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Friday, September 18, 2009

Race, Race Everywhere, but not a Drop to Drink...

Kanye West, Taylor Swift and Beyonce
Serena Williams, Kim Cjisters and an unkown lineswoman (is that the right term?)
Rep. Joe Wilson, President Barack Obama, Wilson's son, and former president Jimmy Carter
Michael Jordan and the sports journalist reaction to his Hall of Fame induction speech

What do all of these have in common? 1) They all involve people behaving in ways that other people don't approve of, even find offensive.
2) Until Jimmy Carter "injected race" into the Wilson episode, race was rarely if ever mentioned in any of these stories. But it enveloped, silently, every one of them.

NPR's call-in talk show "Talk of the Nation" mentioned the trouble "the three W's" (West, Williams and Wilson) were involved in, but did they use it as an opportunity to prove the racial implications? NOOOO! They invited an etiquette expert to help us learn how best to apologize when we "make a mess of things."

Of course, I'm gonna wimp out too--I'll bring up the situations, and the fact that there IS a racial angle to be explored in each, but since, besides Wilson, the above examples involve an African American being accused of offense, I'll reserve judgment. Ah, hell, I can't do that and remain true to my credo of taking race head-on, can I? Oh, OK.

West: I'll cop out by quoting the Angry Black Woman: "The line between bad boy and public asshole has now been crossed. Brother man would do best to step back on the other side." (the blog entry is entitled, "Kanye-West-what-the-hell-is-wrong-with-you?")

Williams: 1) It was, by accounts that I've read, an inexplicable, horrible, totally unfair and crucially harmful call. Yeah, Williams probably still would have gone down, but don't gift-wrap it for her opponent! Was race a subliminal factor in a lineswoman, who presumably has watched feet stay behind a service line until a split second after contact with the ball several thousand times before, and made the right no-call on most all of those serves (else she wouldn't have been judged competent to be where she was for the U.S. Open Semifinals), inexplicably calling a phantom foot fault on Williams, one of the few blacks (along with her sister, of course) in the upper echelons of the traditionally liily white country club sport?
2) Uh, Serena, really now, talk about shoving a blanking ball up the blanking backside of a person is going a bit far, dontcha think? Kinda hard to excuse that as "just black street talk misinterpretted by the white establishment." But hey, she paid the price in losing the match, and in the public shame she's experienced, so let her be.

Wilson: Carter is right. Of course, 99.5% of my fellow race members disagree. Like I've said before, we've got some work to do...

Jordan: Not sure on this one. I've got to check my own biases here, since as a Illinois native I was a Bulls fanatic in the 1990s, so much so that I was able to forget, once he put the red white and black on, that MJ came from the hated (by me) UNC program. I haven't seen the video, but the reports from several white journalists is that Jordan's approach left much to be desired, and revealed a sad case of a person, regarded as the best player EVER in his sport, apparently still feeling the need to build himself up by denigrating others, all this on the occasion of his "acceptance" into the hallowed halls of basketball immortality. Maybe it's a case of whites not understanding the black cultural tradition of trash talk and put-downs and manhood. Maybe. I kind of doubt it though. As painful as it is for me to admit, the guy who brought me so much vicarious joy and celebration is, apparently, a bit of an ass. Oh, well, burst my bubble...

The right to invade Caster Semenya's Body

Angry Black Woman has a provocative blog entry on the invasive, speculative media take on the sexual genitalia of So. African runner Caster Semenya. (Read "Race, Gender, and the Oppressive Public Gaze") ABW compares it to the treatment accorded Sarah Bartman (the notorious case of the exploited "Hottentot Venus" of an earlier time). She's got a point. Caster just wanted to run, she's from a poor, isolated area, and she quite probably had no idea what she was getting into as her running career progressed--that strange white people would be probing her body, literally and in the media, and treating her as an inhuman specimen to be dissected and studied for our satisfaction and curiosity (oh, it's in "fairness"--how could I have forgotten?) Come on, folks, leave the poor girl alone--she didn't choose to be born with the body she has, but it is hers, and she shouldn't be made to feel inadequate or freakish, either. As the great (at least occasionally blatently racist) philosopher Elvis Costello says, "What's so funny 'bout peace, love, and understanding?"

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Here we Go Again: White athlete makes it because of Effort, Black because of talent

(Sorry, faithful reader, for the long absence of entries. Laptop miseries are my only, weak excuse)

Oh, Lord, when will sportswriters and commentators ever learn? It seems that Michael Jordan and John Stockton are both to be enshrined in the basketball hall of fame. As the greatest player of his, and perhaps any, generation, Jordan has naturally been scooping up the lion's share of publicity. So old Fran Blinebury of Yahoo! Sports decides to give Stockton his due--fair enough.

I have fond memories of John Stockton. I remember watching, I think, his first all-star game when I never saw him take a shot, content to dish well over a dozen assists, I'm sure, to the best finishers in the game. I thought that was cool. And I'm not afraid or ashamed to admit that I thought it cool that a white dude could hang with the predominately African American fraternity of NBA stars. Of course, when his Jazz played my Bulls, it was sorry, Johnny--MJ and Co. are gonna shoot you down! But I digress.

Instead of writing about Stockton's ability and grace, Blinebury falls back on the old myth: that white athletes make it on determination and effort, whereas blacks make it on natural, God-given talent. Here's the link to the pathetic piece.;_ylt=AlmO81gQfqsN7NEUgHYk41w5nYcB?slug=ys-stocktonhall090809&prov=yhoo&type=lgns

Yeah, the white guy is the blue collar, lunch pail guy who makes it on sheer grit. We've heard it all before, ad nauseum. Jordan was impulsive and spectacular, Stockton, relentless and single-minded.

1) You telling me Jordan wasn't relentless? That he didn't spend hours and hours in the gym and weightroom, watching film and breaking down defenses? Give me a break.

2) You telling me Stockton wasn't naturally gifted? The guy makes 5000 more assists and 700 more steals than anyone else in the game ever has, and it's all due to his effort and work ethic? Yeah, right.

The worsPt, it turns out, was not in the article, but in the headline teaser on the Yahoo! Sports front page: there it says, "John Stockton wasn't big or fast. He goes into the Hall of Fame because few in the NBA could ever match his toughness."

Stockton wasn't fast? He got those 3,265 steals by willing the ball into his hands? And how many of those nearly 16,000 assists came on fast breaks? Slow guys don't lead fast breaks. They lead slow breaks. And slow breaks don't result in very many assists.

White reporters seem to want to believe that sports come easy to blacks, and therefore any white person who makes it in black-dominated sports must not be doing it on talent, but on personal effort. It's a sick theory. It's racist. It's demeaning to both the black guy who, it is assumed, is undisciplined and "lucky" to be born the way he was, and the white guy, whose gifts are belittled. This is 2009. Sports scholars and critics have been critiquing this myth for dozens of years. Yet it still prevails. Sad.