NewBlackMan: Silence, Innocence, and Whiteness: The Undemonization of Kevin Love

Silence, Innocence, and Whiteness:

The Undemonization of Kevin Love

by David J. Leonard | NewBlackMan

The Minnesota Timberwolves battled the Houston Rockets this past Saturday. Normally not on my radar, an incident involving Kevin Love and Luis Scola compelled inquiry even as the media remained silent. Purportedly frustrated over a non-call, Love not only fouled Scola, but as the Houston power forward lied on the ground Love proceeded to step on his face as he ran back to the offensive end of the court. “I fell down. He was kind of right there,” Love explained. “I got Size-19 feet. He just happened to be there. I had nowhere to go. I got tripped up. I had nowhere to step. It is just heat of the moment-type play.” The non-explanation aside, Love simultaneously identifies the incident as an accident and justifiable.

If an accident, why does he feel necessary to describe it as an unfortunate situation or to reference what happen between the two of them in game on Monday? “Love also referenced an unfortunate incident in Houston on Monday, when Scola attempted to throw a ball to deflect it off of Love out of bounds but the ball hit Love square in the groin.” Offering an explanation that seemingly justified his accidental behavior, Love was not alone in the exoneration process.

What followed the game, and the several days since there, has been silence – crickets in fact. Despite the fact that one of the league’s emerging stars stepped on an opponent’s face, the media has found little reason to write about the event. References to the event notwithstanding and a series of articles that have asked viewers to weigh in whether it was intentional or not, the overall media discourse has rendered Love’s stomping on an opponent’s face insignificant by its relative silence.

Even after the NBA announced a 2-game suspension for Love, the sports punditocracy has been muted in its criticism of Love, choosing rather to focus on his apology. Several headlines noted that in wake of the suspension, he has apologized yet again, having already apologized to Luis Scola following the game. In headline after headline, Love is constructed as apologetic, even though there is no specific apology provided by any of the news outlets (example #1, example #2). Instead they reference his statement issued on the team’s website:

“We got to talking about it, and as long as Luis and the Rockets are OK, then I’m OK with it,” Love said. “I feel like it was a learning experience, and it won’t happen again. There were no ill-intentions. I was trying to get him on a foul on the way up. I wasn’t trying to stomp him or anything like that. Just moving forward, and hopefully we win these next few games.

His post practice comments are further illustrative of a lack of contrition and a desire to give explanation rather than apology:

I don’t want to be known for that. I want to be known as a stand-up guy who happened to make a mistake with a size 19 shoe and just move on. So everybody knows there were no ill intentions there. It’s been a chippy year. It’s not only us. It’s not only the Pacers, the Rockets or anything like that. It’s a lot of games. The guys are tired. Games are being drawn out and guys are worn down.

Denying any “ill-intentions,” while describing it as a learning experience, doesn’t constitute an apology. The lack of criticism, the efforts to explain Love’s actions as resulting from his emotions, out-of-the-ordinary behavior, and otherwise not indicative of Love’s character reflect an overall effort to downplay the importance of his stomping on an opponent’s face.

Compare this response to the recent media criticism directed at Andrew Bynum. Following Game 4 of the 2011 NBA playoffs, which saw Bynum knock JJ Berea to the floor with a very hard foul, he was lambasted in the media. Called a thug, as player who was ejected for “dirty hits,” and as a player who exhibited, “stupidity, cowardice and unprofessionalism”;

Continue reading @ NewBlackMan: Silence, Innocence, and Whiteness: The Undemonization of Kevin Love.

Paterno, White Patriarchy and Privilege – Entertainment & Culture – EBONY

Paterno, White Patriarchy and Privilege

OPINION: The hero’s farewell given to the disgraced coach speaks volumes

By David Leonard Writer

When the news broke that Penn State’s football coach, Joe Paterno had died of lung cancer, one might have thought there had been some sort of great national tragedy based on the media coverage. The spectacle that began with this “breaking news” did not end with the initial reports, but has continued with ample columns, discussions, tributes, and memorials to a football coach. Described as an “icon” a “revered coach,” “a leader,” and “a legend,” Paterno has been further lionized the short time after his death. Ivan Maisel, in his tribute to Paterno, captures the hyperbolic tone of the post-death commentaries

The 409 victories, while record setting, are not the full measure of the man. The young men he left behind, the campus to which he devoted his life, a campus whose leaders shoved him aside in the panicky, feverish days after the scandal broke, also give testimony to the life of Joseph Vincent Paterno. The whole of his life renders the seismology of modern-day journalism moot. The facts of a 62-year coaching career were shaken. They did not topple over.

Eulogies citing his success on the field, his millions of dollars in donations, his “fatherly” relationship with his players, and his importance in the community, have sought to elevate Joe Paterno as saint. Despite everything that has happened, the sports punditry has sought to resuscitate a “the image of Joe Paterno,” one which Bomani Jones noted “is null and void.”

This is not to say that media coverage has erased his connection, involvement, and culpability for the alleged child molestation committed by assistant coach Jerry Sandusky (see here for discussion). The tragedy in his death rests with the cloud of uncertainty, contempt, and unease about Paterno’s legacy. The ubiquity of the memorials reflected a societal unease that “he was, like so many of the characters in the books he told us to read, unable to have a perfect ending.” The references to the scandal become the pretext for the celebration because without it, there would be no reasons for the story of redemption and hero worship to the extent we are seeing. His connection to the sex abuse scandal has thus been pushed aside, serving as little more than a footnote to justify the societal mourning of a great football coach. “I really do believe that the drama of his last two months has fueled the media barrage. There is a high-octane effort aimed at defining his legacy as positive. That takes a lot of sweat equity given the recent scandals,” noted Dave Zirin in a message to me.

In many regards, the discussion around his death is framed around the last few months, his firing, the scandal itself, and his involvement. This is why there is so much celebration and this is why it is breaking news. It is difficult to imagine the extent and scope of the commentaries and celebrations had the last two months not occurred; I would be hard pressed to come up with an athlete or sports figure (celebrity) whose death has provoked so much memorializing as we have seen with Joe Paterno.

The efforts to memorialize and the hyper celebration also reflect the power of White masculinity and nostalgia within the cultural landscape. Described as a “model of law-abiding sportsmanship,” “a disarming mix of a lofty diploma and Brooklyn-bred blue-collar grit,” and as someone committed to education and honor, Joe Paterno’s importance exists apart from titles, victories, or football within the national conversation. As noted by Rick Reilly, Paterno “was a humble, funny and giving man who was unlike any other coach I ever met in college football. He rolled up his pants to save on dry cleaning bills. He lived in the same simple ranch house for the last 45 years. Same glasses, same wife, same job, for most of his adult life.”

The celebration of Paterno as patriarch, as the embodiment of a White working-class ethic, as a coach of a different era, sits at the core of the demoralization of Paterno. The national mourning in this regard reflects both a desire to redeem him in the face of the sex abuse scandal and to celebrate nostalgia for a different era of college sports and a heroized White working-class masculinity.

Continue reading @ Paterno, White Patriarchy and Privilege – Entertainment & Culture – EBONY.

Not Another T**** Column: Waking Up from the National Nightmare | The Starting Five

Not Another T**** Column: Waking Up from the National Nightmare

David J. Leonard

I am resisting the temptation to write a column about you know who. As with Charles Barkley, I am sick of hearing about him; I am sick of the celebration and the double standards; I am tired of “the national nightmare” and am ready to wake up to talk about something else within the sports world.

As both men are playing this weekend, I thought I would wish the best of luck to Joe Flacco and Alex Smith. Yes, Flacco was recently described as “mediocre” on Around the Horn and described as one of the “worst quarterbacks on a good team” by The Bleacher Report. Sure Alex Smith is routinely ridiculed, called a bust, and otherwise doubted. What’s not to like about Flacco and Smith

In 2011, Flacco saw a slight dip in his numbers, with a quarterback rating of 80.9 and a completion percentage of almost 58%. Statistically, Smith finished with a higher quarterback rating of 90.7, having completed 61% of his passes. Most importantly, Flacco led his team to a 12-4 record, with Smith taking the 49ers into the playoffs with an impressive 13-3. Of course, you can focus on their struggles and their uneven performances, but “they just win”; all they do is win.” Isn’t that the only thing that matters? I think I heard that sometime before.

As we are in the midst of the NFL playoffs, it is important to remember those great performances. Remember Timmy Smith who ran for 204 yards, leading the Redskins to victory in Super Bowl XXII. So what if he last one more year in the league, and that some call him the one-hit wonder of the NFL, does a great playoff game make a career? I mean Larry Brown and David Tyree also had amazing performances during Super Bowl victories and didn’t they get elevated to national heroes, on the cover of every sports magazine, and the key endorsement for those running for president?

I also want to pay homage to those quarterbacks, who despite having OK or not so good careers were given little opportunity to even be a backup in the NFL. Remember Akili Smith, Dennis Dixon (third string in Pittsburgh), and JaMarcus Russell. Where are they now? You would think a team like the Colts or the Broncos could have used one of them as a backup.

With the King holiday on Monday, I have found myself thinking about politics off-the-field and the history of resistance in sports.

Toni Smith, a graduate of Manhatanville College, used her platform as a collegiate basketball player, to protest the injustices and inequalities of society. Prior to each game, as the National Anthem played, she turned away from the flag, bowing her head toward the floor. She described her motivation as follows: “For some time now, the inequalities that are embedded into the American system have bothered me. As they are becoming progressively worse and it is clear that the government’s priorities are not on bettering the quality of life for all of its people, but rather on expanding its own power, I cannot, in good conscience, salute the flag.” Not surprisingly, her courage and her desire to express her political views were met with condemnation. Told “to leave our country, called “disgraceful,” and other demonized, Smith remains a powerful example of a person who challenged the status quo, who refused to cow-tow to the dominant expectations of her as an athlete, as a women of color, and student. She stood tall and said with her actions that progressive politics have a place in sports.

Continue reading @ Not Another T**** Column: Waking Up from the National Nightmare | The Starting Five.

The Tim Tebow Affect or Celebrating Whiteness? | Loop21

The Tim Tebow Effect or Celebrating Whiteness?

By David J. Leonard and James Braxton Peterson

Tim Tebow is ubiquitous. Everywhere we look, Tim Tebow is there. Whether celebrating his “accomplishments,” attributing the Broncos season to his comeback heroics, reflecting on his now famous on-field genuflections, or debating his treatment by media and fans alike, Tim Tebow has captured the national imagination.

In many ways, the national fascination with Tebow reflects the power of whiteness. Historically the quarterback has been a positioned reserved for white men. Seen as a position that requires intelligence, leadership qualities, and proper mechanics, the NFL has historically engaged in, position segregation, and more than a little bit of Jim Crow on the field. That said, Tebow doesn’t follow in this tradition; he plays the position in a gritty running style that has long been associated with blackness.

In Am I Black Enough for You, Todd Boyd identifies a dialectical relationship between racialization and styles of play where whiteness represents a “textbook or formal” style, which operates in opposition to “street or vernacular” styles that are connected to blackness within the collective consciousness. As such, he describes a hegemonic narrative where “white” players adhere to “ . . . a specific set of rules [that] determines one’s ability to play successfully and ‘correctly’” (1997, p. 115). In both styles of play, notions of intelligence, mental toughness, and mental agility are all at work.

Tebow embodies a vernacular or extemporaneous style that has (historically) been associated with blackness and as a result of this association that same style has been devalued. Yet, for Tebow it has been embraced, celebrated as both innovative and as an example of athletic heroism. The celebration of Tebow, like the praise for some receivers, or safeties, comes from the shock and awe of white success in areas that are generally (assumed to be) dominated by black bodies.

Writing about Jordy Nelson, a white receiver with the Green Bay Packers, Ron Demovsky attributes his success to racial stereotypes: “There’s a joke in the receivers meeting room that Nelson benefits by being the only white receiver on the team because perhaps opposing defensive backs don’t take him seriously.” So while Tebow may only complete a few passes per game, the power in his athletic narrative rests with his ability to play quarterback in a style not associated with whiteness; the beauty for many commentators is in the spectacle and in his ability to convert this style of play into victories.

Continue reading @ The Tim Tebow Affect or Celebrating Whiteness? | Loop21.

New post from @NewBlackMan- Campus PD: Criminalizing Higher Education?


Campus PD: Criminalizing Higher Education?
by David J. Leonard | NewBlackMan

In what was obviously a slow night television night, I found myself searching for something to watch.  After perusing up and down the onscreen schedule, I came across Campus PD (I was somewhat familiar with show having read about their filming in Pullman, WA, where I live), a show that “takes viewers along for the ride with officers on duty to capture firsthand all the mayhem and excitement they take on night after night when student fun spirals out of control.” The show is described in the following way:

From policing parties and security issues, to keeping the peace at sports events and arresting possible suspects, ride with the “Campus PD” as they tackle the ongoing challenge of keeping students safe. Depicting university life from the perspective of the law enforcement professionals who police them, this ground-breaking new series presents a real-life account of these modern-day campus heroes. As they gear up for a shift, these courageous cops know they’re in for a few surprises!

The series heads to five college towns across the country including Tallahassee, FL, San Marcos, TX, Cincinnati, OH, Chico, CA, and Greenville, NC. It takes viewers deep inside the internal lives of the law enforcement professionals policing a town of fun-loving college kids. It isn’t easy, but these dedicated officers love their jobs, and wouldn’t have it any other way.


The emphasis on “fun,” “keeping student’s safe” “fun-loving college kids,” parties, and “binge drinking COEDS” is instructive, demonstrating how a show about criminal misconduct goes to great extents to decriminalize its primarily white, middle-class, “participants” and in doing so criminalizes the Other once again.


The show might as well be called “Warning PD.”  In the three episodes I watched on television, and countless clips online (which don’t necessarily show the encounters from start to finish leaving it hard to see the final resolution), I have only seen a handful of actual arrests.  For the most part, the show brings to life several excessively permissive campus police forces, who tolerate abuse, disrespect, and a culture of chaos.  In many instances, college students are given countless warnings, and only after failing to comply with instructions, are they forced to deal with the repercussions of their actions with a ticket or an arrest.


Another common theme within these initial episodes I watched from start to finish was a belief from the students they were unjustly being persecuted by the police.  Students would often note that, “they were not doing” anything wrong, or that they were simply engaged in “harmless fun” only to be harassed by campus police.  Given the ways in which harassment, racial profiling, and pre-text stops so often define the experiences of youth of color, it is a troubling re-imagination of policing in America.  Worse yet, Campus PD does a good job in showing why many college students view police as unfairly harassing them.


In two different episodes (as in the book Dorm Room Dealers), students respond to the presence of police by telling them to go “police” and investigate some real criminals.  That is, they were wasting their time with the happenings of college students since they were harmless, as opposed to those who “lived over there.”  In both instances, “over there” was clearly the neighborhood inhabited by poor people of color.  This assumption (one that is reinforced by the show) that the “real criminals” exist elsewhere reflects the power of American racial and class logic.


According to a study from the Journal of Alcohol and Drug Education, 95 percent of respondents imagined an African American when asked about drug users.  In other words, blackness operates interchangeably with criminality, especially in relationship to the urban poor.  Better said, “to be a man of color of a certain economic class and milieu is equivalent in the public eye to being a criminal.” (John Edgar Wideman, p. 195)


The consequences of the permissive policing and a culture that imagines college students engaged in criminal activity as just having fun (as opposed to the “real criminals”), is evident in the lack of attention directed at the criminal misconduct taking place at America’s colleges and universities.


According to a 2007 study reported in USA Today, over half of America’s college student regularly abuse alcohol and drugs.

The study found that college students have higher rates of alcohol or drug addiction than the general public: 22.9% of students meet the medical definition for alcohol or drug abuse or dependence — a compulsive use of a substance despite negative consequences — compared with 8.5% of all people 12 and older.


Increasingly, along with the traditionally seen drug and alcohol abuse, college students are abusing prescription drugs like Adderall, termed “smart drugs” by many college students.  “For many middle and upper-middle class young people in New York,” notes Lala Straussner. “Adderall is much more acceptable than using methamphetamine (more common on West Coast) or crack cocaine, although the brain doesn’t know the difference.” Yet, the ubiquity and acceptance of “smart drugs” is simply the perceived function or the consequences of these drugs but the ways in which crack and meth are both racialized and connected to distinct class identities.  Prescription drugs, on the other hand, are linked to those in college, who are said to have a future, illustrating criminality and criminals are identities are constructed as elsewhere and not within college communities.


While shows like Campus PD illustrate the ubiquity of instances of public intoxication, cases of drunk-driving, and physical assaults, other issues plague college communities.  As such, it does little to elucidate the problem of sexual violence (20-25% of women in college will experience rape or an attempted rape), prescription drug abuse, and even drug dealing.  The erasure of these systemic problems reflects a culture that imagines college as a space of parties, fun, and adolescent behavior rather than criminal activity.


This type of narrative is evident in the recent drug busts at San Diego Sate University and Columbia University.  In 2008, after a several month investigation, authorities arrested 75 students (96 people in total), confiscating drugs worth a total of approximately $100,000 worth of drugs.  Among the 20 students arrested for distribution and sales was a criminal justice major, who when arrested was in possession of two guns and 500 grams of cocaine.   San Diego County Dist. Atty. Bonnie Dumanis made clear that their investigation demonstrated “how accessible and pervasive illegal drugs continue to be on our college campuses and how common it is for students to be selling to other students.” This was certainly true with Columbia University, where 5 students were arrested as part of “Operation Ivy League,” “a five-month undercover sting, during which police purchased $11,000 worth of drugs from the students out of Columbia fraternity houses and dorms.”


While the media rendered this incidence and that at SDSU as a shocking spectacle, it is clear that the situation at these schools is a national phenomenon.   This should actually be surprising given how drug markets are as segregated as the rest of America.  According to A. Rafik Mohamed and Erik D. Fritsvold, authors of Dorm Room Dealers, who spent 6-years examining drug distribution at a Southern California Private school, not only do students sell to other students, but do in a reckless manner, which in their mind highlight a sense of entitlement based on the students’ middle-class white identities.  Phillip Smith describes their findings in “Dorm Room Dealers: A Peek into the Drug World of the White and Upwardly Mobile”:

Mohamed and Fritsvold show repeatedly the reckless abandon with which their subjects went about their business: Dope deals over the phone with uncoded messages, driving around high with pounds of pot in the car, doing drug transactions visible from the street, selling to strangers, smuggling hundreds of pills across the Mexican border. These campus dealers lacked even the basics of drug dealer security measures, yet they flew under the radar of the drug warriors.

Even when the rare encounter with police occurred, these well-connected students skated. In one instance, a dealer got too wasted and attacked someone’s car. He persuaded a police officer to take him home in handcuffs to get cash to pay for the damages. The cop ignored the scales, the pot, the evidence of drug dealing, and happily took a hundred dollar bill for his efforts. In another instance, a beach front dealer was the victim of an armed robbery. He had no qualms about calling the police, who once again couldn’t see the evidence of dealing staring them in the face and who managed to catch the robbers. The dealer wisely didn’t claim the pounds of pot police recovered and didn’t face any consequences.



A former Columbia student highlights a similar culture there, adding more evidence to the arguments offered in Dorm Room Dealers.

But, in fact, the prestigious institution on Manhattan’s Upper West Side has long been “ripe” for drug trafficking, a knowledgeable 2009 Columbia graduate told The Daily Beast. “I think the permissive environment of Public Safety”—as Columbia’s campus police force is known—“makes it a no-brainer proposition,” said this former student, who described himself as a recreational drug user who dabbled in selling. “I always felt safe.”


The culture and climate of Columbia in terms of public concern and policing, as opposed to the levels of surveillance found a few miles away in Harlem, tells an important story about how race and class operate in contemporary America.  Campus PD offers a similarly distorted glimpse a crime as well.


Media accounts of these two recent drug operations and shows like Campus PD have done little to shine a spotlight on the double standards that exist between the primarily white middle-class student population and poor youth of color when it comes to policing and incarceration.  With the situation at Columbia, one student has plead guilty thus far; although charged with the most serious crimes, he was sentenced to 6-months in prison in July.  In a city where 46,500 people were arrested for marijuana possession in 2009, with 87% of these people being black and Latino, the inequality is quite clear.


San Diego saw a similar outcome, with many of those arrested pleading guilty only to face probation and entrance into a drug diversion programs, leading some people to question why police are spending so much time and energy conducting investigations against college students that do not result in incarcerations.   When considering the media coverage, popular representations of college campuses, levels of policing and unzealous prosecution, it is no wonder that while African Americans constitute 13% of all monthly drug users, they represent 38% of these arrested for drug possession, 55% of convictions and 74% of prison sentences; it is as argued by Michelle Alexander, the new Jim Crow, ostensibly cordoning off America’s college and universities from policing and prosecution.  The criminalization of black and brown youth and the decriminalization of white America, particularly its middle-class college-bound constituency, have material consequences.


Evident in a show like Campus PD and the various examples provided here is the ways in which  “what it means to be criminal in our collective consciousness to what it means to be black.”  In other words, “the term black criminal is nearly redundant . . . . To be a black man is to be thought of as a criminal, and to be a black criminal is to be despicable – a social pariah” (Alexander 2010, p. 193).   No wonder so many students yell at cops to go focus on the “real criminals”; that is the message they have learned all too well.

Originally posted at NewBlackMan

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.