senate hopeful Pete Hoekstra’s racist Super Bowl ad, featuring a Chinese woman (labeled “yellowgirl” in the HTML code for the Web version) gloating over all the jobs her country was taking from the U.S. Once thrown into the 24/7 crazy cultural mashup perpetual motion machine, it didn’t take long before anger about that ad ran head on into Jeremy Lin pride. I have seen tweets urging Jeremy Lin to run for the Republican nomination for the Michigan senate seat, tweets warning that the only American jobs in danger from Asians are those belonging to New York Knick starting point guards, and even a tweet riffing off Kobe Bryant’s self-identification as “black mamba” — Jeremy Lin is suddenly the “yellow mamba.”
Lin has trended #1 on twitter on three successive game days, was top-10 searched items on Sina Weibo and is all the talk of the sports world. For the moment, it is Jeremy Lin’s world and we are all just living in it.
The pride and possibility reflects the broader erasure and invisibility of Asian Americans within popular culture (minus this year’s Top Chef). “Asians are nearly invisible on television/movies/music, so any time I see an Asian on TV or in the movies, I feel like I’ve just spotted a unicorn, even though usually, I see them being portrayed as kung-fu masters/socially awkward mathematical geniuses/broken-English-speaking-fresh-off-the-boat owner of Chinese restaurant/nail salon/dry cleaners,” writes one blogger. “Anyway, this phenomenon is 10x worse in sports. While there has been some notable progress with Asians in professional baseball, Asians are all but non-existent in the big three sports in the US (football, basketball, baseball).”
Among the virtual saturation of Jeremy Lin online has been a poster of him with the words “We are all witnesses.” At Monday’s New York Knicks game, fans donned “black T-shirts that read “The Jeremy Lin Show” on the front” and “We Believe” painted on the back.
Encapsulating the hoopla and hype, while referencing the similar promise that LeBron James brought to Cleveland and the NBA (how’d that work out?), not to mention the spectacle of his meteoric rise, “the witness” iteration illustrates the religious overtones playing through the media coverage.
Since Lin emerged on the national scene while at Harvard, he has made his faith and religious identity quite clear. While refusing to abandon the “underdog” story, Cork Gaines focuses readers attention on his religious beliefs: “But there is more to Jeremy Lin than just being an undrafted Asian-American point guard out of Harvard. He is also a devout Christian that has previously declared that he plays for the glory of God and someday hopes to be a pastor.” Noting how post-game interviews often begin with Lin announcing his faith – “just very thankful to Jesus Christ, [his] Lord and savior” – Gaines uses this opportunity to deploy the often noted comparison that Jeremy Lin is the NBA’s Tim Tebow.
While making the comparison through the Cinderella/overlooked narrative, the media celebration of their faith and evangelical beliefs serves as the anchor for the Lin as Tebow trope. “Tebowmania? That was so 2011. It’s time for a new cult-hero phenomenon: Linsanity,” writes Ben Cohen in “Meet Jeremy Lin, the new Tim Tebow.”
Then there’s their shared religious values. ‘I’m just thankful to God for this opportunity,’ Lin said in an on-court interview Saturday before tweeting, “God is good during our ups and our downs!” His Twitter avatar is a Jesus cartoon. Tebow’s, for the record, is his autobiography’s cover.
Described as Taiwanese Tim Tebow, as resembling “Denver Broncos Quarterback Tim Tebow,” as filling the mold that Tebow “patented,” Lin’s identity (meaning/significance) is ascribed by his connection to Tebow. Tebow defines him.
In “From Unknown To Phenom In 3 Games: Harvard Grad Jeremy Lin Saves The New York Knicks,” Les Carpenter makes the comparison clear: “He is a Christian, vocal in his belief. And because of this and because he is a flawed player proving the experts wrong, people are comparing him to Tim Tebow.” According to Gaines, “Lin and Tebow are not the first athletes to make their faith a key component of their athletic persona. But if Lin, another unconventional player fighting an uphill battle against haters and doubters, continues his spectacular play in The World’s Most Famous Arena, the NBA may soon experience their own Tebowmania. And the fans are already calling it “Linsanity.”
While dismissing the links beyond the uber-hype afforded to Tebow (and now Lin), Bethlehem Shoals furthers the comparison: “Tim Tebow, whose religious views are no secret, probably considers luck the pay-off for faith; Lin is also an enthusiastic Christian. Whether you feel like pushing things in that direction is your business. The bottom line is that, thus far, Lin has been a welcome surprise, a Cinderella story that no one wants to see end.”
The comparison is instructive on multiple levels (see here to understand problems with comparison in a sporting context). Each exists in juxtaposition to blackness. The “underdog” narrative, the focus on hard work and intelligence, and the claims of being overlooked and discriminated against all elucidates the ways in which their bodies are rendered as different from the hegemonic black athletic body.
Religion, thus, becomes another marker of difference, as a means to celebrate and differentiate Lin and Tebow. Whereas black athletes are seen within the national imagination to be guided by hip-hop values rather than religious values, Lin and Tebow practice an evangelical ethic on and off the field/court. Tebow and Lin operate as “breath of fresh air.” Writing about Tiger Woods in Sports Stars: The Cultural Politics Of Sporting Celebrity, C.L. Cole and David L. Andrews argue that Woods’ emergence as a global icon reflected his power as a counter narrative. As “a breath of fresh of air,” his cultural power emanated from his juxtaposition to “African American professional basketball players who are routinely depicted in the popular media as selfish, insufferable, and morally reprehensible.”
Forbes came out with its poll this week on sports most-disliked players, and the names ring familiar. In order, they are Mr. Vick, Tiger, Plaxico, NDamukong, Kris Humphries, Lebron, Kobe, Terrell, ARod, before Kurt Busch comes in at #10. Quite notably, Joe Paterno or Jerry Sandusky , Ben Roethlisberger (accused twice of rape), and the allegedly “polarizing” Tim Tebow didn’t crack the top 10.
These types of polls are almost always dominated by white voters, and the “most disliked” people are almost always dominated by athletes of color. While there is disturbing bigotry inherent in these lists, media plays a critical role in perpetuating and maintaining views of white fans .
This past week offers an excellent illustration of white privilege in action. Here is a quick recap on some of what you might have missed amidst Super Bowl week.
Feb. 1: Kevin LoveHacks Danny Granger and Talks Big-time Trash to Pacers
Feb. 2: Josh HamiltonRelapses
Feb. 3: Lance Armstrong Walks as his Federal Case is Dismissed
Feb. 3: Cardinals AnnouncerJoe McLaughlin – Repeat DUI Arrestee — Keeps Job
Feb. 4: Kevin LoveStomps on Face of Luis Scola after throwing him to floor
Feb. 5: Super Bowl Sunday – Congrats Giants! Manning-to-Manningham!
Feb. 6: Rob GronkowskiDances Night Away After Super Bowl Loss
Feb. 7: George Brett Has Lawsuit filed against him for false advertising
Feb. 7: Kevin Again: Suspended Two Games (and finally receives own ESPN article)
Feb. 7: Lance Again: WADA Urges Feds to Hand Over Evidence
Some of the stories were purposely delayed to coincide with Super Bowl week, and in the previous 10 days in January Ben Roethlisberger very quietly settled on his rape case, Ryan Braun made an MVP award speech, and Dirk Nowitzki sat out games due to poor conditioning while all came with little national media hype.
With the exception of announcer McLaughlin – whose DUI continues a long Cardinals narrative – all are stand-out all-stars. With the possible exception of Josh Hamilton’s relapse (note: POPSspot wishes Josh the very best with his continued recovery), just about every story  mentioned was either ignored, buried on website, or downplayed by ESPN judging by black athlete standards.
What are “black athlete standards”? On Tuesday, ESPN “sauced” up a front-page DUI story on a 3rd string running back. On Thursday, a retired average pitcher received front-page treatment for his heavy cocaine use 25 years ago. In between, “Kendrick Perkins rips Lebron” over innocuous tweet, “Lebron Won’t Apologize for Tweet” while both ESPN stories received: prime web-link placement, video commentary, and front-page “staying power” that helped produce 5000+ comments for each article. And that’s just the last three days.
Now back to the white guys. The stories of Armstrong, Roethlisberger, and Love deserve a closer look:
Outside of owners, Lance may be the most powerful man in sports today. There is more evidence of Lance’s doping than Bonds, Clemens, and Hulk Hogan combined. Yet his federal case is dismissed. Says Betsy Andreu one of many, many accusers:
“Our legal system failed us. This is what happens when you have a lot of money and you can buy attorneys who have people in high places in the Department of Justice.”
Our sports media has also failed us with over 12 years of allegations against Armstrong being ignored. Now Armstrong “luckily” got the news announced on the Friday afternoon before Super Bowl Sunday. ESPN.com opens up with the news: “Los Angeles — The case against Lance Armstrong is closed. His legacy as a seven-time Tour de France champion endures.”
Really? Is Lance’s legacy is tied to his federal case? Was ESPN, AP, Sports Illustrated or anyone else patiently awaiting court verdicts before deciding if Bonds legacy and his 762 home runs “endured”? Lance’s multi-layered power over (American, not European) sports media deserves its own article if not book (in America, not Europe). On Tuesday, ESPN’s story read: “WADA: Turn Over Lance Armstrong Info”. Another important story, but AP reprint was buried on website (note only 9 comments). USA Today has a better take.
While ideally, no doping athlete should be subject to a federal investigation, Bonds 7-year federal pursuit changed those rules. While hundreds of millions might protect any athlete from media, the media pursuit of Tiger Woods changed those rules. While Lance’s work on behalf of cancer patients is important and laudable, off-the-field contributions has never protected an athlete of color) from media (see Tiger again, Stephon Marbury, and NDamukong Suh. Lance is not protected solely by green or white – he is protected by the intertwined and exponential power of both.
2) ESPN is STILL Protecting Ben Roethlisberger:
In 2008, ESPN famously did not report the civil suit alleging rape against Ben Roethlisberger for 2.5 days. The omission was so egregious that the rest of sports media, both mainstream and blogs, took notice and charged both corporate influence and racial bias. Well 2.5 years later, ESPN’s protection of Ben remains. In virtually every website on January 20th, the story’s title read: “Ben Roethlisberger Settles Lawsuit Alleging 2008 Rape”
Do you see that last word “rape”? ESPN changed the title to: “Ben Roethlisberger Lawsuit Settled”. A closer and longer look at both separate rape allegations against Roethlisberger will show that removing “the R word” is a common practice for ESPN and Ben, but most definitely not Lawrence Taylor! ESPN has repeatedly removed “the R word” from title for over two years.
“Kevin Love doesn’t lack for passion. In a compressed season, that can result in some unwise explosions”.
Author Mark Kreidler goes on:
“[Love] won’t be the last to lose it on the court in this weird NBA experiment: Take the most competitive players in the world, deny them adequate training time, put them into ridiculous travel schedules, cram 66 games into 123 days, and see what happens.”
Beyond two disclaimer sentences, it was the tough intense schedule that led Love to his “series of tantrums”. Did you get that Mr. Suh and Ms. Serena Williams? ESPN offered no companion articles on the usual cadre of “personal responsibility”, “what about the kids” or “what kind of message does this send” memes. For more in-depth media analysis, or doubt about the intentionality of Love’s stomp, please read David Leonard’s: Silence, Innocence, and Whiteness: The Undemonization of Kevin Love.
The protection of Armstrong, Roethlisberger, and Love only scratch the surface of white privilege in sports media. When day after day, a massive sports media says that the courts of law should decide Lance’s legacy, that black tweets trump white stomps, and that Lebron’s “decisions” are worse than Big Ben’s – too many white fans will actually believe it.
Ideally, the solution is not for media to treat white players like athletes of color – it is to treat all athletes as if they were white. But until that day comes, let there be one standard.
 Views of “white” fans are singled out for two reasons. White always make up the vast majority of fans polled. Also, a 2011 ESPN poll shows that only 28% of white sports fans believe that “the media put more of a spotlight on problems involving black athletes”. That same poll showed that 65% of African-American fan believed that problems of black athletes received a greater media spotlight.
 Unlike USA Today, original Gronkowski dancing story received no ESPN article (it did only after Rodney Harrison responded). McLaughlin story was never printed by ESPN or AP. George Brett AP story was buried in ESPN webspace.
The Southern Strategy in the Age of Color-Blind Racism
by David J. Leonard | NewBlackMan
In recent weeks, with the GOP establishment coming to the aid of Mitt Romney and because of Newt Ginrich’s efforts to sell himself as an outsider, an increasingly visible narrative has emerged: as the anti-GOP establishment. Given Newt’s racial politics and his entire campaign strategy, it is hard to think of Newt as anything but the GOP establishment.
At the same time, there has been a growing sentiment about the hegemony of colorblind racism within the GOP. “Colorblind racism is the new normal in American conservative political thought,” writes Edward Wyckoff Williams. The “2012 Republican candidates are using egregious signals and dog whistles to incite racial divisiveness as an effective tool for political gain. But when confronted about the nature of their offensive rhetoric, the answer is either an innocuous denial or dismissive retort.” The codes or dog whistle politics are not new, nor is the denial. While the audacity of race denial may be on the rise, the clarity of the GOP’s race politics have been on full display. No secret decoder is necessary especially as we look at the larger history of race and the GOP.
Like so many of his fellow competitors, Newt’s racial demagoguery, his demonization of people of color, and his efforts to scapegoat have been a daily reality during the 2011-2012 GOP presidential primary. This is nothing new from Newt, who has made his career on the demonization of “welfare moms,” “illegals” and a “food stamp president.” In 2007, Newt took exception with bilingual education, announcing: “We should replace bilingual education with immersion in English so people learn the common language of the country and they learn the language of prosperity, not the language of living in a ghetto.”
This has continued during the current election cycle with his recycling of the Moynihan report and his policy initiatives focusing on teaching black kids a work ethic. The language, the policies, and the centrality of race illustrate the profound ways that Newt Gingrich is the GOP establishment. As the voice box for the racial ideologies and the torchbearer for the GOP’s southern strategy (demonizing people of color in hopes of galvanizing white voters to support a party that doesn’t represent their economic interests), Newt’s denied GOP credentials is almost laughable.
This is the party of Nixon, whose southern strategy sought to scapegoat African Americans. This is the same man, who talked about “Negro bastards” who “live like a bunch of dogs” on welfare rolls. This is the GOP that was led by Richard Nixon, who one said:
Bill Rogers has got — to his credit it’s a decent feeling — but somewhat sort of a blind spot on the black thing because he’s been in New York,” Nixon said. “He says well, ‘They are coming along, and that after all they are going to strengthen our country in the end because they are strong physically and some of them are smart.’ So forth and so on.
My own view is I think he’s right if you’re talking in terms of 500 years,” he said. “I think it’s wrong if you’re talking in terms of 50 years. What has to happen is they have be, frankly, inbred. And, you just, that’s the only thing that’s going to do it, Rose.
This is the party of Reagan, who described outrage from working Americans over the sight of a “strapping young buck using food stamps to buy T-bone steaks at the grocery store.” When not demonizing black men, he spoke about “welfare queens” in Chicago, “who drove a Cadillac and had ripped off $150,000 from the government using 80 aliases, 30 addresses, a dozen social security cards and four fictional dead husband.” This is the same Reagan, who started his presidential campaign in 1980 in Philadelphia, Mississippi with an “ode to state’s rights,” a theme that continued with his defense of segregationist Bob Jones University and his denunciation of the voting right act as “humiliating to the South.” As the patriarch of the party, it is no wonder that racist rhetoric and appeals are central to the 2012 campaign.
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.
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 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.