SLAM ONLINE | » Ballers, Political Shot Callers and the ‘Show Your Papers’ Movement

Ballers, Political Shot Callers and the ‘Show Your Papers’ Movement

An outbreak of racist taunts continues to be a problem at NCAA basketball games.

by C. Richard King and David J. Leonard

The past month has witnessed a series of racist cheers at sporting events. Fans at a University of Minnesota at Duluth mocked the visiting University of North Dakota hockey team, jeering “Small Pox Blankets”—a chant that belittles the school and Native Americans through a reference to its mascot, which converts the reality of genocide into a sporting smack down. In Pittsburgh, during a recent basketball game, fans (as well as players) from Brentwood High hurled racial epithets at Monessen High players. Three fans dressed banana costumes surrounding the primarily black Monessen team, as the left for the locker at halftime, yelling epithets while making monkey noises. Some parents reported that members of the Brentwood squad joined in, calling its opponent, “monkeys and cotton pickers.”

More recently, students at the predominantly white Alamo Heights High School celebrated the defeat of the largely Latino Edison High School with a chant of “USA, USA!” So, it was little surprise in the round of 64, members of the pep band from the University of Southern Mississippi (USM) yelled, “Where’s your green card?” at Kansas State University freshman Angel Rodriguez (who was born in Puerto Rico) as he took foul shoots.

Administrators were quick to apologize following each transgression, offering some variant on the standard refrain: we regret any offense…this is not us…we are not racist…we will take appropriate action. And to be fair, these chants are brief, spontaneous, and passing utterances. They lack sanction and surely do not represent the image that these schools hope to project. Their apologies to the contrary, in an historic moment marked by the rhetoric of color blindness, but not the alleviation of structural racism, the eruption of overt bias, particularly in the guise of clichéd hate speech and “jokes,” far from being abnormal actually reveals the norm, offering keen insights into historically white institutions and the persistence of white supremacy.

While taunting a fellow American citizen by inquiring about his green card exposes great ignorance (Puerto Ricans are US citizens and have been since 1917) and reflects deep antipathy toward Latinos, it is actually in keeping with the history of the University of Southern Mississippi (and countless other colleges and other universities). In fact, USM epitomizes the arc of white supremacy in college sport. Founded in 1910 as an institution devoted to training teachers, USM was like most peers in the South segregated. And like many other public spaces in the USA, students at USM were enamored with Indianness, despite (or perhaps because of) the historic removal of embodied Indians to make way for settler society in southern Mississippi. They choose Neka Camon, “a Native American term meaning ‘The New Spirit’,” as the title for the school’s yearbook. Later, the student body opted to formalize the moniker of the sport teams, selecting the Confederates in 1940. A year later, a slight modification, the Southerners, was substituted. Although in light of the better known history of Ole Miss, this is not surprising, the mascot chosen for athletics a decade later is: USM did not name an anonymous rebel or plantation owner; no, it enshrined Natan Bedford Forest, the infamous leader of the Ku Klux Klan, as its mascot. Desegregated in 1965, USM changed its moniker and mascot to the Golden Eagles in 1972. USM is a quintessential institution of higher learning: historically white, segregated, playing Indian, and celebrating the Confederacy in defiance of the civil rights movement.

The jeer from members of the pep squad (or band) also suggests that USM remains typical, and, despite protestations from administrators, that what is chanted at a basketball game says much about the social landscape of Mississippi today and much about all of us today.

The students chanting, “where’s your green card” were not alone this day, with the state’s politicians legislatively demanding the same of Latinos throughout the state of Mississippi. The state’s House of Representatives passed the “Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhood Act,” a copycat bill to Arizona’s anti-immigrant legislation. Among other things, the bill mandates the police verify immigration status for any person arrested

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SLAM ONLINE | » Remember the Alamo (Heights)

Remember the Alamo (Heights)

How an inflammatory chant at a high school game is deeper than basketball.

by David J. Leonard and C. Richard King

The Texas Region IV-4A high school boys basketball championships that pitted San Antonio Edison High School against Alamo Heights High School ended with a handshake and a celebration. It also ended with a racial and nationalist taunt from several fans from Alamo Heights, who chanted “USA, USA, USA” to celebrate its primarily white team and the school’s victory over the mostly Latino squad. While the Alamo coaches tried to quiet the crowd, the damage was done.

“Our kids try real hard and work extra hard to get to the regional tournament, and then we have to worry about them being subjected to this kind of insensitivity,” noted Edison coach Gil Garza. “To be attacked about your ethnicity and being made to feel that you don’t belong in this country is terrible. Why can’t people just applaud our kids? It just gets old and I’m sick of it. Once again, we’re on pins and needles wondering what’s going to happen.”

This incident was not the first anti-immigrant outburst on the floor in San Antonio. In 2011, Cedar Park High School, a predominantly white school with an equally white basketball squad, battled Lanier, a high school with an all-Latino squad. During the course of the game, Cedar Park fans chanted a myriad of anti-Latino chants, including “USA, USA.” They also cheered “Arizona, Arizona,” a clear reference to SB 1070, legislation that institutionalized anti-Latino racism. And, fans yelled “this is not soccer, this is not soccer” clearly linking their teams success (and ultimate victory) to their whiteness over and against a group of foreigners, marked as such because of their project affinity for and ability at an un-American game. Stereotypes about Latino and soccer reduced the basketball court to nothing more than a competition for racial superiority, another opportunity to police the border through the assertion of white nationalism.

The chant represents a brief, local reiteration of the long-standing equation where USA equals White within the national imagination. It reflects and is a consequence of the vitriol and the anti-immigrant sentiment that dominated the national landscape in recent years. The chant should not be surprise in a moment when presidential candidates “joke” about immigrant deaths or wish they would just deport themselves, when state legislatures make culture and skin color probable cause, and when public officials declare ethnic studies illegal. The chant reflects the same sentiments as those articulated by Rush Limbaugh, who has described America’s immigration in the following way: “[S]ome people would say we’re already under attack by aliens—not space aliens, but illegal aliens.” It is an outgrowth of a historic sentiment that imagines Latinos irrespective of citizenship as foreigners and undesirable. It reflects an increasingly ferocious anti-Latino sentiment that both represents and treat Latinos as “illegal aliens” neither welcome nor deserving of the legal protections of the United States. It should come us no surprise given this larger history and the ramped up anti-immigrant sentiment in recent years. It embodies as Tanya Golash Boza, assistant professor of sociology at University of Kansas, told one of us: “In the white American mindset, the only group that gets an unhyphenated American identity is white.” It should come us no surprise given this larger history and the ramped up anti-immigrant sentiment in recent years.

According to Alexandro José Gradilla, an Associate Professor in the Department of Chicana and Chicano Studies at Cal State Fullerton, the chant embodies “a new political climate of ‘papers please’” where all Latinos are presumed to be outsiders, threats to the national success of the United States. The racial hostility and the nationalist celebration at these high school basketball games, notes Gradilla, “signal a new racializing paradigm of conflating Mexican Americans with Mexican Immigrants—hence the chants of USA USA were appropriate to use against these possibly ‘illegal’ and ‘alien’ people.” Given the history of sports, so often a place to authenticate national superiority, play out racial tensions, and exhibit masculine prowess, the efforts to nationalize the basketball, to use the victory as evidence of national/racial superiority, is reflective of the political orientation of sports.

The staging of anti-immigrant sentiments at a basketball game and the ease with which chanting for a predominantly White team slides into rooting for America is not surprising. The outrage and the ultimate apology from the school district (“Unfortunately, after the game, we had a handful of students who made a bad decision and we’re very sorry it happened. They made a mistake and we’re going to use this as a learning experience…”) has prompted conservative commentators to argue political correctness run amuck and to otherwise deny any racial animus.

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