Dr. Shannon Smitty Prograis, aka “Shay,” a Case-Study: the Wanksterisms of anUnderdeveloped Urban Masculinity
Our upcoming focus: the plight of those whose "gangsta" mentalities cannot be overcome by Ivy League educations.
I know that a number of you struggle with completing the thesis and the dissertation exit exams. Saint louis University will be hosting an event in the furtherance of helping to alleviate some of your anxiety. Check it out!
Event Details: 3pm, March 31st, C.S. Huh Auditorium, Center for Global Citizenship, 3672 West
Pine Mall, St. Louis, MO 63108.
Are you overwhelmed by the process of writing your dissertation? Would you like to write more efficiently? University Writing Services, part of the Student Success Center, is excited to host a
Dissertation Writing Workshop facilitated by Dr. Shawn E. Nordell, Associate Professor of Biology. Using empirical and field-tested strategies, Dr. Nordell will help dissertation writers create a clear method for meeting writing goals!
The workshop will be held in C.S. Huh Auditorium in the Center for Global Citizenship on the campus of Saint Louis University. Please consider attending and learn How to Write Your Dissertation in 30 Minutes a Day!
This workshop will also be streamed live through Fuze software. If you would like to have access to the live feed, please R.S.V.P. to Tarrell Campbell at email@example.com.
About Dr. Shawn E. Nordell
Shawn Nordell is an Associate Professor of Biology and Senior Faculty Fellow for the Reinert Center for Transformative Teaching and Learning at Saint Louis University. She was awarded the William V. Stauder S.J. Award for Teaching in the Natural Sciences. She recently completed an award winning textbook for Oxford University Press, Animal Behavior: Concepts, Methods, and Applications and has also published numerous research articles. Her research examines communication networks in animals and student metacognition abilities and the development of successful learning strategies. In addition, she works extensively in professional development conducting workshops on course management issues, strategies for incorporating active learning in the classroom for developing and assessing critical thinking skills, and successful strategies for academic writers.
I knew there wasn’t any hope uptown. A lot of those men, they got their little deals going and all that, but they don’t really have anything, Mr. Charlie’s not going to let them get but so far. Those that really do have something would never have any use for me; I’m too dark for them, they see girls like me on Seventh Avenue every day. I knew what they would do to me.
For a while now, the popular reception of Robin Thicke’s smash hit, “Blurred Lines,” has bothered me. I have tried to let the annoyance pass, but my local radio stations in St. Louis will not stop playing the song. And: my wife blasts it every chance she gets. I find the song sexist and demeaning and racist on a number of levels; yet, any attempts to highlight such characteristics are only met with scorn and contempt by not only my wife, but the majority of my female relatives as well. I am a man. Should I just shut the f*&k up and appreciate the privilege that not only the existence of the song affords me as a man, but the privilege that the enthusiastic reception of the females whose subordination is only furthered by the song affords me as well? I mean, if women, particularly black women, want to be acknowledged as naturally oversexed animals, and if the women seem to like such acknowledgment, then who the hell am I to oppose such representation? If women, once again, particularly black women and women of color, are ill-concerned with the history and the representation of women in the United States and the reinforcement of such a history and representation as underscored by “Blurred Lines,” then who am I to be concerned?
While I find the entirety of “Blurred Lines” to be problematic, let us start with the chorus, being sure to read the (w)hole text of the situation (the lyrics to the song in its entirety can be found here). For starters, Thicke is the Euro-American son of the wealthy and famous actor Alan Thicke. He was born into a lifestyle of economic wealth and the privilege that such a situation affords one in America. Robin is currently married to and expecting a child with Paula Patton, an American woman of color. Patton has routinely been praised for not only her acting skills, but her astonishing beauty and well-endowed, well-sculpted derrière (ass, buttocks, badonkadonk).
Now the chorus. Thicke sings:
OK now he was close, tried to domesticate you
Left to right: Thicke and actress/wife Paula Patton; Thicke with hand up woman's behind (see reflection in mirror); Thicke and one of the animalistic women of color on the set of the "Blurred Lines" video shoot.
On the surface the song seems harmless, especially in 2013. I mean, after nearly a century of rebelling against middle-class Victorian, Puritan standards of respectability, one who holds stuffy perspectives on a woman’s sexuality is likely to be in the minority. No modern woman wants to be thought of as solely belonging to the domestic space of home; there is more to modern women that being the happy homemaker, wife and mother. Some women, I concede, want to be loved, just like a baby, and free – liberated – to explore all of their natural, animalistic sexual fantasies without being marked as a slut, whore, cumbag, etc. Some women, understandably, do not wish to be limited as a person, sexual being, employee, etc., by the marriage certificate. Husbands do not create women and men should not have ownership papers on their female mates. Agreed. Please allow me to offer a different perspective regarding the chorus.
If you are reading this blog…if you engage in conversation with your friends…if you are an upstanding, die-hard American patriot, then you are already domesticated. If you exist within anything acknowledged as culture, then you have been domesticated my friend. To escape domestication, one has to return to Rousseau and the state of nature, and our good friend the “noble savage.” Now, while the noble savage was naturally endowed (you know by nature) with many characteristics worth mentioning - brute strength, rugged physical appearance - none of those characteristics came in helpful when the highly advanced and civilized European nations began colonizing and exterminating noble savages all over the world. So, when you talk about characteristics being in one’s nature, you are treading upon dangerous ground. This explains the castigation Thicke has received regarding the song being “rapey.” To suggest that f*$king Robin Thicke is in one’s nature, opens one up to all kinds of sexual mistreatment at the hands of Thicke: because, animalistic sex is in the woman’s nature.
You getting warmed up yet? I am just getting started. Consider the following in relation to the chorus:
Evolutionary theory [Darwinism] tended to reinforce the notion of racial hierarchies through the ranking and ordering of bodies according to stages of evolutionary “progress.” The theory of recapitulation often summed up by the phrase “ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny” emerged as a crucial concept, holding that in its individual maturation, each organism proceeds through stages that are equivalent to adult forms that have preceded it in evolutionary development. Thus the children of “superior” groups embodied phases equivalent to the mature adult phase of “inferior” groups [noble savage, Blacks, Latinos, etc.]…adult African Americans and white women were at the same stage as white male children and therefore represented an ancestral stage in the evolution of adult white males. (Somerville 24)
Pictorial representation of the Hottentot Venus. Pay particular attention to the woman's steatopygia.
Carl Vogt, quoted in Stephen Gould’s The Mismeasure Man, suggests that “the grown-up Negro partakes…of the nature of the child, the female, and the senile white” (114). Damn! So think about the use of “baby” in the chorus. Taking the excerpts on evolution into consideration, the use of the word “baby” becomes very condescending in the hands of Thicke. Is he suggesting that the women, mostly women of color, to whom he sings in the video are evolutionarily inferior? Are they at a stage of ancestral, animal development, while Thicke – the adult white male – represents the zenith of the evolutionary pyramid? Let us continue.
Still, in 2013, Americans believe that there is a difference between white Euro-Americans and all other Americans; the literature of our official government documents reflect such thinking (consider the ethnic and racial choices on documents of a nationalistic nature). Accordingly, in our collective history, “any attempt to establish that the races were inherently different rested to no little extent on the sexual difference of black” (Gilman 112). And let’s face it, we still hold to such an understanding. Right now, I will bet: if you stand up and start a conversation about the black penis, the old stereotyped understanding of its immense size will rear its ugly head. And, the situation is just as bad for black African American women. For centuries there has been a mythical understanding of the sexual and reproductive organs and anatomy of the black African savage-woman; her sexual and reproductive anatomy is what made, and continues to make, the black woman different from the white woman. For example, ever since the Hottentot Venus, Europeans and Euro-Americans, especially the males, have been enamored by what they labeled steatopygia – the protruding buttocks of the black woman (that phat ass!). Not only that, Europeans and Euro-Americans have been continuously mesmerized by what they claim is the “unusually large clitoris” of the black female – usually a sign of homosexually (Somerville 25). And last, but not least, let us not forget the remarkable development of the labia minora shared by all women of color, especially the black women. For its part, the labia minora of black women is easy to “distinguish” “from those of any ordinary [read white] varieties of the human species” (Flower and Murie 208). Unbelievably, according to preeminent doctors and scholars of the nineteenth and early twentieth century: “the labia minora of the “peculiar black race,” allowed black women to flutter between genders, at one moment masculine, at the next moment exagerratedly [sic] feminine” (qtd. in Somerville 29).
The connection that the dominant world made between the physical anatomy of black women and how they should be represented and treated in the world is almost impossible to believe. According to historian Jennifer Morgan, in her piece entitled, “Some Could Suckle Over Their Shoulder,” “European travelers [to Africa] represented African women as strange, animalistic, and hypersexual.” Rachel Swarns, in “Mocked in Europe of Old, African is Embraced at Home at Last,” suggests that, regarding the black woman, “because of her voluptuous figure, people saw her as inhuman and thus treated her like an animal” (3). When such understandings of the historical representation of black women in western cultured are coupled with the fact that Thicke is married to a woman of color, the innocence with which he discusses the lyrics of the song and their impact reflect either his ignorance of, or, his fullest expression of, his white male privilege in America. Neither understanding of Thicke is promising for the treatment of and representation of women, especially black African American women.
I believe that my points have been made; there is no need to gloss the rest of the song. I will just add that the participation of T.I. and Pharell on the song only serves to further complicate the role of the song in working to strengthen old stereotypes and misunderstandings of black women which only furthers their marginalization and ill-treatment in our society ( and yes, T.I.'s interactions with the white female models coupled with the content of his lyrics are just as bad as Thicke's chorus). The fact that Thicke is married to a woman of color and yet feels completely comfortable in expressing the sentiments that are reflected in “Blurred Lines” sickens me. I never really internalized the saying, “Those ignorant of their past are doomed to repeat it,” when I was first introduced to its meaning. Thicke, T.I., and Pharell have done an amazing job of modeling the saying. Those of us who look, smell and talk like people who were once, in our nation’s past, classified as animals seemingly have no problem advocating a position in 2013 which stresses some animalistic, oversexed character natural to us, black people. But, when I reflect on the enthusiasm with which my female relatives shake their asses – I mean steatopygia – to the song, I realize that it is not just Thicke and T.I. and Pharell who are doomed to repeat an unpleasant past, but all of us. Dance on you signifying monkeys…dance on!
Baldwin, James. Another Country. New York: Vintage International, 1962.
Flower, W.H. and James Murie. “Account of the Dissection of a Bushwoman.” Journal of Anatomy and Physiology I (1867): 189.
Gilman, Sander. Difference and Pathology: Stereotypes of Sexuality, Race and Madness. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1992.
Morgan, Jennifer. “Some Could Suckle Over Their Shoulder.”
Somerville, Siobhan B. Queering the Color Line: Race and the Invention of Homosexuality in American Culture. Durham: Duke University Press, 2000.
Swarns, Rachel. “Mocked in Europe of Old, African is Embraced at Home at Last.” New York Times (May 4, 2002): 1-3.
Thicke, Robin, Clifford Harris and Pharell Williams. Blurred Lines.
Vogt, Carl. in The Mismeasure Man by Stephen Jay Gould. New York: W.W. Norton, 1981.
Even the preacher,
Trayvon Martin, left, should not have worn a hoodie because it turned out to be a matter of life or death; Justin Bieber, right, should not have worn sagging pants because it turned out to be a matter of fashion. Clothing-limits differ according to race in America.
When the Labancamy Jankins website was initially envisioned, it was hope that the site could exist as a space for honest and open dialogue about and related to masculinist issues. So many men in America seem to be suffering from the results of internalizing what has been described as middle-class patriarchal masculinity. Some of us know that this internalization has led to periods and/or cycles of domination which have had disastrous consequences: we have been bad husbands, mates and spouses to our partners; we have not always practiced the best examples of citizenship; we have, at times, found it difficult to find our place in the modern household economy, etc. And, much of the failure - the impotence, the lack - that we have experienced can be attributed to our ill-conceived notions of manhood and manliness associated with middle-class patriarchal masculinity. We have sisters; we have mothers; we have daughters; and we are determined to be successful in the attempt to discover a masculinity(masculinities) that is not only helpful and healthy for men, but for the women that we love as well. As I say: that was a cause for which the Labancamy Jankins website was created. We desired a space and place where honest, vulnerable, open dialogue between men and the world could occur in the furtherance of developing what we call the New Masculinism. But, I have discovered that the world is not really interested in dialogue with those represented by Labancamy; it seems that, at best, the world is indifferent to the inmost thoughts and feelings of those represented by Labancamy; and, at worst, viscerally opposed to and condescendingly mocking of the inmost thoughts and feelings of men as represented by Labancamy.
Men of the lower socio-economic classes in America, along with black, African American men, in addition to their concerns, feelings and thoughts, have represented a great portion of the articles and essays promoted by Labancamy: not all, but a great majority. And, while Shonda Rhimes reminds us that the world is not concerned with the “blah, blah, blah” of being a black man, I never realized that the public would be so disdainful of participating in simple dialogue. But such has been the case. Simple association with black masculinist issues has been met with whimsical indifference, vitriol bordering on the…I don’t know what and, in one case, a blatant refusal to even entertain discussion of the topic at hand. Allow me to explain.
We have written on a number of issues here – older men dating young girls, articulateness, intelligence – but none has elicited responses like the blog posting on sagging pants and the proposed sagging pants ban in St. Louis, Missouri. More people read, shared and commented on the blog posting entitled “The Curious Case of the Sagging Pants” than any other piece promoted on our Facebook artist page. We have written on homosexuality and loyalty and honesty: none garnered the attention of sagging pants. Most of the comments reflected a desire to mandate that young boys and men wear their pants at a level considered appropriate by societal standards. No one, I repeat, no one was interested in any type of discussion with men who wear their pants sagging and their motivations for wearing their pants sagging. They just wanted the men to be mandated to pull them up. Now, while I do not necessarily advocate the wearing of sagging pants in the piece, I do not espouse support for the ban either. I simply point out my concern with how the ban may be employed and attempt to explain the perspective of, at least, one demographic that embraces the wearing of sagging pants. I attempt to explain the inmost thoughts and feelings of men as related to the wearing of sagging pants. Here are a few examples of the responses we received:
Terri H. E. : I don't think I know you and I would appreciate being taken off of your list. I am much older than you and my opinion about them is that it is a sad statement that young black men take their fashion cues from people in JAIL.
Vincent A. N. IV: I think anyone with a hoodie pulled up looks suspicious just because there's no need. If its that cold get a jacket. Why you hiding? Of course its none of my business, you can where whatever you want it's a free country right? Just sayin... Don't look walk talk like a duck if you don't want people to think you're a duck. I heard the saggin pants thing started in prison? You wanna look like a felon? By all means dress like one...
T.P.: As Dave Chappell said "you might not be a whore but you're wearing a whore's uniform." So don't be shocked when your treated like one. Same thing applies here [regarding sagging pants].
And lastly, there was Dr. G. Dr. G suggested that he was not interested in having a conversation with men about why they may wear their pants sagging. End of story.
I selected the above responses because they not only work to illustrate and further my point, but they were each made by people that I consider friends, or at least folks with whom I am cordial. Terri H.E. is a very accomplished African American businesswoman centered in Washington, D.C. She provides management consulting solutions to companies of America’s leading industries, including many Fortune 500 companies. I, along with a group of young, minority graduates, was introduced to Mrs. H.E. with the hopes that she would be able to provide advice and support and guidance. Mrs. H.E. gave us a presentation about how much she was concerned about our futures and well-being and dreams and aspirations and the things important to us. Now, as you all are well aware, Labancamy Jankins is not my real name. It is a penname used by every writer who writes an article or blog posting or essay on the Labancamy Jankins website. I mention this because, when introduced to the businesswoman I, of course, used my real name and told her about Labancamy Entertainment and Productions, LLC. She told me to add her name to the mailing list. I did. Her response was in response to an email alerting readers to the posting on sagging pants. It was quite disappointing to discover that: 1) she had no idea who I was (How can you forget the name Labancamy? It is so weird.), 2) her opinion about them (I could not decide if she was referring to black males or sagging pants, but I will give her the benefit of the doubt and infer that she is referring to sagging pants) is that they (black men or sagging pants) are sad and 3) she believes that the black men take their fashion cues from jail. Using my great inductive and deductive reasoning skills, I determined that Mrs. H.E. is not interested in any political stance that sagging pants may signify for young black men.
Vincent A.N. IV is one of my white, former private school classmates. I attempt to engage in conversations about race and socio-economic issues with Vincent because the topics are usually treated in such a taboo fashion between the races. I am always interested in the opinions of Others. Vincent provides great, and alarmingly honest, insight regarding how a certain demographic interprets certain black men. For Vincent, if black men are not willing to acquiesce and assimilate to a style of dress that men like Vincent have declared valid, then the black men are subject to whatever consequences which may befall the men. So, Vincent definitely does not wish to engage in dialogue on issues of importance to black men. He would prefer that they just dress as he suggests, or they can face whatever societal consequences, in some cases death, which come along with dressing in a non-conforming fashion.
T. P. and Vincent share a similar outlook; T.P. is not receptive to the political arguments made by men like Nasir Jones regarding their stance on the wearing of sagging pants. T.P. and Vincent also share similar age and educational background; however, T.P. is African American. The position held by he and Vincent suggests that the aversion to the thoughts and feelings of black men is not confined to white men. Race alone does not endear one to be more receptive to the thoughts and feelings of black men. Black men, seemingly, can ignore the inmost thoughts and feelings of Other black men with the same intensity shared by white men. Finally, something on which white men and black men can agree: the castigation of black men classed socially and economically lower. King’s dream has reached fruition in some spaces.
Dr. G is another highly respected mentor. Dr. G has implored me to consider opinions and positions that are in opposition to my personal and professional beliefs. And, how have I. I have had to consider: the economic desires of slave masters; the pragmatic Realist position of the United States government regarding all matters international and domestic; the military and planning genius of Adolph Hitler; the sentiments of southerners who wish to display the Confederate flag and on and on. But, the moment I suggest that those who oppose the wearing of sagging pants should consider engaging in dialogue with those who wear sagging pants instead of simply castigating them, my mentor all of a sudden does not believe in considering the opinions and positions of others. I am not disappointed with Dr. G. for being an opponent of sagging pants; I am disappointed in his staunch, visceral reaction to the wearing of sagging pants and willingness to advocate the criminalization of sagging pants without ever having a single conversation with a sagging pants wearer about the reasoning and rationale behind wearing sagging pants. Remember Martin Niemöller: “First they came…for me,” next they may come for you.
It is amazing that out of the many topics discussed – open-heartedly, truthfully and from a position of vulnerability – regarding men, their concerns, thoughts and conceptions of masculinity that the one topic which has seemed to arouse the passions of the public is the dress of some black men. I should not be shocked. Next to one’s skin color, one’s dress is the most conspicuous sign used to discern, categorize and profile the Other. Like skin, one’s dress, is also a most horrible sign used to determine characteristics of the Other and is just too superficial. Using the dress of another as a prejudicial sign marker is also too facile. And, perhaps facility in the interaction between our citizenry is what is sought. But, in a country where we pride ourselves on the diversity of the fabric of our social makeup: facility regarding the interactions of the country’s citizenry just may not be plausible. If we want to know one another, then some hard, difficult work may be required. It starts with dialogue.
This piece was written before George Zimmerman was found not guilty in the killing of Trayvon Martin. The fact that he was not found culpable in the young man’s death was not shocking; I remember Emmett Till. What I have found alarming are the criticisms of young black men and their dress in the aftermath of the verdict. While listening to WFUN-FM Old School 95.5 in St. Louis, Missouri, I could not help but be taken aback by some of the comments made by callers. One in particular left me feeling a certain kind of way. In response to a question centered on feelings regarding the jury’s verdict posed by the radio station’s program hosts, one caller – a self-identified older, African American woman – went on a rant about “our” young people and how they wear their pants and how sad and dumb they are; about how she wishes she could live in an area where all of the black people are intelligent and dress reflective of intelligent people; about how black people in America are doomed to destruction because of the young people who will one day represent the leadership of “our” people. While the lady never said that she believed that Trayvon was murdered because he was wearing a hoodie (and, implicitly, that a consequence of wearing hoodies, such as death, is what he deserved because “our” young people are dumb and out of control), she left me, as a listener of 95.5 FM’s listening public, with the understanding that Trayvon was at fault for his own murder because of the manner in which he was dressed. And then yesterday morning, July 15, 2013, ESPN’s Steven A. Smith shared his opinion about how the verdict was just because the prosecution did not prove Zimmerman’s guilt. He then went on to share with the national television public how his sister, Carmen I believe, admonished her son for wearing hoodies and mandated that he never wear a hoodie again. And so, it seems, whether it is liked or not, African American men in American have a “clothing-limit.” African American men are precluded, it seems, from the wearing of sagging pants and hoodies by contemporary American societal standards. While Justin Bieber may be afforded the space to wear sagging pants, and while Justin Timberlake may be afforded the space to wear a hoodie, Justin Labancamy Jankins should not wear either lest he is prepared for the becoming-criminal that such clothing signifies when coupled with the sign that is the black body in America.
Last Note: I am not a wearer of sagging pants, per se. But, check it out: I was at QuikTrip the other day. As I was exiting the main building, a white guy was entering; we passed one another. He seemed about twenty-something, looked as though he liked to party. He was wearing no shirt. He had a few tattoos. He wore shorts and what could best be described as Timberland construction boots. His shorts seemed to sag on his waist. I pegged the guy as a construction worker. I wonder: would he receive a fine and/or jail time under the new proposed ban, or would he simply get a warning, or would his appearance simply be ignored (he was served; QuikTrip mandates no shoes, no shirt, no service)? I digress. I mention the story because arbitrating what is and what is not sagging and who is and who is not sagging are subjective exercises. However, the subjective feelings of some are trumped by the objectified spaces they occupy.
After the departure of Glenn “Doc” Rivers from the Boston Celtics, in lieu of a more attractive head coaching position in Los Angeles, the Celtics decided to revamp what was left of their iconic championship roster and begin the process of rebuilding a team that Danny Ainge – along with the rest of the executive teams in Massachusetts – believes will bring NBA championship banner number eighteen home to Boston. While the splash with which the Celtics, and their corporate partners at ESPN, are attempting to sell the thirty-six year old, no NBA experience having, Stevens to the sports public may suggest that the rebuilding of the Celtics begins with the selection of the head coach, the explanations of, and rationale behind, the choice of Stevens expose the idea that the rebuilding of the Celtics began with the release of Doc Rivers, the trades of Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett: the “lightening” of the Boston Celtics. The continued speculation regarding whether or not Stevens will be able to control, or coach, the Celtics’ championship-tested point guard Rajon Rondo, although not one practice session has ensued (hell, Rondo has not even returned from an ACL injury) – and the draft selections of the Celtics in the NBA’s most recent draft work to underscore the ideas that: 1) black male bodies are difficult to control, 2) black male bodies, especially older black male bodies, are more easily controlled by other older black male bodies, 3) communication between young, white male bodies and black male bodies is challenging, 4) communication between young, white male bodies and other young, white male bodies is less challenging than with black male bodies and 5) in the furtherance of facilitating and ensuring the entrance of Brad Stevens into the profession of head coach in the National Basketball Association, the Boston Celtics “lightened” their player roster.
Glenn "Doc" Rivers Danny Ainge Brad Stevens Rajon Rondo Kevin Garnett Paul Pierce
Black male bodies are difficult to control (coach).
For weeks prior to the eventual departure of Rivers from Boston, debate and discussion swirled about regarding his reasons for wanting to leave the franchise, the historic Boston franchise, for which he had worked to bring the much coveted and much awaited seventeenth NBA championship banner. Many suggested that he did not want to coach a team with Rajon Rondo as the leader of the team. It had long been whispered that the Celtics’ brass was not interested in attempting another championship run with the aging Paul Pierce at a price tag of $15 million a year. He would probably be released. And, Kevin Garnett, as rumor has suggested, was not interested in playing in Boston if Pierce was going to be traded, released or waived. Rivers tried, unsuccessfully, to persuade Ainge to hold the team – as constructed – together for at least one more season (and as much of his remaining contracted three years of service as possible). Ainge balked. Doc left Boston for Chris Paul, the ideal NBA point, and the Los Angeles Clippers. The underlying motivation on the part of Rivers for departing: he did not want to spend a great deal of what remains of his coaching career coaching the difficult, arrogant, attitudinal Rajon Rondo.
For his part, Rondo has acknowledged that he is “hard” to coach, seemingly. He states,
It’s not that I’m hard to coach; it’s just that I may challenge what you say. I know the game myself. I’m out there playing, so I may have seen something different versus what you saw from the sidelines. I’m going to be respectable. I’m going to let the coach talk. (thehoopsdoctors.com)
What Rondo describes as challenging has been described by others as: “tough tough to deal with and has an ego” (thehoopsdoctors.com); “arrogant,” “he doesn’t play the game” (MacKenzie); Doc Rivers (a black man), according to speculation, did not want to deal with Rondo once Garnett and Pierce were gone; why would the incoming Stevens? At least, that is the question at the heart of the speculation surrounding Stevens since his hire.
Black bodies, especially older black male bodies, are more easily controlled by older black male bodies.
After the Celtics announced that Stevens would be their new head coach – he signed a six year contract – it seemed as though all of the ESPN NBA basketball geniuses began to expound on how the trades of Garnett and Pierce to the Brooklyn Nets now all of a sudden began to make sense. “Sure, they had to get rid of veterans like Garnett and Pierce,” one would say. “There is no way Stevens could control a locker room with such veterans,” another would add. People like ESPN’s Jon Barry and Jay Bilas would add statements like: “…and they can’t sign free agents like Kevin Garnett, Glen Davis or Delonte West going forward”; “Stevens is used to dealing with…let’s just say that Steves isn’t used to dealing with players that might be a little rough around the edges.” I mean, if Doc’s not going to be in Boston to control the labor of Pierce and Garnett, then it only makes sense to get rid of Pierce and Garnett. And, going forward, if a coach, like Stevens, is not accustomed to controlling the labor of men like Pierce and Garnett, then the Celtics should no longer seek to capture, draft, the labor of men like Pierce and Garnett. Boston should seek labor that is more easily controlled. The costs of production associated with the NBA product require such an outlook.
Communication between young, white male bodies and black male bodies is challenging.
This premise has been established by the sportsnews media before Rondo and Stevens have even had an opportunity to meet, let alone experience a practice session together. It is simply assumed that the young white coach from Indiana will have a difficult time controlling and coaching the tough, difficult, challenging NBA championship caliber point guard that is Rondo.
Communication between young, white male bodies and other young, white male bodies is less challenging than with black male bodies.
It seems that the selections of the Boston Celtics in this year’s NBA draft reflect the concerns and efforts regarding filling out the player roster with the right kind of players. The selections of Kelly Olynyk and Colton Iverson, described as the kind of players Stevens might have chosen for his teams at Butler University, represent the ideal college players: pliant to coaching and uneasy with challenging anyone designated as an authority figure. It seems that Ainge and the brain-trust of the Boston Celtics want to provide Stevens with players with which he is accustomed at a place like Butler University and players which may most facilitate his new role as head coach and authoritarian of the Boston Celtics basketball player roster. The pundits have suggested that Olynyk and Iverson are the right kind of players for the new coach as he gets his feet wet and the Celtics experience their rebuilding process.
In the furtherance of facilitating and ensuring the entrance of Brad Stevens into the profession of head coach in the National Basketball Association, the Boston Celtics “lightened” their player roster.
When a corporate entity decides to employ someone for a position of management, it would make sense that the corporate entity would want to ensure that the person chosen for the management position would succeed. If, in order to facilitate management’s success, the corporate entity wishes to capture a labor force that would be pliant to management’s management style, then that is the prerogative of the corporate entity. In the case of the Boston Celtics, it seems as though in order to facilitate the success of Brad Stevens as an NBA head coach it is necessary to capture a labor force that is receptive and pliant to the management style of Stevens. Pierce, Garnet, and players like Davis, West and, even the NBA champion point guard Rajon Rondo, just may not reflect the type of players whose labor can be controlled in the fashion most conducive to the success of Stevens. And so, Ainge selected players like Olynyk and Iverson. The departure of Doc Rivers had a domino effect on the Boston Celtics: it signaled the “falling off,” if you will, of the black dominoes and their replacement by whiter, more pliant, more controllable dominoes.
The next time you or someone you know is motivated to write or lament about why there are not more black bodies in corporate America or in management positions in America, consider the motivations and rationale of the hiring entities. Sometimes, a great number of times, it is not about whether a person is talented enough to merit a position. Rajon Rondo has great talents, evidenced by his recognition as an NBA championship quality point guard. Yet, his tenure with the Boston Celtics may very well come to an end because it is perceived that his attitude may be a future impediment to the coaching success of Brad Stevens, an NBA head coach with no NBA head coaching experience. With no evidence of tension in a relationship yet to be formed, Rondo suffers from being overdetermined as the type of black body with which Stevens may not be able to communicate, coach and control. This represents the lives we lead.
Glen "Big Baby" Davis Delonte West Kelly Olynyk Colton Iverson
My pants are saggin',
Sagging Pants. The topic has been swirling around in my brain. Most likely because two writers, Tallis Piaget and Michelle Parrinello-Cason (both of whom I consider friends), have written strongly on the subject and their words have been seared into my mental space. Both offer intriguing perspectives on the topic. In Black Boogiemen, Piaget’s seminal novel, sagging pants function as a sign indicative of young men who are subject to an assimilation project, or, even worse, fodder for murder. In Parrinello-Cason’s blog, Balancing Jane, the author attempts to interact with elected St. Louis officials regarding the purpose and scope and ideas regarding a proposed St. Louis law banning sagging pants and the institution of fines for those who sag in public. Please visit the authors’ respective sites (and novel) and read their perspectives in total.
For my part, I would like to speak on how the sagging pants ban is just another example of how the State curtails the movements and actions of African American men. Especially, in St. Louis. You have to understand, St. Louis has a very complicated and divisive history with regards to race and all matters racial. Hell, the whole state of Missouri for that matter. The Missouri Compromise of 1820 (you are welcomed Maine) and the Compromise of 1850 (you are welcomed California) evidence just how easily Missourians will compromise the rights, responsibilities and liberties of African Americans in the furtherance of ingratiating the state to the nation as a whole. Dred Scott (and the other 200+ Freedom Cases), a whole host and history of red-lining neighborhoods regarding racial bias and residential covenants restricting white home owners from selling to black home seekers, alert all to the feelings and attitudes that St. Louisans have held, and, some, continue to hold regarding the African American population of St. Louis.
When I was growing from a young boy to a young man in St. Louis, the State instituted a ban and fine regarding loud music emanating from one’s car audio system. This was around the time when low-riders and the “boom-boom” culture were beginning to take root with regards to America’s youth and young adult population. I remember this one time (at band camp), my friends and I were gathered on the White Castle’s parking lot at Natural Bridge and Kingshighway (remember, like Crenshaw on Sundays. See, Boyz-n-the-Hood; Nelly, "Natural Bridge and Kingshighway"). A very nice car drove onto the lot playing the latest hip-hop hit song. I believe it was “My Mind's Playin’ Tricks on Me” by the Houston based group The Geto Boys. At any rate, a young lady was like: “Girl…he got them boom-booms!” I digress. My friends and I also worked, off and on, at Tocco’s Professional Car Audio, located in the municipality of Dellwood in north St. Louis county. Tocco’s was an industry leader in St. Louis with regards to selling and installing car audio. Leonard “Lenny” Tocco is a white, Italian-American business owner. I mention this because, young black youth and young adult males in St. Louis did not import their audio gear from overseas and were not the only ones participating in car audio culture, yet they were routinely the ones profiled and fined (and sometimes jailed) as a result of the ordinances and regulations passed by municipalities like Dellwood, Moline Acres, Florissant, St. Louis City, Ladue, Olivette and so on and so forth, with regards to the playing of loud music. St. Louis companies made millions from selling the car audio and the State made millions by criminalizing those who purchased the car audio. I fear the same will result from the sagging pants ban.
And, I want to make this argument regarding sagging pants. Taking into consideration the knowledge we have regarding what engendered the culture of sagging pants, I would like to posit the following: I was watching the VH-1 Behind the Music special on music artist and writer Nasir “Nas” Jones. In response to Nas being too old to wear his pants sagging, Nas replied, “I know…but every now and then, when I am in a room full of white, male executives…I gotta let ‘em know.” What Nas was getting at was the idea that at heart, hip-hop music originated as revolutionary music (socially, politically, spiritually) and every now and then he, Nasir Jones, has to remind the men who control the economic strings of America and are endeared to him because he can make them money that, at heart he, Nasir Jones, disagrees with, and desires to revolutionize, how Americans view and treat African American males. For Nas, sagging pants represent a certain political position. A position which suggests that he will not willingly assimilate to the desires and dictates of his political and social overlords. He understands that his sagging pants make some people uncomfortable: that is why he chooses to strategically wear his pants sagging at times. If you do not understand the sentiments of a person like Nas, perhaps you should initiate a dialogue with the next person you see with sagging pants, instead of running to your local officials to curtail the freedom of expression of people with whom you disagree. Peace and blessings.
You all are probably used to me referring to the changes in my life that I believe marriage to my wife has engendered. A relationship with someone I love and respect and desire to protect has reinforced and strengthened the intensity of my conceptions of loyalty and honesty. Do not get me wrong, as a boy growing to a man in America I was taught to understand that a man gives his word and stands by it…and, that a man never betrays those to whom he is invested and loyal…and…and…And there was a point in my life when my love, respect and admiration for both my maternal and paternal grandmothers motivated me to make sure that I always displayed outward signs that I was a maturing honest and loyal man; after all, I represented Ida Bell and Roberta. Ironically, with their respective passing, also went my concern with regards to how the world saw me. While I, internally, knew and understood that I was, am and always plan to be, a loyal and honest man, I had no human connections, based on love and respect, which reinforced and strengthened my desire to display these personal characteristics outwardly. And my periodic appearances before men dressed in black robes only served to reinforce the consequences of my choice. So, when I complain that I feel a bit overdetermined as a black man in America, my detractors often suggest that my actions, sometimes, reflect not a black man overdetermined as dishonest and disloyal, but a man whose past actions reflect a pattern of dishonesty and disloyalty. And, because I have been complicit in helping to erect the screens and landscapes onto which representations and interpretations of me with which I am displeased exist: I have little room for argument. Yes, our past actions can be, and in most cases are, indicative of our character and indicative of our future actions and motivations. For some men, especially those of us who have had our brushes with America’s criminal justice system, living according to middle-class patriarchal masculinity is an impossibility. Those convicted according to the rules, regulations and ordinances of the criminal justice system will NEVER escape their past transgressions reflective of dishonesty and disloyalty; their criminal records will follow them for the remainder of their lives. And for African American men, the attainment of middle-class patriarchal masculinity, historically, has been even more challenging.
Presenting themselves as honest and loyal has been a particular challenge for black men in America. Better yet, being understood as honest and loyal has been a particular challenge for black men in America. While enslaved, black men were inherently assumed to be dishonest and disloyal. Who would not lie to attain freedom? Who would not steal to attain freedom? Who would not betray the trust of an owner of slaves in order to attain freedom? After emancipation, black men had to represent themselves as loyal to a country that did not, and to a large degree still does not, see black men as human beings. Trayvon? Long before emancipation, men like Ben Franklin wrote, with genuine surprise, about the lack of desire on the part of black men to exert revenge against a country which had treated them so poorly and inhumanely. Throughout Reconstruction and the modern era and the war era and the civil rights era and the post-racial era, black men have worked to insure that American citizens are afforded the liberties and rights as promised by the Constitution to which these men have sworn allegiance. In large measure, black, African American men have been loyal and honest in our dealings with the United States of America. The United States of America has not always been honest and loyal in its dealings with black, African American men; the United States of America has not been very masculine in its relationship with African American men. And, the past actions of the US should be indicative of future actions and motivations.
That brings us to the Supreme Court’s most recent ruling regarding the Voting Rights Act of 1965; more specifically, Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Yesterday, the court, led by an arch-conservative Judge Roberts whose life’s mission since law school has been to dismantle the VRA, gutted Section 4. Judge Roberts declared, “Our country has changed.” Really? Trayvon. Ask Paula Deen how much she has changed. Her response would be, “I is what I is…I’m not changing.” A country whose whole foundation and culture has been intertwine with theories and ideologies of race, cannot be trusted to treat all people fairly, without oversight and laws enforcing such treatment. The past actions of the country suggest so; the country’s record is indicative of such. How can SCOTUS suggest that we have grown as a country when our past suggests that we cannot keep our word; we are not honest. I do not trust the judge or the words of Judge Roberts. The US, socially or legally or culturally, has: broken every treaty with Native Americans that I can think of, recognized women as equal citizens deserving of equal pay like men yet refused to pass any law which enforces such a position, allowed abortion to exist legally yet has impeded the practice whenever and wherever possible, freed black men from slavery yet consistently developed/develops law after law to curtail the physical movements and liberties of black men. (We will discuss Parchman Farm and The New Jim Crow and anti-sagging laws in St. Louis in the near future.)
The U.S. is not always loyal to its citizens; it is often dishonest and cannot be trusted. Our history, with regards to the advent of Civil Rights laws, indicates that we cannot be trusted on issues of racial discrimination and fair access to the ballot box. Ida Bell and Roberta fought hard to help pass laws that protect people who looked like them from the consequences of racial discrimination and the denial of access to the ballot box. Now, twenty years after my grandmothers’ deaths and almost fifty years after passage of the VRA, we are told that the pre-clearance restrictions regarding the process of voting which Section 4 mandated are no longer needed: the country has changed. In a climate where Paula Deen desires to recreate Ole Dixie, complete with the requisite, subordinated black bodies serving and smiling and grinning, and where George Zimmerman believes that black males are fair game to be stalked, hunted, killed and mounted as trophies, I do not believe our country has changed as much as Judge Roberts does. Past actions reflect patterns regarding one’s character. In the past, America has seemingly enjoyed marginalizing African American men; I fear that yesterday’s ruling reflects just one more action underscoring such marginalization. Let us see if America is invested in and loyal to African American men. Let us see if America is loyal to African American men. I fear we will gather up our children, get some watermelon and have a picnic. I fear there’s gwine be a lychin’ in town.
I, like millions of Americans, use Facebook. And, on Father’s Day the outpouring of love and affection for the nation’s fathers was great to see. Some of us, unfortunately, have not experienced relationships with fathers, but we have been lucky enough to have male role models - sometimes supplied, sometimes sought out. I have been lucky enough to receive wisdom from the Julian and Les Bonds, the James Bufords, the Dr. Dwayne Smiths and a whole host of respectable male figures who populated the Black House on the campus of Stanford University. While I listened intently to what these men may have had to say – for they were and are examples of success in America – what I found astonishing was that these men would say one thing when gathered around black men in a backroom somewhere and, yet, have a totally different persona and demeanor in public, especially when around white people. In private, the men would seemingly empathize with the plights of the young men that they were charged with mentoring. And, while I – we – may have received some tools on how to perform accordingly in corporate settings, we received no guidance on how to be black men in America (or maybe we did). Instead, all we received was a “handbook of acquiescence.” Do not pay attention to the injustices that you may feel…black folk have always had it hard, why should it be different for you all…do not look at what others have done to you, fix your shortcomings. Black men are designed to acquiesce to the feelings of double consciousness (more like a multiplicity of consciousness in this postmodern world) that permeates our very souls in America. It is a terrible feeling.
Perhaps, it is our fault – the young men of my generation – for investing too much trust, too much understanding, in these men who are seemingly like us. I know that I have become tremendously disillusioned with the journalist and TV personality Stephen A. Smith lately. As a member of Omega Psi Phi, Incorporated, Smith has really surprised me with the level of advocacy with which he espouses adherence to the handbook of acquiescence. As one who travels all around the United States expounding on black men, black manhood and black masculinity, I find it very heartbreaking that Smith does not use the platform earned and the voice developed to speak more publicly and openly and honestly about the plight and challenges of black men in America.
Stephen A. Smith Skip Bayless Cari Champion
I watch ESPN’s First Take, starring Smith and Skip Bayless and hosted by Cari Champion, routinely. One of Smith’s favorite sayings is, “a fair is a place where they judge pigs.” I have interpreted Smith to be suggesting that life is not fair for anyone: so get over it. With particular reference to black men and racism that may exist in America, Smith has been noted as saying,
Nobody wants to hear excuses… Nobody wants to hear, “They’re keeping me down.” “No, you’re keeping yourself down”… “Saying that is an excuse to accept mediocrity. You’re looking for people to blame instead of looking in the mirror.” (Bell)
Ironically, Smith made this statement at the commencement ceremonies at Winston-Salem State University (why do these speakers always make these statements to the very people who have not made excuses and who have worked diligently and hard to attain their respective levels of success?). Then as a panelist on the CNN special, Black in America, Smith demonstrated not only his internalization of the handbook of acquiescence, but also provided insight regarding why he, in particular, will not give an honest explication of racism and the trials and tribulations of black folk, and black men specifically, in America. When the moderator, Bob Evans , who happened to be the Deputy Editor of Essence magazine, asked the question, to no one in particular, “Does the heighten racism [in Amerca] surprise you or disappoint you?”, the following transaction took place:
Ben Jealous: It was disappointing but not surprising. Racism so infects our national discourse that we still think the majority of crack users in this country are Black. White people are 65% of crack users.
After watching and hearing the program first hand, I had to seek out the show’s transcript so that I could be assured of understanding what I heard. It became evident that Smith does not only advise other black men to acquiesce to the social regularities of America, but he himself is also an adherent of the handbook of acquiescence. Here is a man heard in over 207 media markets in America and he is afraid to discuss issues that may be not only of importance to Smith as a journalist, commentator and writer, but to the health and security and understanding of black men in America collectively. And he once criticized Donovan McNabb for not speaking out on behave of black players while a member of the Philadelphia Eagles? I distinctly remember Smith making the following statement: “What I saw from Donovan is not something most black men relate to, because you want somebody with a voice to use it– not somebody with a voice to be quite like Donovan was…” (mofopolitics.com). Really? And do you, Mr. Smith, use your voice and platform in a manner to which most black men can relate? And how does Smith get to function as the arbiter of that to which most black men can relate, when he equivocates so consistently with regard to his ideas about what constitutes blackness? Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, Smith has internalized America’s dominant ideological outlook regarding the understanding and representation of blackness, in general, and black men, specifically.
Smith on niggas, blackness, black men and human beings.
There is no arguing against the fact that at times throughout their careers, both Kobe Bryant and LeBron James have been vilified as the worst types of black men in America. And, the argument could be made that both Bryant and James were, in part, to blame for providing the screens and landscapes onto which America could paint them as the big-lipped, dishonest ravishers of white female domesticity and sexuality that the men were to become. But the ease with which Smith displays his internalization and views and acquiescence to such a position is just awful; Smith has no problem referring to black men such as Bryant and James as niggas on the national airwaves of America for all to hear. He has found himself in hot water for using the n-word more than once on First Take. The first time he said it was in December 2011, referring to James as “this nigga” (Lee). More recently, during an airing of First Take on October 25th, 2012, Smith expressed his disbelief that Kobe Bryant would miss time with an injury by saying “nigga, please” (Petchesky). Now, we can debate whether Smith was referring to Bryant or just speaking to black men in general. But, he said it.
December 12, 2012. In response to a statement made by journalist Rob Parker about the Washington Redskins’ quarterback Robert Griffith III – Parker said, “He’s kind of black, but he’s not really” - Smith stated:
First of all, let me say this: I’m uncomfortable with where we just went…RG3, the ethnicity or the color of his[white] fiancée is none of our business, it’s irrelevant, he can live his life in whatever way he chooses. The braids that he has in his hair, that’s his business, that’s his life, he can live his life. I don’t judge someone’s blackness based on those kinds of things. I just don’t do that. I’m not that kind of guy. (Smith)
In this case, Smith alerts his audience to two strains of racial ideology working in his make-up, simultaneously. First, he espouses aspects of the post-Civil Rights ideology which suggest that we are all created equal and that we all should be able to live how we choose, regardless of America’s historical use of constitutive constraints regarding what should and should not be considered that which reflects blackness. Then he let us know that while he is not judging Griffith’s blackness based on the criteria laid out by Parker, he does judge blackness. Smith has criteria for blackness. Griffith, as his refusal to comment on his historical role as a black quarterback in the NFL indicates, is a human being and should be allowed to live as such. Terrell Owens and Chad Johnson: those are black guys.
Enter the curious case of Chad “Ochocinco” Johnson. I could write an entire book on Johnson and the complicity of some black men regarding their sometimes damning representation in America. So, it is difficult to use him as an example of one judged a bit too harshly by Smith; yet, I will. For I believe that Smith’s criticism of Johnson reveals more about Smith than it does Johnson. But first, the case of Johnson.
Johnson was released earlier this week after serving seven days of a thirty day jail sentence for probation violation. If you are unaware of how Johnson found himself in such a predicament, then please allow me a moment to recap events. Johnson met, seemingly feel in love with and then married VH1 reality-show star Evelyn Lozada, of Basketball Wives (funny, she was no one’s wife), after meeting the woman on Twitter and dating her on her reality-show. Their wedding also presented the opportunity for the couple to film another reality show, which was broadcasted to the world. Johnson, in the mist of this social media roller coaster, was moved from the New England Patriots to the Miami Dolphins, which happened to be featured on the HBO reality-show Hard Knocks. After assaulting his wife, either in response to her disgust that he may have been adulterous and may have practiced infidelity, or, in response to his disgust that Lozada allegedly had been the sex-kitten of Cash Money CEO Ronald “Slim” Williams, Johnson was publicly released from the Dolphins on television and was eventually sentenced to twelve months of supervised probation for the assault on Lozada – he head-butted her.
Evelyn Lozada Chad "Ochocinco" Johnson
In the aftermath of such a public fall from grace, Johnson disappeared from reality television, social media and the pubic eye – emerging now and then on ESPN’s First Take. He was on an image rehabilitation mission attempting to demonstrate to both the NFL authorities and the state authorities that he was and is a solid citizen worthy of just one more stint in the NFL. Then he missed an appointment with his probation officer. Such an occurrence required an appearance before a judge to explain why he did not report to his probation officer, or risk having to serve out the remainder of his probation in an actual jail. While solidifying a plea agreement with Judge Kathleen McHugh, Johnson smacked his male judge on the buttocks – in good ole NFL fashion – which prompted the judge to throw out the plea agreement and then sentence Johnson to thirty days in jail. The whole saga led Stephen A. Smith to go on a racial and social diatribe.
During the June 10th, 2013 airing of First Take, Smith went off on Johnson. He began by saying, “I cannot even put into words how disgusted I am…at this man right now” (First Take). He then proceeded to put into words his view of Johnson as an idiot. Here are the highlights of what Smith had to say:
Skip has been incredibly fair to this man [Johnson], this show [First Take] has been incredibly fair to this man, this network [ESPN] has been incredibly fair to this man, this COUNTRY has been incredibly fair to this man…Imma be very, very clear…I understand this is going to be controversial, but it needs to be said. You slap your attorney playfully in court…you are a BLACK man! In court!...the judge…Kathleen McHugh…I don’t know any men named Kathleen…You [Johnson] don’t have the common sense to know that you can’t be in court, playfully…what is wrong with him? I don’t understand it, I don’t get it. It doesn’t make sense to me…the HEIGHT of idiocy…I can’t believe he could be that idiotic! (First Take)
There is a lot to unpack here. First, we begin to understand that Smith’s conception of fairness equivocates. He tells an audience of graduating university students that fairness does not exist (remember, a fair is where they judge pigs?); but, all associated with ESPN, including the United States of America, have been incredibly fair to Johnson. This country!? No more than twenty seconds later, Smith admonishes Johnson for not acting accordingly as a black man in a courtroom in America. Without saying it directly, Smith alludes to the generally accepted and understood notion that black men are treated differently by the American legal and criminal justice system in comparison with other Americans: read white Americans. He acknowledges that Judge McHugh is a female judge, but will not go near the fact that she is a white female judge. That, while Smith is espousing to be controversial, would be a bit too controversial. Middle America does not want to hear that. Or, perhaps his role is to only be controversial to black communities. He ends by imploring the audience to consider Johnson’s idiocy – for not acting as a black man should act in court – while the black female, Cari Champion, and the white patriarch, Skip Bayless, look on approvingly. It takes Smith’s good friend and peer, Jason Whitlock, to explain what is really taking place with Smith and his role on First Take, especially with regards to black communities.
Whitlock writes, in an article entitled, “Memo to ESPN, Stephen A.: Enough BS,”
First Take…It baits Negroes to act like n---as.
FoxSports' Jason Whitlock
Whitlock’s sentiments, coupled with Smith’s adherence to the handbook of acquiescence (or better yet, reflecting Smith’s adherence to the handbook of acquiescence), led me to believe that he owes America, and black communities in America specifically, an apology. He runs around condemning, criticizing and demonizing black men in America, while purportedly working in the furtherance of black manhood and masculinity, only to publicly espouse a position reflective of anything but a purposeful and healthy black conception of black manhood and black masculinity. But, as the article entitled, “The Rise, Fall and Rise of Stephen A. Smith,” suggests, after giving “ESPN the impression [that he] wasn’t fully engaged in this [being the black guy that ESPN wanted], that[he] was always looking for greener pastures,” Smith was fired from ESPN (Bunn). Smith says of the firing, “I [understood] ESPN’s position when they had given me the platform to showcase what I do best and yet everything they threw my way did not seem to satisfy my appetite” (Bunn). Perhaps Smith once had an appetite to speak more honestly about black athletes and the plight of the black male athlete in America. But after being let go by ESPN and having to find a way to make a living with FoxSports (they hoped he’d become the black Glenn Beck of sports) and the Tom Joyner Morning Show (I believe that Tom is a Q-dawg, I could be wrong though – black frats!), Smith repackaged himself and reappeared as the beard which gives legitimacy to Skip’s not so thoroughly disguised niggardly representations of black male athletes and entertainers. I mean these guys have had Lil’ Wayne – that historian of all things Emmett Till and that lover of the dark hued black woman (he does not like dark-skinned black women, Champion is not an attractive woman in Wayne’s eyes; he prefers the ambiguously racial African American woman) – on the show on numerous occasions. Along with 2 Chainz, Joe Budden, Wale, Nelly, LL Cool J and so on and so forth. If this is what it takes to be successful as a black man of letters in America…I, for one, refuse to acquiesce!
Bell, Harold. “Winston Salem State Graduates Bamboozled: Stephen A. Smith Talking Out of Both Sides of His Mouth.”
Bunn, Curtis. The Rise, Fall and Rise Of Stephen A. Smith
“ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith: “Most black men” can’t relate to Donovan McNabb.”
First Take. ESPN. 10 June 1013.
Lee, Amber. “The 20 Dumbest Things Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith Have Said.”
Smith, Michael David. “ESPN commentator on RG3: “He’s kind of black, but he’s not really””
Whitlock, Jason. “Memo to ESPN, Stephen A.: Enough BS.”
For the first time in my life, I felt as though I found a woman who saw real substance in my dreams. It was like a breath of fresh air. To live life, not according to criteria sent down from on-high, but according to the potential of our mutual love. Life was never the same again.
Over the past several months, there has been a tremendous amount of discussion centered on the choosing of one’s partner (girlfriend, boyfriend, significant other, spouse) with regards to potential. Most of the discussion has suggested that one not choose one’s partner based on potential and much of that advice has been directed towards women - African American women with great specificity. Jada Pinkett Smith advises a friend to
make sure you are not falling in love with the POTENTIAL of someone. We must know the difference between loving people for who they already are vs. loving the idea of what they COULD be. Make sure you are loving him for who he is today. His potential should be the icing...not the cake. (Smith)
Paul Brunson echoes Smith in his article, “Falling in Love with Potential is a Mistake!,”
reiterating that “falling in love with potential is a mistake” (Brunson). He goes on to say
So often I see good-willed people focus much of their energy on attempting to “rescue” or “upgrade” their partner… They haven’t fallen in love with the man/woman, they have actually fallen in love with the “ideal” of the man/woman. This is dangerous, simply because often times the “ideal” is never realized.
When I think about this topic from a masculinist position – the New Masculinism – I almost totally agree with the sentiments of Smith and Brunson: almost. When attempting to understand “the travail of black mothers [as] the conduit through which black sons acquire an understanding of masculinity that is at once both sexual and political,” I can understand the dangers of falling in love with and/or attaching one’s life outlook to the potential of a man (Labancamy); as Brunson writes, “this is dangerous…the ideal is never realized.” But, I also find the position somewhat problematic, particularly as a black man.
Potentially black love builds communities.
The fact that I believe that black men in America have a tenuous hold on middle-class patriarchal masculine criteria does not need to be repeated here. What I do want to remind everyone of is: men of my generation are seeking to develop more helpful and healthier conceptions of masculinity. Some of us are having a difficult time reconciling the call for this development by our foremothers – Morrison, Naylor, Walker, Giovanni, hooks, etc. – and the attitudes of many of the women with whom we are contemporary. On the one hand, you have post-ERA mothers raising liberated young women and imploring their sons to understand that women are to be treated equally, in comparison to men, and with respect. On the other hand, the daughters have developed dating and mating attitudes reflective of the following:
Some [women] give up on marriage, like, ‘I’m never going to find a guy who has a job, makes as much as I do, who’s cute, that I can’t pick up and spin around!’ (qtd. in Johnson)
It seems that while many black men are attempting to curtail the behaviors and attitudes – stemming from middle-class patriarchal masculinity – that engender the need for the many black feminisms that exist, many black women have internalized many of the criteria associated with middle-class patriarchal masculinity with regards to their outlook on a potential partner and dating in general. In an age when women were almost precluded from the workplace, I could have understood the desire to find a man with a job, a good job. In such a time, women should have made sure that the mate that they chose could support not only the woman, but any potential offspring that may have arisen during the course of the relationship. But, in an age when women’s liberation has not only been realized, but mandated, I ask my women readers: why does it matter if your mate has a job or makes as much money as you do? You have a job, do you not? Should men hold the same standards with regards to women? I am just a little confused. If you have a job, a good job, and the man you love does not, yet your salary could support you both: what is the problem? Some women seemingly want to have their cake and eat it, too. And that is fine. I was always told that it is a woman’s prerogative to change her mind (be liberated until you find that man that you decide to be with). I was told that by my grandfather, a practitioner of middle-class patriarchal masculinity. Such a position does not seem to reflect the liberation of which women so ardently speak.
Just a note on women’s liberation and the idea of gender equality. I have a friend. She and her brother are roughly the same age (actually they are the same age, for they are twins). When the young lady went off to college, her parents paid for her tuition, her off-campus apartments and her car (s). The brother had to earn his own way. Upon graduation, the young lady was lauded for how well she managed the university and for the independent spirit she demonstrated; the brother needed an extra year and a half to graduate the university. He worked full-time to cover his educational expenses and the opportunity time that could have been spent studying was sometimes spent working. In the same family, a family dominated by women for the brother and father were the only males in a household of at least eight persons, the young man is treated one way and the young lady another. What are we doing to our children? Some may think: the father was raising his son to be a real man. Ok. What was he raising the daughter to be? If I said a passive receptacle to reproduce concepts of middle-class patriarchal masculinity, would I be wrong? Let us move on.
Smith reminds us to “know the difference between loving people for who they already are vs. loving the idea of what they COULD be. Make sure you are loving him for who he is today” (Smith). And, in a posting on the Urban Cusp Facebook fanpage, managing editor Rahiel Tesfamariam suggests that we not “be seduced by counterfeits. Someone can be in love with the idea of you. An image of who you are that they manufactured for their own personal pleasure and contentment” (qtd. in Urban Cusp) (I first caught wind of this discussion via Urban Cusp’s Rahiel Tesfamarian. Urban Cusp is a great source for everything hip, divine and urban; check it out!). On the surface, I really agree with both the sentiment of Smith’s argument and Tesfamariam’s argument. I would suggest that everything we do with our lives seems to be rooted in idealism and potential, however. Remember the American Dream. (I’ll never forget when a girl was friendly to me because she said I had earning potential. Hah! Fooled her.). Hard work and dedication result, sometimes, in the attainment of dreams based on ideals. Sometimes all that is available is POTENTIAL...and sometimes what is most needed is someone who believes in and supports your drive towards becoming what you have dreamed of becoming. Perhaps, this is a role a parent or guardian should have provided. Some of us do not have the luxury of the noble lineage. Some of us get such support where we find it. Ultimately, I would leave each to his or her own. If you want to support someone because you believe in his or her potential and that makes you happy, then knock yourself out. Life is too short to do otherwise. Be happy. Unfortunately, some people are more concerned about what their friends will say when their friends discover that they are dating a man or woman who only possesses potential. “Why you dating him (or her)?” And then the trouble begins.
Brunson, Paul. “Falling in Love with Potential is a Mistake!” 7 June 2013.
Johnson, Christopher. “Single Black Man Seeks LTR. Single Black Woman? Not So Much.” 4 June 2013.
Labancamy Jankins. About Us.
Pinkett-Smith, Jada. “A letter to a friend.” Jada Pinkett Smith Facebook Fanpage. 28 Ma 2013.
Tesfamariam, Rahiel. Posting. Urban Cusp Facebook Fanpage. 25 April 2013.
I’m black yall,
Well, that Memorial Day weekend lasted a bit longer than expected; but, you have to enjoy friends and family when you can. Loved ones do not live forever. Today’s topic will center on black men and black men’s responsibilities to one another. And, since there is no greater exemplar of the practice of middle-class patriarchal masculinity than President Barack Obama, let us ask: does President Obama have any responsibilities with respect to black men in America?
Our president, along with the First Lady, has been taking some heat (what’s new) over the past few weeks. First, there was the April 14, 2013 piece in The Philadelphia Tribune by Reverend Kevin Johnson. Entitled “A President for Everyone, except Black People,” the article takes issue with the president over what Johnson characterizes as the president’s apparent lack of concern for black Americans and the issues that they confront in their daily lives. Johnson, one of the original forces which helped to engender the political rise of Barack Obama on the national scene, recently became disenchanted with the president and his administration’s policy sometime during the planning stages of the president’s re-election strategy. According to Johnson,
in 2012, two prominent Philadelphia lawyers convened a meeting between White House senior advisor, Valerie Jarrett, and a cross-section of Philadelphia’s African-American leadership. The purpose of the meeting was to candidly discuss the president’s re-election strategy and policies toward African-Americans.
Johnson was then met with the refrain of talking points that the White House has developed in response to criticisms of the type leveled by Johnson and his ilk. According to Jarrett, Obama’s administration has accomplished: “the passing of Obamacare, the increase in PELL grants, etc.” (qtd. in Johnson). Jarrett went on to remind those gathered that “we are family” and that “the president is the president of all Americans, not just Black people” (qtd. in Johnson). Johnson’s piece goes on stating that Black folks “too sing America,” still (Hughes), and concludes by asking some pointed questions, most importantly: “Why are [black Americans] so loyal to a president who is not loyal to us? What is it about our community that we continue to support candidates nationally and locally just because their skin has been “kissed by nature’s sun”” (Johnson)?
About a month after the Johnson article, the Obamas – yes both Michelle and Barack – were taken to task by Ta-Nehisi Coates of the Atlantic for their seeming condescension to black communities, particularly during this spring’s commencement addresses to newly graduated African American college and university students. In his May 20, 2013 offering, Coates argues that while “perhaps [African Americans] cannot practically receive targeted policy…they have earned something more than targeted scorn” (Coates). Coates is not necessarily off the point here. Addressing the graduating class at Bowie State University, the First Lady reminded the students that “instead of dreaming of being a teacher or a lawyer or a business leader, [too many of our young people are] fantasizing about being a baller or a rapper” (qtd. in Coates). Additionally, in a gathering of students who have more than likely read books, and evidently read them well, all of their lives, Mrs. Obama goes on to say: “And as my husband has said often, please stand up and reject the slander that says a black child with a book is trying to act white. Reject that” (qtd. in Coates).
For his part, Mr. Obama – who is “not the president of black America [but] the president of all America” – has played the role of admonisher-in-chief, at least according to Coates (qtd. in Coates). Addressing the graduating class at Morehouse College – one of iconic, historically black colleges in the United States, where the focus on education has always been at a premium – President Obama reminded the graduates of the following:
We know that too many young men in our community continue to make bad choices. Growing up, I made a few myself. And I have to confess, sometimes I wrote off my own failings as just another example of the world trying to keep a black man down. But one of the things you've learned over the last four years is that there's no longer any room for excuses.
I believe that the two passages referenced are what upset Coates. And, I cannot say that I disagree with him. Coates states,
I would have a hard time imagining the president telling the women of Barnard that “there's no longer room for any excuses” -- as though they were in the business of making them. Barack Obama is, indeed, the president of “all America,” but he also is singularly the scold of "black America. (Coates)
Having sat through numerous graduation ceremonies at some all-female institutions of learning, I have to admit that I have never heard a guest speaker suggest to the women that “there’s no longer room for any excuses” regarding why women get paid less than men or, why women represent a smaller percentage of the managerial and executive positions in the workforce compared to men, etc., etc.
At any rate, Jonathan Capehart, Washington Post columnist, author and sometime MSNBC television personality, took issue with the positions held by both Johnson and Coates. In his May 21, 2013 article, “Obama Can’t Win with Some Black Critics,” Capehart chastises Johnson for his claim that Obama “ignores the concerns of black people”; Coates, for his claim that the Obamas “talk down to them” (“Obama Can’t Win”). Moreover, Capehart asserts that Johnson and Coates are simply “incredibly short-sighted” in their criticisms of President Obama (“Obama Can’t Win”). He goes on to remind us that he alerted us to the actions of Obama some time ago and that we should have paid attention. In an article written in response to the myriad of books about President Obama, Capehart states,
By searching for [marquee] moments, Harris and others appear not to care about the myriad actions Obama has undertaken that affect the lives of all Americans, yes, but also of African Americans more directly. And I certainly don’t advocate for Obama to burst into the East Room clad in Kente cloth and brandishing a definable “black agenda” or whatever else so many blacks seem to want from him to prove that he cares. (“Stop Waiting”)
Ultimately, Capehart seems to believe that what black critics are missing, or leaving out, in their criticisms of President Obama’s policies towards black Americans is the staunch opposition offered by the Republicans, especially since the 2010-midterm elections. He writes,
that’s what’s missing from most African American critiques of Obama: an appreciation for Republican resistance to his agenda. To expect the president to introduce an explicit and definable “black agenda” in a Congress filled with people who believe him to be a socialist destroying the country while illegitimately occupying the Oval Office is seriously naive. (“Obama Can’t Win”)
Sounds like an excuse to me.
What I find interesting in Capehart’s article is the fact that he does not really refute what Johnson and Coates have to say; he simply believes that there are explanations for the first African American president’s apparent treatment of African Americans. While he lists a number of accomplishments that the president successfully saw through during his first term – increases in funding for HBCUs, the passage of Obamacare (and that ish is barely being implemented), the Fair Sentencing Act, and banking regulations – very few of those policies were or are aimed at the demographic (s) which have levied complaints against Mr. Obama. What about the citizens who are not enrolled in the undergraduate university, who do not sell crack, who do not have healthcare facilities in their areas and who rent? That sounds like a great number of the people that I know. Many of them claim that they would simply like to hear some sincerity, some intimate understanding, regarding their plight from the first African American president. I digress.
My biggest issue with the president and his administration is: he has turned out to be like most politicians in power. He is no different. Just darker. I am beginning to become very disturbed by the way in which this administration uses race. So, Johnson’s question is very important: “What is it about our community that we continue to support candidates nationally and locally just because their skin has been “kissed by nature’s sun?” Have we been supporting Obama simply because his skin has a darker hue than usual? It seems we have. For the most part, Barack Obama has very little in common with many of the people who may refer to themselves as black. Do your own test. What do you and Obama have in common? I believe that if people who feel themselves deserted by President Obama ask themselves this question, then they will realize that the president did not desert them. They were never on the same team in the first place. And this is not your typical American race rant. There are different types of black Americans. Sometimes, the only thing that they have in common is a shared, relatively speaking, melanin level.
When Michelle says “when it comes to getting an education, too many of our young people just can't be bothered,” who exactly is the our to which she is referring? All of the young people I know are literally killing themselves to get an education. It cannot be the graduates at Bowie State because their dedication to education would be self-evident. And, suggesting that an educated black man is trying to act white went out of style a long time ago. But, it does underscore the idea that race is a performative act. Like it or not, long standing historical and cultural norms have been accepted and established in America regarding the performance of blackness, and whiteness for that matter. Among African Americans – black Americans – there is no shared and agreed upon understanding of blackness, or criteria by which blackness is defined. Never has been. So when Mrs. Obama says our children, I ask again: to whom is she referring. And then she goes on to say that the children want to be ballers and rappers, not business leaders or teachers or lawyers. First of all, has anyone asked these people why they want to be ballers and rappers? Ballers, usually businessmen who have created enough wealth to create a world of their own where attempts can be more readily facilitated to mitigate the impact of societal influences on them and those that they love, are ingrained in the American mythos. How the hell do you all think we developed the nickname the 49ers? Those people were not heading west to attend the university. They were seeking wealth. Yes, like just about everyone who has ever immigrated to America. And rappers. Did not your husband Mrs. Obama employ Jay-Z in his efforts at election and re-election? Remember, “My President is Black?” And some rappers are some of the nation’s most gifted businessmen; I m not always very pleased with the nature and scope of their businesses, but nonetheless they are businessmen. Perhaps it is the autonomy and sense of freedom from society’s every reflecting mirror that these young people seek in their pursuits of becoming a baller or a businessman. Perhaps it is the escape from having to go to work everyday among many who have no cultural or generational or… or… understanding of them. I think that if the First Lady inquired a bit more as to the reasoning behind such fantasies, then perhaps she could concentrate more on motivating the children to accomplish their dreams. Anyone can be a rapper, just like anyone can be a businessman or a lawyer. To be a great rapper or lawyer or businessman or baller requires hard work, effort, luck, dedication and the functional education of the chosen field. This is the case when attempting to make any dream come true!
While Capehart wants to suggest that the Obamas, or at least the president, speak to black audiences from the perspective of peers and not from on high, the reality is just the opposite. Barack Obama is the President of the United States; he is, more than likely, not anyone’s peer reading this blog. He’s not anyone’s homie; he is the president. Act like it! Some of Obama’s detractors seemingly want him to act like a black man who has become president (whatever that means). Now, the rift with some American demographics seems to rest on one’s criteria for blackness. They want him to be their peer because his skin appears black. I hate to tell them that the president probably does not have a lot in common with them. The representation of some conception of blackness may be more important to them than the president. The symbolic capital associated with some conception of blackness may be more important to them that to the president. For example, Capehart would suggest that the president does not have to wear Kente cloth to prove that he cares about some black agenda. I don’t think anyone is asking him to wear Kente cloth; the creation of some jobs would be nice though. But, we might want to reconsider wearing the Kente cloth at our graduation ceremonies to symbolize our connection with some lost African past then. I mean, the man spoke to graduates with Kente cloth draped around their necks (you Stanford African American Graduation Ceremony participants remember this, don’t ya?). Barack Obama has internalized a middle-class patriarchal masculinity, which seems to have a bit of an Episcopalian tint to it. A tint that suggests that middle-class African Americans do not represent blackness like, let’s say, some lower-class Baptist African Americans. Those African Americans who shout (Rev. Wright comes to mind) and love Popeye’s and who feel as though they have yet to be touched by the policies of the Obama administration do not share many cultural and social similarities with the guy who grew up in Hawaii (did you see the prom pictures?). And there is nothing wrong with that. But when people assume that he stands with their inmost thoughts and feelings just because he has a skin tone similar to theirs, people assume at their own risks. I know he was branded (everything’s a brand these days) as the first black president; but we never asked what he considered black to mean. We always thought he would pull us in a backroom and tell us his real feelings and inmost thoughts as a black man and as president (you know, like most members of the professional managerial class do. One of my friends just reminded me of how Condi Rice gathered us black students together to tell us things that she would not dare say in front of some of her Republican allies). Never happened. Probably never will.
It would be nice if some black men could simply use the sight of a seemingly black American in the oval office as a method of somehow instilling pride in themselves and the African American community. It would also be nice if black men, whom, upon reaching some zenith of success in their chosen fields, would represent themselves as black men. Whenever we get the opportunity to take on a role with high visibility and importance, we stop (for some reason) referring to ourselves as black men, but simply men. Barack Obama, Robert Griffin III, Tiger Woods, Michael Jordan. These are just a few men who do not represent themselves as the best black president or best black quarterback or the best black golfer or the best black basketball player, but the best president, quarterback, golfer and basketball player, respectively. So when little black boys, who are dangerously overdetermined, look to great images and spokespersons of their race for inspiration, they have none; or, better stated: the best is never reserved for them. At least, they have none who seem proud and happy to be black. What they seem to have are heroes and role models who cannot run away from blackness fast enough. I mean what is Tiger, kablasian or something like that? And, Beyoncé? In one of her latest commercials for a multinational beauty aid corporation, she is Native American, French and African American. Are not mutts of that pedigree overdetermined as black in America? I jest. I jest.
Maybe President Obama and the First Lady have some responsibility to connect with African Americans and blacks regarding their inmost thoughts and feelings, and maybe they don’t. Maybe they do connect with the inmost thoughts and feelings of some Americans and if you feel otherwise, then you just happen to be SOL, because they are not talking to you or for you. Wait for the next African American president. Maybe you will get lucky. But this I know: the University of Illinois elected its first black president in the 1880s; they have not had another since, if memory serves me correctly. Members of a disgruntled African American and black demographic (s) who are not pleased with the first black president’s performance may have to add that to their long list of grievances and disappointments as part of the American citizenry. To the gods!
Capehart, Jonathan. “Obama Can’t Win with Some Black Critics.”
- “Stop Waiting for and Start Paying Attention to Our First Black President.”
Coates, Ta-Nehisi. “How the Obama Administration Talks to Black America.”
Hughes, Langston. “I, Too, Sing America.”
Johnson, Rev. Kevin. “A President for Everyone, except Black People.”
is a freelance writer and former contributor to The Scenery. Born on Tower Rock Island in the middle of the Mississippi River, Labancamy has always felt as though life is lived on the cusp, in a liminal space that is always fleeting. Through his blog, Labancamy seeks to explore this fleeting space as he investigates and criticizes masculinist issues.