The Masculinity Scorecard

The Masculinity Scorecard

March 11, 2013


Feminist Wire


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

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

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

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

Sexual experience


Muscles and attractive physique




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not Worthy of National Attention: The NOLA Mother’s Day Mass Shootings by David J. Leonard | NewBlackMan (in Exile)


Not Worthy of National Attention: The NOLA Mother’s Day Mass Shootings by David J. Leonard | NewBlackMan (in Exile)

Not Worthy of National Attention: The NOLA Mother’s Day Mass Shootings

by David J. Leonard | NewBlackMan (in Exile)

Amid the celebration of moms across the nation (amid the passage of policies that directly and indirectly hurt so many moms), America was once again reminded that all moms and all people are not celebrated equally; all lives are not worthy of similar mourning and attention. In New Orleans, 19 people, including 2 children, were shot at a Mother’s Day Celebration.

Hamilton Nolan reflected on the narrative that has already emerged (can you imagine how many stories about mothers celebrating with their children would have been on the air had this occurred in West Los Angeles or Manhattan, NY), offering a powerful comparison to the Boston marathon bombing:

A couple of disaffected young men in search of meaning drift into radical Islam and become violent. A couple of disaffected young men in search of meaning drift into street crime and become violent. A crowd of innocent people attending the Boston marathon are maimed by flying shrapnel from homemade bombs. A crowd of innocent people attending a Mother’s Day celebration in New Orleans are maimed by flying bullets. Two public events. Two terrible tragedies. One act of violence becomes a huge news story, transfixing the media’s attention for months and drawing outraged proclamations from politicians and pundits. Another act of violence is dismissed as the normal way of the world and quickly forgotten.

The juxtaposition of Boston and New Orleans is striking given the extent of death, given the violence that occurred within ritualized spaces, and given how each is a communal gathering space. Of course one doesn’t have to travel down South to New Orleans or West to Chicago to see the hypocrisy in the separate and unequal narratives. The lack of national attention afforded to violence in Roxbury, Mass; the lack of interventions in the form of jobs, reform to the criminal justice system, investment in education, and economic development is a testament to the very different ways violence registers in the national imagination. Roxbury doesn’t enliven narratives of humanity but instead those dehumanizing representations.

Yet, don’t we need to extend the comparison to Newtown, Aurora, and Milwaukee? Remixing the above: A couple of disaffected young men in search of meaning drift into spree shootings and become violent. Flying bullets wound crowds of innocent people attending a movie, going to school, or praying at their local temple. How is the reaction to Newtown and New Orleans, to Boston and Milwaukie, and to Aurora and Chicago an indicator of who we expect to commit violence, where we expect to be safe, who we see as a victim, and where we see violence as normalized and where it is exceptional?

One comment in the thread made the link between Boston, Newtown (Aurora), and New Orleans in a profound way:

The difference is, of course, that the media and the public focus on Things That Could Happen to Middle Class White People. Bombs placed at a marathon or a plane hitting a building or a gunman mowing down people in Newtown, Connecticut or Aurora, Colorado are things that happened to middle class white people and show the other white people that it could happen to them. Crime is somehow not supposed to happen to middle class white people; it’s supposed to happen to black people.

Whereas violence is supposed to happen in Chicago, Detroit, and New Orleans, because of “culture of poverty,” because of single parents, because of dystopia and nihilism, because of warped values, gangs, and purported pathologies, the Boston Marathon, an Aurora movie theater, or a Newtown school are re-imagined as safe. These are places and spaces immune from those issues.

The normalization of violence in inner cities is why the suburbs exist; it is why police work to keep violence from entering into those suburban safety zones; it is why police guard the borders, making sure the wrong people don’t cross into the idyllic homeland of the American Dream. It is why white middle-class America avoids “those” communities or activities presumed to be dangerous (or go during the right time with the right people); it is why the white middle-class America reacts when those spaces that are presumed to be safe are simply not.

The movie theater, the school, and the marathon are symbols of Americana and therefore desirable, pure, and the embodiment of goodness. As such, the violence that happens in these “otherwise safe” enterprises and places occurs because of the entry of “dangerous” and threatening people. Outsiders enter into otherwise safe and idealized spaces.

Continue reading at Not Worthy of National Attention: The NOLA Mother’s Day Mass Shootings by David J. Leonard | NewBlackMan (in Exile).

The Unbearable Invisibility of White Masculinity: Innocence In the Age of White Male Mass Shootings

The Unbearable Invisibility of White Masculinity: Innocence In the Age of White Male Mass Shootings

I have been profiled my entire life as innocent. When disruptive in class, I was told that I was eccentric, that I needed to work on my focus. Growing up, I looked for fights and conflicts yet I never fit the profile of a juvenile delinquent. The chip on my shoulder never signified a thug; I was just a kid with a bad temper who needed to mature and grow out of it.

When I was pulled over in Emeryville, CA for speeding for several miles and asked multiple times by the police officer if there was a reason for my speeding, I told him the truth. “Officer, my ice cream is melting.”

No stop and frisk. No pretext stop. No humiliating search. No fear of how to hold my hands. No ticket. I, like Adam Lanza and James Holmes, the two most notorious mass shooters of the past year, am white male privilege personified. We are humanized and given voice and innocence over and over again.


The most recent shooting in Newtown highlights whiteness and the ways it has been rendered invisible after every mass shooting. Described as a “nerd,” who “still wears a pocket protector,” Adam Lanza has been reimagined as a character straight out of The Revenge of the Nerds series and not a cold-blood killer. He carried a brief case, not a gun; he read The Catcher in the Rye and Of Mice and Men, not Guns and Ammo; he wore button down polos, not fatigues. His life was not extraordinary but was that of an average kid. From the reading list to the sartorial choices we have been sold a Normal Rockwell painting. The Associated Press painted a picture of Adam that imaged him as a character ripped out of a Brady Bunch script: “He was an honors student who lived in a prosperous neighborhood with his mother, a well-liked woman who enjoyed hosting dice games and decorating the house for the holidays.”

While identified as “reclusive,” and “shy,” as “quiet and reserved,” as “weird” and a “loner” outcast, Lanza has been consistently described as an average kid who had problems and difficulties. At worst, he was odd and painfully shy. “He didn’t have any friends, but he was a nice kid if you got to know him,” said Kyle Kromberg. “He didn’t fit in with the other kids. He was very, very shy.” Yet, the constant quest to figure out what caused him to snap, to speculate about the effects of his parents’ divorce or medications, all refashions Lanza as a good kid, a victim of sorts. He just snapped so there must have been a reason. Yes, he was strange, but do good (white, suburban, upper-middle class) kids shoot up an elementary school? Thus, reports the New York Post: “Bloodthirsty child killer Adam Lanza might have snapped, and carried out his unspeakable atrocities after learning that his mom wanted him thrown in the loony bin, according to published reports today.”

Is James Holmes a Nerd?

Here’s something that almost all the mass killers of the last fifteen years or so have in common: they’ve been called “nerds.”… Read…

The narrative following Adam Lanza and Newtown might as well recycled the media coverage surrounding James Holmes and the Aurora, Colorado shooting. Described as “smart” and quiet, as “nice,” and “easy-going,” the narrative sought to not only humanize James Holmes, but also imagine him as good at his core. It worked to tell a story of a normal kid, whose life turned toward evil for some yet-to-be-explained reason.

Sympathetic and identifiable, Holmes was depicted as Beaver Cleaver for most of his life. Anthony Mai, a longtime family friend, told the Los Angeles Times: “I saw him as a normal guy, an everyday guy, doing everyday things.” Like many others in the community, he is “very shy, well-mannered young man who was heavily involved in their local Presbyterian church.” The AP similarly depicted Holmes as a cross between Norman Rockwell, Jason, and Opie. Mind you the extent of its evidence comes from someone who had a beer with him at a local bar. “We just talked about football. He had a backpack and geeky glasses and seemed like a real intelligent guy and I figured he was one of the college students.” Can you imagine having your identity reduced to a single meeting at a bar? Sure, he was quirky, and a bit of a “loner” but he was a “reserved” and “respectful” “kid.”

Because these are told as stories of individuals with specific reasons for killing others, there is no reason to talk about race, class, or gender; there is no reason to talk about society, nor is there any reason to think that Aurora, Newtown, or Columbine are becoming Chicago or Detroit.

Continue reading at The Unbearable Invisibility of White Masculinity: Innocence In the Age of White Male Mass Shootings.

Preventing the Rise of Pothead U. – The Conversation – The Chronicle of Higher Education

Preventing the Rise of Pothead U.

January 2, 2013, 3:29 pm

By David J. Leonard


With the election season thankfully in our rear-view mirror, we can take stock of what the marijuana legalization initiatives (in both Washington and Colorado) mean. It should come as no surprise that college students have been rallying to end the prohibition of marijuana. I, for one, have often seen students pushing their decriminalization agenda on campus. What always struck me as I walked past these primarily white, middle-class crusaders is that marijuana is already effectively decriminalized on college campuses, as well as in suburbs and middle-class communities.

Decriminalization is a daily reality and has always been the applied law of the land in these environments. Sure, colleges and universities may claim to comply with federal drug laws, which, theoretically, should prevent the rise of Pothead U. Still, I can’t imagine the DEA swooping down anytime soon. A student conduct hearing and threat of drug education is not criminal enforcement.

Take a look at the numbers. Studies typically show that close to 50 percent of college students have used marijuana during the course of their young lives. According to a 2007 study, the number of students using marijuana daily more than doubled between 1993 and 2005. Furthermore, research has consistently shown that white students (and Latino students) use illegal drugs more frequently than African-American or Asian college students. Those trends also reflect drug-use patterns among young people not enrolled in college. It is not surprising that most of agitation for legalization of marijuana has been overwhelmingly white.

Of course, even the federal decriminalization of marijuana won’t eradicate all of the criminal misconduct among today’s college students. In recent years, drug use has also worsened with the proliferation of “performance-enhancing drugs” like Adderall. During the early part of the 21st century, sales increased by 3,100 percent; in recent surveys, anywhere from 5 percent to 35 percent of students admitted to popping these “study drugs.” Despite the fact that it violates federal drug laws, students regularly secure Adderall with little fear of punishment.

Continue reading at Preventing the Rise of Pothead U. – The Conversation – The Chronicle of Higher Education.

“America Has Never Been America”: Whiteness, Nostalgia and HBO’s The Newsroom

“America Has Never Been America”: 
Whiteness, Nostalgia and HBO’s The Newsroom
by David J. Leonard | NewBlackMan (in Exile)
There is a speech making its rounds in the blogosphere and on social media that seems to galvanizing (parts of liberal) America.  Unfortunately, it isn’t Malcolm’s “Ballot or the Bullet,” Fannie Lou Hamer’s brilliance at the 1968 Democratic Convention, King’s “Beyond Vietnam” or Fred Hampton’s inspiring language, but rather Jeff Daniels’ monologue at the beginning of HBO’s Newsroom.  Capturing Aaron Sorkin’s propensity for sappy dialogue that is drunk on optimism, this speech also reflects his propensity to see the world through binaries, often erasing the complexities, divisions, and inequalities that define culture, politics, and society.  It also embodies a disturbing level of nostalgia that seems commonplace within televisual culture.  From Mad Men (more discussion here) to Pan-AM, contemporary TV (and film – The Help) is rooted in nostalgia for the past, one that fails to account for the less than idyllic world for people of color, women, the GLBT community, and others whose dreams remain deferred.
In responding to a young woman’s question about America’s greatness (American Exceptionalism), Will (Daniels) launched into a lengthy monologue:
Will: It’s not the greatest country in the world, professor, 
that’s my answer.
Moderator [pause]: You’re saying—
Will: Yes.
Moderator: Let’s talk about—
Will: Fine. [to the liberal panelist] Sharon, the NEA is a loser. Yeah, it accounts for a penny out of our paychecks, but he [gesturing to the conservative panelist] gets to hit you with it anytime he wants. It doesn’t cost money, it costs votes. It costs airtime and column inches. You know why people don’t like liberals? Because they lose. If liberals are so fuckin’ smart, how come they lose so GODDAM ALWAYS!
And [to the conservative panelist] with a straight face, you’re going to tell students that America’s so starspangled awesome that we’re the only ones in the world who have freedom? Canada has freedom, Japan has freedom, the UK, France, Italy, Germany, Spain, Australia, Belgium has freedom. Two hundred seven sovereign states in the world, like 180 of them have freedom.
And you—sorority girl—yeah—just in case you accidentally wander into a voting booth one day, there are some things you should know, and one of them is that there is absolutely no evidence to support the statement that we’re the greatest country in the world. We’re seventh in literacy, twenty-seventh in math, twenty-second in science, forty-ninth in life expectancy, 178th in infant mortality, third in median household income, number four in labor force, and number four in exports. We lead the world in only three categories: number of incarcerated citizens per capita, number of adults who believe angels are real, and defense spending, where we spend more than the next twenty-six countries combined, twenty-five of whom are allies. None of this is the fault of a 20-year-old college student, but you, nonetheless, are without a doubt, a member of the WORST-period-GENERATION-period-EVER-period, so when you ask what makes us the greatest country in the world, I don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about?! Yosemite?!!!
As I initially watched this Olberman-esque sermon, I was intrigued, although I didn’t find the information or the argument particularly powerful – it was unusual for mainstream TV.  It also did speak to how whiteness operates, whereupon Will or Sorkin can challenge American Exceptionalism without their patriotism or citizenship being questioned; yet people of color cannot offer these same arguments without denunciation and demonization. My interest quickly turned from frustration to annoyance to disgust to outrage as he continued with his myopic and white-colored lecture:
We sure used to be. We stood up for what was right! We fought for moral reasons, we passed and struck down laws for moral reasons. We waged wars on poverty, not poor people. We sacrificed, we cared about our neighbors, we put our money where our mouths were, and we never beat our chest. We built great big things, made ungodly technological advances, explored the universe, cured diseases, and cultivated the world’s greatest artists and the world’s greatest economy. We reached for the stars, and we acted like men. We aspired to intelligence; we didn’t belittle it; it didn’t make us feel inferior. We didn’t identify ourselves by who we voted for in the last election, and we didn’t scare so easy. And we were able to be all these things and do all these things because we were informed. By great men, men who were revered. The first step in solving any problem is recognizing there is one—America is not the greatest country in the world anymore.
In a blink of an eye, Sorkin transports viewers from the problems of today to a time worthy of celebration and memory.  In erasing the violence, inequality, segregation, dehumanization, and denied rights, the monologue nostalgically imagines an exceptional time in American history.  It offers evidence of and potential for the American Dream; it sees the past as time for meritocracy.  America’s greatness rests with the hard work and perseverance of previous generation.  It exists with a time when anyone could live out his or her dream. At the same time, the show imagined a time where people struggled and triumphed, overcoming obstacles through personal responsibility, hard work, and community.
What a crock; clearly we need to crack open a history book in Hollywood. Ernest Hardy offered his assessment of the clip in a Facebook post:
Ugh. I really, really, really hate this ahistorical bullshit paean to an America that never existed. Every time I watch this clip, I think of Black GI’s who were denied the same loans as their white brothers-in-arms when they returned from WWII; of the Black men used as lab rats in Tuskegee to help America reach those dizzying heights of medical breakthroughs; of the Black women who endured all sorts of emotional/sexual/psychological horrors that ‘The Help’ would never have the balls to really detail; I see Medgar Evers’ assassinated in his driveway in a warm-up to the murders of Dr. King and Malcolm X. Fuck this angry white dude rewrite and whitewash of history.
His comments and the scene itself made me think of a spoken word piece I wrote a few years ago regarding “the greatest generation” and this commonplace racial amnesia:
The greatest generation
You mean the Jim Crow generation
White only signs, lynchings, and the Klan
You mean the Scottsboro generation
One of many incarcerated from the generations of blacks in American
You mean the sharecropper generation
Debt servitude, enslavement, and no protections
You mean the Tom, Coon and mammy generation
Hollywood representations: Amos, Andy, and Mammy
You mean the Emmett Till generation
Murder a boy for whistling, like so many others
You mean the Japanese internment generation
“No Japs allowed,” excepted in Hawaii and in the military
You mean the atom-bomb generation
Killin 1000s, but none It Italy or Germany
You mean the segregated military generation
German prisoners first, freedom and democracy not for you
You mean the St. Louis generation
A war to save the Jews, just not those on the St. Louis or 1000s others
You mean the McCarthyism generation
Red scares, loyalty oaths, and the absence of dissent
You mean the Zoot Suit Riot generation
Soldiers attacking all who are Mexican
You mean the Bracero program generation
Give us your tired, your exploitable, your cheap
You mean the operation wetback generation
Don’t give your brown, black and yellow
You mean the bordering school generation
‘Speak English,” not the savage tongue of your inferior generations
You mean the white affirmative action generation
GI Bills, suburban homes and white American Dreams
Dreams made for a white generation
You mean the restrictive covenant generation
“Whites only,” America’s ghettos become black and brown
The greatest generation
The greatest generation
1960s youth who stood face to face with Exceptional violence
Who stood toe to toe with police dogs, fire hoses, and COINTELPRO
The greatest generation
Malcolm, Martin, Cesar, Shirley, Cha Cha, Fred
The greatest generation
Fredrick Douglas, David Walker, Sojourner Truth
The greatest generation
Ida B. Wells, Clarence Darrow and Zapata
The greatest generation
Curt Flood, Tommie Smith and Muhammad Ali
The greatest generation
Amzie Moore, Ella Baker, Fannie Lou Hammer
The greatest generation
BPP, Young Lords, TWLF, AIM
The greatest generation
Alcatraz, blowouts, Palante Siempre Palante
The greatest generation
“Serve the people,” “power to the people”
The greatest generation
Hip Hop
The greatest generation
Anti Apartheid
The greatest generation
Carlos Delgado, Etan Thomas, Craig Hodges and Mahmoud Abdul Rauf
The greatest generation
Books not prisons, Books not Bombs
The greatest generation
Walkouts and blowouts,
The greatest generation
Down with 187, 209, 227
The greatest generation?
In other words, despite the nostalgia and the historic amnesia of Newsroom, one that reflects its social location and the refusal to interrogate privilege, America’s exceptionalism isn’t a waning reality in that as noted by Langston Hughes “America has never been America” for countless generations.

NewBlackMan (in Exile): Olympic Inequalities

Olympic Inequalities

by David J. Leonard | HuffPost Sports

In a recent blog post on The Huffington Post, Kelli Goff dared to ask the unthinkable: “Why Are Some Olympic Sports Whiter Than Others?” Noting the obvious and seeking to understand the absence of people of color from many Olympic sports, Goff attempts to answer why Gabby Douglas, Lia Neal, Jordan Burroughs, Ibtihaj Muhammad, Justin Lester, John Orozco, and Cullen Jones are unusual in the white world of sports. While noting class, environment, differential opportunities (I explore this aspect here), and countless other factors, Goff stays clear of racism:

Before the eye rolling begins, this is not a column about rampant racism in sports. But it is an attempt to understand why some sports end up predominated by one racial group versus others, and the long-term social and cultural implications of such segregation on the field, court, or gymnastics mat.

Despite her attempt to push the conversation away from racism in sports (and beyond), there has been ample resistance from readers. The truth is hard to hear. The reason why America’s Olympic team is overwhelmingly white, the reason why there are so few athletes of color within many Olympics sports, is the persistent impact of racism, segregation, and institutional violence.

Embodying class inequalities, a history of discrimination, and the realities of residential segregation, many Olympic sports are dominated by whites because the spaces, the neighborhoods, the schools and the very institutions that produce those recreational and elite athletes are racially segregated. Whether swimming, diving, or gymnastics, the pipeline to the Olympics is one where youth of color find difficult entry, if not outright exclusion.

We see the consequences of inequality and segregation as it relates to our high school sports, our recreation, leisure, and play. Research has shown that people of color and particularly lower-income communities have fewer opportunities for physical activity. For example, several studies published within the American Journal of Preventive Medicine (AJPM) found “that unsafe neighborhoods, poor design and a lack of open spaces and well constructed parks make it difficult for children and families in low-income and minority communities to be physically active.”

Likewise, citing the study from Trust for America’s Health (TFAH) and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) entitled “F as in Fat: How Obesity Threatens America’s Future 2010” Angela Glover Blackwell focuses on the structural impediments to a healthy lifestyle that includes exercise. “As the report illustrates, where we live, learn, work and play has absolutely everything to do with how we live. Low-income families of color are too often disconnected from the very amenities conducive to leading healthier lives, such as clean air, safe parks, grocery stores with fresh fruits and vegetables, and affordable, reliable transportation options that offer access to those parks and supermarkets.” Communities of color, and America’s poor, are disconnected from the very facilities and resources necessary to become a great champion. Access to pools, coaches, gyms, and healthy foods, remains a dream deferred for communities of color, meaning the dreams of an Olympic birth are all too distant as well.

Continue reading @ NewBlackMan (in Exile): Olympic Inequalities.

An Open Letter to ‘Dear White America’: On Ignorance and White Privilege | Urban Cusp

An Open Letter to ‘Dear White America’:

On Ignorance and White Privilege

David J. Leonard

UC Columnist

I have been meaning to write this letter for a while, but just didn’t know to say it. I know how hard conversations about race can be, and how invariably these conversation lead to claims about the “race card” or it being “just a joke.” But after watching yet another disheartening video of mockery and disrespect, I have to make it plain.

There is no acceptable reason to ever don blackface. It’s not a joke, it ain’t funny, and it’s not some creative license that adds to the value of your artistic endeavors. Blackface has a long tradition that is part and parcel with white supremacy. It is part of a history of humiliation and dehumanization, of denied citizenship, and those efforts to rationalize, excuse, and justify state violence. From lynchings to mass incarceration, white supremacy has utilized dehumanization as part of its moral and legal justification for violence. Spare me your reference to “White Chicks,” the Chappelle Show. Spare me your dismissive arguments about intent and not being racially motivated, Blackface is part of the violent history of white supremacy. If you don’t know, now you know, and if you still don’t know, go here or here.

While we are on the subject, there is no place for racist costumes that dehumanize and demean, that mock and ridicule, that stereotype and otherwise reenact a larger history of racism. We should have listened to students at Ohio University when they reminded us this past year with the We’re a Culture Not a Costume Campaign. Were you not listening or just don’t care? The costumes have to go along with those racist themed parties. You, I am talking about “ghetto parties, “cowboy and Indian parties,” “pimp and ho parties,” “South of Border parties or any number gatherings that see humor in mocking and demeaning others. If dressing up “as janitors, female gangsters and pregnant women” for Cinco de Mayo is in your plans, or a Martin Luther King celebration that includes a “gangsta party,” or Black History Month that’s celebrated with the most disturbing stereotypes, it’s time to reevaluate. Just say no!

Can you also please stop with the so-called impressions of Black people? The racist caricatures, the imitations of Flav Flav are not cool; just stop saying “kicking ballistics, boy.” The sideways hats or saggin pants are not evidence that you know black people. Lets wipe the slate clean of “colored people”, “jungle fever”, “super-awesome afro,” and “my best friends are black.”

As long as we are having this conversation, can we stop with the pathetic, clichéd, and misinformed arguments about how whites are now the discriminated minority? BET is not a sign of black privilege nor is black history. No, you can’t have, nor do you need to have, White Entertainment TV (you have Fox and its network of friends) or white history month (that is every month in case you missed it). Let’s get real, white privilege is real and has material consequences so stop denying and let’s start dealing with the inequality.

While we are talking about Black History Month, let’s get some things straight: (1) Black History Month is February. It isn’t funny; if you didn’t know, now you do know, so stop feigning ignorance. (2) Black history has nothing to do with fried chicken and grape juice, 40s or pancakes. (3) It is not appropriate to celebrate Black History Month with Kool Aid sales or hair care products or collard greens. (3) And if you don’t know more about black history than Martin Luther King (and “I Have a Dream”), and think Malcolm X is the leader of the Black Panther Party, you should first ask for your money back from whatever educational institution you have gone through. Second, spend February, March, and the rest of the year reading about Ella Baker and Ida B. Wells, Amzie Moore and Nathaniel Bacon and so many other people, experiences, creative endeavors.

To imagine blackness through popular culture icons, through celebrities is not only disrespectful to the beauty, rich history, and dynamic diversity of black life, but it is a missed opportunity to learn and grow.

Tim Wise (who recently wrote Dear White America) notes that talking about privilege is like asking a fish about water. Yet, white privilege surrounds us. It is evident in the ease of donning blackface, with the comfort of mocking black people and other communities of color, and with the professed ignorance about black history and culture. It isn’t that we don’t know, it is the pride in not knowing that embodies an attitude of disrespect and devaluing. White privilege is the acceptance of racist jokes and in the perpetuation of false ideas about race.

White privilege doesn’t have to enable blackface, dehumanizing impressions and commercialization of the Other. It can be resistance, refusal to be silent, and an unwillingness to sit idly by amid a culture of disrespect and violence. So, next time you hear a racist joke or think about donning blackface, or have friends who are planning some SMH event, do something! Next time you see discrimination or read about inequalities within our health care system, housing, employment or prisons, just say no! None of it is funny and it ain’t a joke.

Just so you don’t leave all mad shouting he is “calling me a racist.” I ain’t playing that game. This isn’t a “what you are” conversation but better “what you did” conversation. So, if what I am writing about here doesn’t connect with you, because you have never said or supported a racist joke, because you haven’t accepted a stereotype, because you haven’t dressed up or been at a party with racist costumes, I guess I am not writing to you.

Seriously, I am tired of that conversation and am hoping it is time for the “what can we do conversation” and “maybe we should start listening conversation” because the conversations we are having are getting tiresome, but not as much as the daily reminders that we are closer to Newt’s moon colony than to a post-racial America

via An Open Letter to ‘Dear White America’: On Ignorance and White Privilege | Urban Cusp.