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Thursday, August 6, 2009

The Fine Line Black Athletes Must Walk

So I came across this teaser for a story entitled "J.R. Smith Shuts Down Twitter Account Amidst Controversy." I took the bait, and clicked. You can too at,180969

I seems that the aforementioned guard for the NBA's Denver Nuggets had the occassional habit of replacing a "c" with a "k" in the words he typed on his Twitter entries ("tweets.") It would seem that members of the "Bloods" street gang are also known to do this. And so, naturally, the (white, I'm sure) reaction of many was, Oh, my God! He must be a murdering merchant of mayhem! And J.R., after, no doubt, hearing from his agent about the potential harm to his endorsement deals, pulled the plug.

I always knew those "PlaySkool" folks were up to no good...

2 More Things Re: the Gates Thing, Then I'll Shut Up

1. I was reminded how friggin' racist too much of the blogosphere is when I read the comments to an opinion piece on this whole ordeal (I tracked down the link: 90% of the reaction was how racist the columnist was for taking a position defending Gates and Obama, and how Obama had shown his true racist colors, and calling gates a "black ass," etc. I knew there would be plenty of that, but my jaw was dropping to read 8 or ten of them in a row, with no retort for column inch after column inch. And this was on Yahoo, I believe, not FOX News or some virtual rag like that. We got some work to do, people (as if you didn't already know that).

2. I forgot the second. Oh, yeah, it was this: I wonder if the inordinate amount of attention this affair got can be explained thusly: we are so damned afraid to broach the subject of race (except for with the trusted buddies whom we know will agree with us on everything we have to say) that all this crap get bottled up in us, and when the rare opportunity comes where it's deemed acceptable to comment publicly on the subject, it's like a release valve, and a bunch of hot air comes pouring out. One wise columnist (I think it was in Time magazine) recounted the other supposed turning points in our recent "national discourse" on race (I probably got them out of order): Rodney King beating, L.A. riots, O.J. arrest, O.J. trial and verdict, Clinton's Council-to solve-this-here racial problem-once-and-for-all, Katrina, Jena, a couple of high profile NYC cop incidents, Obama and Wright, and the Philadelphia "More Perfect Union" speech, etc. Each time, there is high-minded talk of how THIS will dispel the white denial, or force us to come together, or prompt us to open the avenues of communications across the racial divide, etc., etc., etc. But the "national discourse" remains disjointed, and mostly talking past one another without bothering to take the role of listener.

The earlier Obama thing actually serves as exhibit A to my point. Throughout his campaign, Obama deftly deflected any focus on race until endless loops of an angry black voice growling "God DAMN America" forced him to take on the subject head-on....for maybe 30 minutes. Having delivered a very good speech on the matter, he then avoided the subject again, like the plague, the rest of the way and, behold, he got elected! Lesson: it is good and right to avoid the subject at all costs until circumstances demand it be addressed, and then it is expedient to dirty your hands with it quickly and get it over with, then move on like everything is fixed.

Obama's "stupidly" comment is Exhibit B: fail to choose your words carefully, I you'll pay, big time. Obama, the black man who never lost his cool, who had a seemingly inhuman ability to filter everything and respond calmly, even to the most outrageous accusations and falsehoods, was caught, one time, expressing, from the gut, how he REALLY felt and what he REALLY thought about a racial incident that no doubt peeled the scab off of real incidents from a painful past and ever-possible present. And what happened? He caught hell for it: everybody was talking about this, and getting distracted from healthcare reform and all that other mundane stuff. His popularity among whites plummeted, in no time flat, off a cliff. Lesson: don't drop the filter, or you'll get nailed.

OK, I'll REALLY shut up now.

Gates' Arrest. Obama's Comment, and Public's Reaction

OK, so I know I've been kinda of MIA on this Gates arrest affair. After initially reporting on it (really just giving the story link but hey: I WAS pretty early with it!). I've been asleep at the blog, except one cheeky cheer from the sidelines just before the so-called "beer summit" met. Truth is, I was distracted by other matters, as well as confused. I mean, that thing took off in a way I would have never predicted. It was getting a fair amount of press coverage (and, I would assume, water cooler talk) before Obama weighed in, but after his "stupidly" comment, we had a REAL controversy (funny how a prestigious African American scholar at our country's most prestigious university getting arrested in his own home on a break-in call didn't qualify as REAL controversy).

Anyway, I'd be kind of hypocritical if I now spent too much time analyzing the fine points of the encounter, since I've decided that much of the attention it's been given has been overblown and unproductive. After all, is the arrest of a world-renowned scholar and FOB (Friend of Barack) REALLY representative of the plight of the black race? I mean, I know we can extrapolate from that and say, if it happens to a well-dressed, well-spoken (oops, I'm steering dangerously close to Biden's infamous "articulate" comment!), highly educated elite living in a smug intellectual community, just think how bad it is for the average African American! And that's true.

But we can also fall in the trap of making the fight for justice in a matter like this a proxy for the broader fight for racial justice in our society. I mean, Henry Louis Gates is gonna be alright. His life chances wouldn't be affected one iota even if fate would have it that he was convicted of such absurd "disorderly conduct" charges and even spent a week behind bars. He would still have his audience--it has increased his visibility and name-recognition, and that's not a bad thing. I know it sounds like I'm downplaying the righteous anger he expressed and humiliation he suffered. I shouldn't. They were real. But my point is, for the press and public to spend so much time and energy dissecting this ordeal--don't you wonder if the time and energy might be better redeemed working on behalf of victims of racial discrimination, perhaps in our local areas, whose stories never see the light of day? And working to raise public awareness of stubborn structural causes for racial disparities, and trying to dismantle those structures? And helping whites to see the racial log of white privilege in our own eyes instead of trying to pick the speck of Affirmative Action and the so-called "race card" out of others' eyes?

There. I got that off my chest. Maybe being mostly silent for a few weeks was good for a broader perspective. Better to wait until I had something "wise and profound" to say. Or maybe I was just being lazy, and asleep at the blog. Anywho...