The Privilege to Murder?



The Privilege to Murder?
by David J. Leonard | NewBlackMan
During a discussion about James Holmes and the Aurora, Colorado shooting, Touré asked, “how can someone so young be so depraved?” Citing a “festering rage from that stems from feeling marginalized and powerless,” a feeling “that leads to them to try to get back at the world, ” Touré feeds the public’s insatiable desire to understand Holmes and his alleged crimes.   He goes to great lengths to explain why Holmes – a white male who grew up in San Diego, a white male who has been identified as “nice,” “easy-going,” “smart” and “quiet” within the media; a white male who we are now learning was nothing more than a very shy, well-mannered young man who was heavily involved in their local Presbyterian church” – allegedly committed this heinous crime.
The efforts to describe Holmes as “otherwise normal” who must have gone crazy, who must have lost it, who must have faced something to make him go into a movie theater and shoot 70 people, speaks to the ways that the (il)logics of race and gender operate in the context of America.
“The freedom to kill, maim, commit wanton acts of violence, and to be anti-social (as well as pathological) without having your actions reflect on your own racial group, is one of the ultimate, if not in fact most potent, examples of White Privilege in post civil rights era America,” writes Chauncey DeVega in “What James and the Colorado Movie Massacre Tell us about While (male) Privilege.” “Instead of a national conversation where we reflect on what has gone wrong with young white men in our society–a group which apparently possesses a high propensity for committing acts of mass violence – James  Holmes will be framed as an outlier.” In fact the media narrative has gone to great lengths to him as “mentally unstable and as a loner,” and as a “good kid who happened to shoot up a movie theater” all speaks to the efforts to define him through an outlier narrative.
In “White Privilege and Mass Murders in America,” the blogger Three Sonorans, highlights how race runs through the center of the media discourse here:
You already know that if it was a Muslim that did the crime, the news would be speaking right now about the threat of “Muslim” terrorism.
This Batman shooting will never be referred to as “White” terrorism or “American” terrorism. Everyone knows that American and terrorism are exact opposites! ….
What if the shooter was not white? The Virginia Tech shooter was not white, and we all know thanks to the news that he was an immigrant from South Korea. They chose only the best pictures with a smiling face to let Americans know what that killer looked like.
Now just imagine if the mass shooter was a former Mexican American Studies student! You know that news would be all over that!
Likewise, “The Dark Knight, Terrorism, Big Gulps and White Privilege” points to the double standards and the ways that race continues to define the media coverage:
Regardless, this is a significant story, and the media has responded accordingly.  Go ahead and do a Google news search.  Myriad articles will pop up, titles all containing such words as “shooter” and “gunman.”  Of course, if this guy was brown, I guaran-fucking-tee you he’d be a terrorist.  But don’t worry.  James Holmes is white, and it’s all good according to the Obama Administration, who “…do not believe at this point there was an apparent nexus to terrorism.”  Whew, thank goodness!  The last thing I need is to have to walk past more of these assholes:
In just a few short days, the media has gone to great lengths to explain what we are told over and over again is unexplainable (and impossible): a white criminal, a white murderer, a white “thug,” a white “pariah” and a “white terrorist.”  That is, in the dominant white imagination, a white terrorist, a white thug, and a savage white man are all contradictions in terms.  The national whisper is clear: “a dangerous middle-class suburban white criminal isn’t possible. How could this happen?”  Whiteness is innocence, goodness, and normalcy within the national imagination.

NewBlackMan: Sampling Again: Shawn Carter and the Moynihan Report Remix

Sampling Again: Shawn Carter and the Moynihan Report Remix

by David J. Leonard | NewBlackMan

I have resisted the temptation to write about the media spectacle surrounding the recent birth of Blue Ivy Carter. The obsession has been striking on so many levels: (1) it seems to reflect a desire to represent Shawn Carter and Beyoncé as royalty. Their cultural visibility and power reaffirms a narrative about the American Dream and post racialness. Blue Ivey Carter becomes evidence of multi-generational wealth; her arrival in the world affirms the American Dream as Beyoncé and Shawn Carter now have millions of dollars AND the prescribed family structure (not sure about dog and picket fence). (2) There also seems an investment in constructing hip-hop as growing up as evident by a politics of respectability and through a patriarchal nuclear family. The media discourse has imagined a family (or children) as the necessary step toward becoming an adult.

Mark Anthony Neal brilliantly reflects on this particular aspect, noting how the media has constructed Carter as ushering in a new era for hip-hop. “There are of course other examples of rappers who do take parenting seriously.” More importantly, Neal works to disentangle lyrical flow from parenting:

To be sure, writing a song about your daughter is the easy part. Fathers are often lauded for the more celebrated aspects of parenting: playing on the floor, piggyback rides, the warm embraces after a long day at the job. Mothers, on the other hand, are often faced with the drudgery of parenting, like changing soiled diapers, nursing, giving up their careers to be stay-at-home moms, and the criticism that comes if they don’t live up to societal notions of what “good” mothering is.

The celebration of Shawn Carter’s fatherhood and the lack of commentaries regarding Beyoncé as a mother are telling on so many levels. At one level, it reflects the erasure of mother’s labor, as noted by Neal. Yet, at another level it reflects the desire to stage yet another referendum on black fathers and mothers within the public discourse. For example, Joanna Mallory recently penned: “Jay-Z anthem to fatherhood is music to the ears of black leaders and family advocates.” Arguing that, “72% of African-American kids are raised without a dad,” Mallory celebrates the birth of Blue Ivey Carter because she inspired her dad to write “Glory:

“But she is also rich in love, as Jay-Z exults in his song “Glory.” The best part? A lot of other babies are going to benefit. Because Jay-Z’s ecstatic reaction to being a dad will be the strongest boost yet to a growing movement in the black community encouraging responsible fatherhood.

Concluding that the song is a necessary remedy for absent black fathers is emblematic of the media discourse here: sensationalistic, simplistic, and wrapped up in a narrative of distortions, misinformation, and stereotypes. It is yet another reminder those critics should not wax sociological.

Having already written about this in regards to Colin Cowherd and Touré, I thought I might just recycle part of the “Blaming Black Families” piece, albeit with a little remix (I swapped out Cowherd’s name for Mallory). The fact that critics, politicians, and the public discourse continually recycles the same fallacious and troubling argument mandates that I merely recycle my work as well.

The efforts to recycle the Moynihan report, to define father as natural disciplinarian and mother’s nurturing, to link cultural values to family structures, and to otherwise play upon longstanding racial stereotypes, is striking.

Continue reading at NewBlackMan: Sampling Again: Shawn Carter and the Moynihan Report Remix.

Red Clay Scholar: Swagger Jacker: Musings on the White Michael Vick


Swagger Jacker: Musings on the White Michael Vick

I can’t lie. The first thing I did when I saw a whiteface Michael Vick was laugh.

It is a (very) off color (pun intended) attempt to open up conversations about race and sports. C’mon, America. We wanna talk about race? Of course not! That’s so 2008.


I’ve tackled the idea of whiteface in a previous post that contextualized it as a 20th century African American rebuttal to the minstrelsy tradition situated in 19th century white supremacist discourse. But ESPN: the Magazine (and much of writer Toure’s article that it supposedly complemented) got us messed up. Aside from the pathological and straight up dumbfounding ways that both Toure and the picture essentialize black masculinity there was some serious swagger jacking involved. ESPN: the Magazine ain’t the first one to use whiteface. George Schuyler would be pissed.

For the literary aloof, George Schuyler was a master satirist and conservative kicking folks’ racial politics in the throat during the Harlem Renaissance or lack thereof. Schuyler is perhaps most recognized for his essay “The Negro Art Hokum” which dismisses the idea of black American art as essentialist and nonexistent. But it is Schuyler’s satiric novel Black No More, released in 1931, that situates him as a predecessor of progressive racial thought, weaving a delightfully absurd narrative that promotes a similarly absurd solution to America’s race problem. Make everyone white.

Continue reading at Red Clay Scholar: Swagger Jacker: Musings on the White Michael Vick.

Honorée Fanonne Jeffers: What if Touré were White?

What if Touré were White?

Honorée Fanonne Jeffers

Touré on the ESPN website, entitled “What if Michael Vick were white?”  Above the actual article was adisturbing sight: Michael Vick in “white face” with light hair and light eyes. (This article also appears in the latest ESPN magazine.)

I know next to nothing about sports, and I don’t find sports interesting, either, so I almost didn’t read the article.  (To read an analysis of Touré’s piece by someone who does know about sports, check out this brilliant post by David J. Leonard.) I knew that I would encounter certain “insider” terms about sports in a, well, sports magazine.  I only read on because of the provocative title. But luckily, I need to know absolutely nothing about sports to understand Touré’s inflammatory and downright rude article, because it wasn’t about sports. It was about the pseudo-science of analyzing “race.”

Only in this article, Touré wasn’t analyzing the constructed concept of “race;” instead, he was making sweeping generalizations about Black culture, and reinforcing coded cultural and class stereotypes. Throughout my reading this article on Michael Vick, instead of asking myself the question I was su       pposed to—what if Vick were white—I found myself asking instead, what if Touré were white?

Now, before I go any further, let me say that I’m no fan of Michael Vick. I think what he did to those poor animals was horrible. And I’m also past tired of Black (and some White) folks trying to give Michael Vick a bleeding heart pass for inhumane treatment to God’s creatures and whining about he caught a bad break because he was African American. I don’t care what race he was; I think he should have done way more time than he already did.

Yes, I said it. Snatch my Black card, and I don’t care. I can always get me another one down at the Target.

But let me say that the sort of strange racial rhetoric on the other side of this debate, about the “nature” of Black men and Black culture is infuriating as well. And seriously tacky. In Touré’s defense, this rhetoric was going on long before he waded into this fray with his singular, accented moniker and “throwback jam” Enlightenment philosophy.

However, Touré’s article takes this rhetoric to the next, unsavory, near-skull measuring level. Again, this article is not about sports, though Touré begins with bloviated, quasi-lyrical language, using such terms like “in the pocket” and  (I guess) establishing his Black bonafides with the use of the Black vernacular, as when he writes:  “I’m not saying that a black QB who stands in the pocket ain’t playing black. [Emphasis mine.]

Okay, stop.

What the heck does “playing black” mean? I’m not even a sports fan and I know that’s not one of those complicated technical terms. And if a White writer said some sort of essentialist crap like somebody “plays black” that we’d be all over him. Why doesn’t Touré just start talking about antebellum slave breeding practices that produced better athletes while he’s at it? Like we haven’t already heard that one before.

Then, Touré goes on to imply that is Michael Vick were white and middle-class, he wouldn’t have been dogfighting in the first place.

Continue reading at What if Touré were white

What Happened to Post-Blackness? Touré, Michael Vick and the Politics of Cultural Racism

What Happened to Post-Blackness?

Touré, Michael Vick and the Politics of Cultural Racism

by David J. Leonard | NewBlackMan

In the current issue of ESPN: The Magazine, Touré, author of the forthcoming Who’s Afraid of Post-Blackness?: What It Means to Be Black Now, jumps into the discourse about race, Michael Vick, and his larger significance as we enter the 2011 football season.   In “What if Michael Vick were white?”, which includes the requisite and troubling picture of Vick “in whiteface” (“Touré says that picture is both inappropriate and undermines his entire premise”), Touré explores how different Vick’s life on and off the field might have been if he wasn’t black.

While acknowledging the advantages of whiteness and the privileges that are generated because of the structures of American racism, Touré decides to focus on how a hypothetical racial transformation would change Vick’s life in other ways. “The problem with the ‘switch the subject’s race to determine if it’s racism’ test runs much deeper than that. It fails to take into account that switching someone’s race changes his entire existence.,” notes Touré. Among others things, he asks “Would a white kid have been introduced to dogfighting at a young age and have it become normalized?”  The answer that Touré seems to come up with is no, seemingly arguing that his participation in dog fighting results from his upbringing “in the projects of Newport News, VA” without a father (he also argues that his ability to bankroll a dogfighting enterprise came about because of his class status that resulted from his NFL career, an opportunity that came about because he like “many young black men see sports as the only way out”).

Here, Touré plays into the dominant discourse that links blackness, a culture poverty and presumably hip-hop culture to dogfighting, thereby erasing the larger history of dogfighting.   According to Evans, Gauthier and Forsyth (1998) in “Dogfighting: Symbolic expression and validation of masculinity,” dogfighting “represents a symbolic attempts at attaining and maintaining honor and status, which in the (predominantly white, male, working-class) dogfighting subculture, are equated with masculine identity.”  Although the popularity of dogfighting has increased within urban communities, particularly amongst young African Americans, over the last fifteen years it remains a sport tied to and emanating from rural white America.

It should not be surprising that six (South Dakota; Wyoming; West Virginia; Nevada; Texas; and Montana) of the seven states with the lowest rankings from the Humane Society are states with sizable white communities (New York is the other state).  Given that dogfighting is entrenched and normalized within a myriad of communities, particularly white working-class communities within rural America, it is both factually questionable and troubling to link dogfighting to the black community.

Touré moves on from his argument about a culture of poverty in an effort blame Vick’s family structure for his involvement in dog fighting  “Here’s another question: If Vick grew up with the paternal support that white kids are more likely to have (72 percent of black children are born to unwed mothers compared with 29 percent of white children), would he have been involved in dogfighting?”  Having already taken this argument apart in regards to Colin Cowherd’s recycling of the Moynihan Report, let me recycle some of my own words:

The idea that 71% of black children grow up without fathers is at one level the result of a misunderstanding of facts and at another level the mere erasure of facts.  It would seem that Mr. Cowherd is invoking the often-cited statistics that 72% of African American children were born to unwed mothers, which is significantly higher than the national average of 40 %.  Yet, this statistic is misleading and misused as part of a historically defined white racial project.   First and foremost, child born into an unmarried family is not the same is growing up without a father.  In fact, only half of African American children live in single-family homes.  Yet, this again, only tells part of the story.   The selective invoking of these statistics, while emblematic of the hegemony of heterosexist patriarchy, says very little about whether or not a child grows up with two parents involved in their lives.  According to the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study, a sizable portion of those children born to single mothers are born into families that can be defined as “marriage like.”  32% of unmarried parents are engaged in ‘visiting unions” (in a romantic relationship although living apart), with 50% of parents living together without being married.  In other words, the 72% says little about the presence of black fathers (or mothers for that matter).  Likewise, this number says very little about the levels of involvement of fathers (and mothers), but rather how because of the media, popular culture and political discourses, black fatherhood is constructed “as an oxymoron” all while black motherhood is defined as “inadequate” and “insufficient.” 

In other words, as illustrated Roberta L. Coles and Charles Green, The Myth of the Missing Black Father, “non-residence” is not the same as being absentee; it says nothing about involvement and the quality of parenting.  As such, the efforts to links the myths and stereotypes about black families to explain or speculate about Michael Vick’s past involvement (what is the statue of limitations of writing on this subject?) with dogfighting does little beyond reinforcing scapegoats and criminalizing discourses.

The argument here that race matters in Michael Vick’s life feels like a cover for rehashing old and tired theories about single mothers, culture of poverty, and hip-hop/urbanness as the root of many problems.  Of course race matters for not only Michael Vick but also everyone else residing in America.  This is America, arguments about post-racialness notwithstanding.

Race mattered during the coverage of dogfighting and continues to matter for Vick in this very moment.   It also matters given history.  As Melissa Harris-Perry notes, race matters in relationship to Michael Vick (and the support he has received from the African American community) in part because of the larger history of white supremacist use of dogs against African Americans.

I sensed that same outrage in the responses of many black people who heard Tucker Carlson call for Vick’s execution as punishment for his crimes. It was a contrast made more raw by the recent decision to give relatively light sentences to the men responsible for the death of Oscar Grant. Despite agreeing that Vick’s acts were horrendous, somehow the Carlson’s moral outrage seemed misplaced. It also seemed profoundly racialized. For example, Carlson did not call for the execution of BP executives despite their culpability in the devastation of Gulf wildlife. He did not denounce the Supreme Court for their decision in US v. Stevens (April 2010) which overturned a portion of the 1999 Act Punishing Depictions of Animal Cruelty. After all with this “crush” decision the Court seems to have validated a marketplace for exactly the kinds of crimes Vick was convicted of committing. For many observers, the decision to demonize Vick seems motivated by something more pernicious than concern for animal welfare. It seems to be about race.

Just as when Tucker Carlson said Vick should have been executed, or when commentators refer to him as thug, race matters; it matters in the demonization he experienced over the last 4 years.  It is evident in the debates that took place following his release from prison, especially given the lifetime punishment experienced by many African Americans (see Michelle Alexander) or the very different paths toward forgiveness available to Vick (and countless other black athletes) compared to their white counterparts.

Race and racism have impacted his life in a myriad of ways.  The continue significance of race matters in the ways in which this article plays upon and perpetuates cultural arguments that seemingly erase race, replacing it with flattened discussions of culture. The power of white privilege and the impacts of racism, segregation, and inequality are well documented, leaving me to wonder if the point of Touré’s piece is not that race matters but rather that culture matters.  And this is where we agree because culture is important here; a CULTURE of white supremacy does matter when thinking about Michael Vick or anything else for that matter.


Special thanks to Guthrie Ramsey, James Peterson, and Oliver Wang who all, in different ways, encouraged me to write a response.