Cam Newton Meets Booker T: WWE Predicted Super Bowl 50 Thirteen Years Ago

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“Triple H – he’s a champion you can be proud of. Do you want a thug for a champion?” – Jerry “The King” Lawler

“People like you don’t get to be World Champion. You’re not a champion – you’re an entertainer. Go ahead, do your little dance.” – Triple H

“….you can pick up our bags, put that chauffer’s hat on, drive that limousine, take our bags up to our rooms and do something you’re qualified for.” – “Nature Boy” Ric Flair

13 years ago, these men playing “characters” on television disparaged a future Hall of Famer as part of a racially charged WWE storyline. Booker T, the most decorated champion of the second largest wrestling promotion in the history of the industry, was set to face then (and ironically enough, current) World Heavyweight Champion, Triple H, at Wrestlemania XIX. In order to add some emotional charge, the decision was made to turn the Connecticut blue blood Triple H really bad by having him and his mentor, Ric Flair, use as many racist tropes as they could get away with. Reminiscent of 10 years prior with Ron Simmons (the first African-American heavyweight champion in professional wrestling history) and Harley Race (manager for Vader, then-WCW World Champion who would lose the title to Simmons), the barbs tossed at Booker T by not only Triple H and Flair but also Jerry Lawler on commentary were nearly constant for the weeks approaching Wrestlemania. Wrestlemania has commonly been referred to as the Super Bowl of wrestling, easily the biggest show of the year that sells out football stadiums worth of attendance annually and has millions watching globally.

This year, in the weeks leading up to Super Bowl 50, there was an intense amount of racially charged commentary leveled at 2015-2016 MVP Cam Newton. From him wearing a hoodie or a hat to how he celebrates his touchdowns and leads his teammates, he couldn’t be himself – a young Black man who openly embraces Black culture – without it being a subject of popular criticism. There was the mom who wrote an open letter that the endzone dancing Cam does is shameful. There are the comments about how Cam’s emotional behavior isn’t the right way to be a leader and certainly not a quarterback – the most important position on the team. Quarterbacks are supposed to be quiet leaders of men, intense but never too boisterous and certainly not classless. Most of the commentators were white, and once that “thug” word snuck up again after the Panthers won the NFC Title it was like the world re-wrote the storyline from over a decade ago in real life.

The World Championship to be decided between veteran champion Peyton Manning of football’s royal family and Cam – the athletic Black upstart with accolades from the small time who never forgot his roots. Peyton isn’t known for racist statements (unlike recently FIRED Riley “I’ll fight every nigger here bro” Cooper) so there’s no direct comparison for the competitors, but the masses can fit the role of Lawler, Triple H, and Flair. The masses uttered vile statements and worse towards Cam while placing a glass ceiling over his head and saying that his emotional conduct on the field (similar to Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady), flashy playing style (Broadway Joe anybody?), and his exuberance of fun while playing (“Brett Favre just looks like he’s having fun out there!”) are all contributing to his own downfall. Meanwhile, the elephant in the room is that he’s Black – big B, not little b. That means he likes being Black and embraces what Blackness looks like in the current era. It’s got a different style than before; it’s a little extra, it’s a bit more emotional, and it’s extremely unapologetic. It’s been dangerous to be unapologetically Black in recent years for many of us, but for Cam it translated into him being a representative of Black people everywhere – for Black people to be proud of and white racists to hiss at from behind their keyboards.

On Super Bowl Sunday, I took an informal poll of the friends at the gathering I held about who was rooting for the Panthers and who was rooting for the Broncos. We all were rooting for the Panthers, mostly on the back of Cam being Cam over seeing Peyton win one on the way out. They noticed, however, that the people they’d asked about the game were often white rooting for the Broncos and Black rooting for the Panthers. “That Cam, there’s something about him I just don’t like.” “Peyton plays the game the way it should be played.” These were the kinds of reasons given for why they rooted against the Panthers – it was that they had a Black (Big B, not little b) quarterback leading them as the face of the franchise and how he was doing things didn’t sit right with these white people. Never mind that Peyton Manning had his worst season since his rookie year and was benched; it was that he took the benching with grace and his disposition is a champion’s disposition. He appears unflappable at all times, the way that men are supposed to be – cold, cerebral, unemotional, effective. Cam represents a different kind of man and doesn’t have that traditionally white championship demeanor. His celebrations and emotional play remind me of Tiger Woods when he burst on the scene. That fist pump is iconic because he did it often and because golf was the ultimate in polite sports – celebrating like that was virtually unseen. Nobody could say shit to him though, because he was the best of a generation. The same may one day be said of Cam, but if 15-1 and a Super Bowl berth isn’t enough for people to get off of his back about enjoying the ride and being the same kind of player that got him to this stage then they might not be looking to be convinced. We should remember they’re calling Cam a thug and everything else even though he’s been a model citizen in the NFL and regularly displayed the kind of community commitment that a face of a NFL franchise should.

Booker T was unapologetically Black before we had any idea of that term. As a pro wrestler, he came into his own “raising the roof,” hollering “can you dig that sucka,” and using Black slang naturally in the mid-90s and early 2000s. His signature move was the Spinaroonie, a breakdancing predecessor to Cam’s Dab that he broke out when he was on a roll or to celebrate a win. During a live pre-match interview on Pay-Per-View, he got so into the interview he said, “Hulk Hogan! I’m coming for you, nigga!” Prior to Wrestlemania, he told his life story live on television in front of millions: youngest of 7, his Dad ran out on him, Mom died while he was a kid, he fell in with the wrong crowd and went to jail for armed robbery. Came out of jail and invested in himself, caught a break, and the rest is history. It’s a story all too familiar for many Blacks in some way shape or form, and his ability to use his entertainment and athleticism to win championships should be an example that you can be yourself and succeed with the right chance. For the entirety of his career, except for a brief stint as a King, he was an entertaining Black guy who wrestled as an entertaining Black guy. He was himself, evidenced by his last words to Triple H before the bell rang at Wrestlemania XIX, “Yo punk ass in trouble. Yo punk ass in TROUBLE.”

Some people think that smart wrestling logic would be that after all of these indignities suffered from Triple H and Flair, that Booker T would be the fan favorite underdog who deserved to win the World Heavyweight Title. In a well executed, technical match, Triple H (thanks to interference from Flair) retained the World Title at Wrestlemania. Booker hit all of his best offense but had too much to overcome in order to win, though the abrupt finish killed the match – Triple H hits his finishing move and after an extremely long time, pins our hero with one hand. Lawler continues to disparage Booker’s past in prison and claim that he just doesn’t measure up to Triple H throughout the match, with Jim Ross doing his best to salvage some respect for Booker T. The story ends up going that the hero suffers public racist humiliation and isn’t able to overcome it in the biggest match of his career. The whole reason the story takes the hero through so much hell is so that the hero has a redemptive victory, right?! This would have been possible down the road but there was never a rematch between Triple H and Booker T for the World Heavyweight Championship. Perhaps WWE was being refreshingly honest about America – the Black hero’s best hope might be to make it to the big show but if he doesn’t win, he won’t get anymore shots.

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There wasn’t a storybook ending scripted for the for real life storyline, as the Panthers fell short in Super Bowl 50 much to the delight of the Cam haters. Bill Romanowski, a guy who spat in people’s faces while playing football against them, commented that Cam’s attitude isn’t championship worthy, “boy.” As though one of the dirtiest players in the game for a generation has room to make moral commentary since Romo was mostly a mad dog who had to be leashed. Cam’s inability to handle losing “well” enough or graciously enough mattered to a public who didn’t participate in the game. It matters more than Johnny Football apparently rupturing a woman’s eardrum. It matters more than when Peyton Manning, the same championship quality guy, stormed off the field without shaking hands after losing to Drew Brees in the Super Bowl. It all matters more because he’s Black.

Still, I wish that Cam scored in the Super Bowl JUST so he could dab on em. Just like I wish I’d gotten to see a Wrestlemania World Championship win for Booker T. I vividly remember watching Triple H berate Booker T with coded and explicit racist language and feeling personally insulted as a fan.  Booker T was a Black person who embraced Black culture willingly, much like myself, and to see the person I could vicariously live through experience such humiliation without the comeuppance did turn me away from watching wrestling for years. Although Booker T never received a rematch against Triple H, Cam has a rematch every season until he retires or the masses accept an unapologetically Black person (note the backlash Beyonce is receiving for her halftime show performance). Unfortunately, there’s no way to avoid watching Cam’s rematches.

New Year’s Resolution for 2016: Have White People Slap Each Other

2016 has arrived and with it the promise of new opportunities to change and improve ourselves individually and collectively. Something that we could all work on is combating racism in all its nefarious forms. There are way too many examples of how racism functions currently and how it changes depending on who is on the receiving end of the racism (for example, I don’t have any concerns about being sexually assaulted by an overzealous, power mad and racially biased cop like Daniel Holtzclaw – but Black women do have that concern), but since this is our annual rebirth of the new year, why not imagine what life could be like if white people in America acted like a Romanian man did when a friend of mine visited Romania for the first time. She’s a Black woman in pharmacy school, but she was extremely surprised when there was heightened attention seemingly across the country because a Black person was there. They hadn’t seen many if any Blacks, and she was even interviewed on the news (presumably to help the city she was in see what a real life Black person looks and sounds like). While enjoying this newfound position as Black ambassador to Romania and having a couple of drinks with some locals, a semi-drunk guy ambled over to her and made a joke in poor taste (at best), saying that my friend is a descendant of Kunta Kinte and laughing drunkenly.

At this moment, she’s only got a handful of options – laugh it off awkwardly to avoid an international incident; tell the drunk man how he’s being offensive with his poor joke (especially if he wasn’t trying to be offensive); or set it off in the tavern and hope to slide out safely amidst the chaos. Turns out there was another option that she couldn’t choose but was chosen for her: a friend of the drunk man SLAPPED the drunk man and told him it was rude to say that to my friend. Flat out slapped him like Charlie Murphy and Rick James. The drunk man got slapped and corrected and then APOLOGIZED to my friend for his error. Had she slapped him, it could’ve set off a dangerous course of events for all involved. Because it was one of his own that challenged him to do better, his response was temperate and appropriate, though it’s still doubtful that he learned not to say that joke in general, just not in front of Black people.

Imagine a world where white people slap the shit out of each other when they see or hear one of their own making anti-Black racist statements or espousing false, damaging, racist beliefs about Black people and Black culture. Wouldn’t that be a grand place where socially damaging behaviors are corrected within the society as opposed to legal means? We can see it now….

At the family picnic:

Bob: Those fucking nigg…

(SLAP)

Joe: Bob! Do better!

Bob (holding his face): You’re right, Joe. Sorry about that.

At the dinner table:

Sue: Daddy, a Black person was our substitute teacher.

Bob: Those fucking nigg…

(SLAP)

Jill: Damnit Bob, can’t we go through one dinner without this?!

Bob (holding his face): Sorry, Jill. Didn’t mean it?

Sue: Daddy, you have work to do.

At the office:

Dale: Bob, have you seen Johnson? I thought he went on break over an hour ago but I can’t find him and have a project I need his help with.

Bob: You don’t need the help of a fucking nigg…

(SLAP)

Johnson: Who the fuck you calling a nigger?

Dale: Wasn’t me, but I slapped him for his rudeness.

Bob (holding his face): Alright, I said it. I SAID IT! You happy now?

Johnson: I’d be happier if you didn’t need to keep getting slapped, the rest of the office has been slapfree for months now.

Dale: Gonna have to report you – you know the rules, if I had to slap you the boss finds out.

Bob: Dale, you don’t have to…seriously. You know the boss will fire me! I’ve learned my lesson! After 6 slaps over the past 2 months, I can’t take another hit to my record!

Johnson: You mean you can’t take another hit to your face. You know if the boss keeps you, you get vengeance slaps right?

Bob (still holding his face):……….

Dale: I’m going to ask the boss not to fire you but let him know I slapped you for your racism.

Bob: Dale, just have him fire me. The vengeance slaps that Justin got give me nightmares.

Johnson: Nah, nah patna! You’re not getting away that easily. Tell the boss that Johnson, the guy Bob got slapped over, has no problems with him staying on provided he’s qualified for vengeance slaps.

2 weeks later at the office:

Johnson: Bob, how’s it going?

Bob:………

Johnson: No response? You don’t feel like talking much today?

Bob:………………..

Johnson: Those vengeance slaps were a motherfucker, weren’t they?

Bob:……………………………..

Johnson: Ah, the sweet sound of silent racism.

(Bob gets up and walks out the room).

I know this isn’t the reality of 2016, 2017, 2040, or 2100 (but wouldn’t this be an incredible Black Mirror episode?). But the idea of self-correction is what many people of color are calling for when they tell people to go do their research. Go self-correct rather than living obtusely thinking that because it’s not illegal to be racist you haven’t done something wrong or that Black people are whining when they claim racism manifests in a host of different ways. If Black people had to slap white people every time they overstepped the racist line (and white folks have been habitual linesteppers) our collective arms would have fallen off by now. To be sure, Blacks and many white people have been offering verbal slaps (and some physical ones) for a long time now in the face of this problem, but Black folks’ arms are tired (and like Killer Mike recently said, white folks seem to be rather hard-headed regarding these issues) so now it’s time to make the call for all white allies and supporters of ending anti-Black racism to do something brave that’ll help everyone out:

Slap your buddies, family members and colleagues when they cross that line. If you don’t know what it takes to cross that line, stop and make sure you’re not the habitual linestepper referenced earlier. If you do, then get that equality pimp hand strong and put it to good use. The world can’t wait on you not to slap someone.

Happy New Year, folks.

All Lives Matter Doesn’t Make Sense

Picture this scenario – Anytown, U.S.A., which has a small population of Black and Brown people who generally try to live by the same rules and regulations that everyone else around them abides by. These are folks who go to work, pay their taxes, try their best with parenting, and even participate in their community. By and large, these are people any community would be lucky to have.

Black and Brown community members are regularly harassed and dismissed (simultaneously!), however, by the white people around them. The same people who are solidly doing their jobs and being good citizens remain in constant fear that some event will befall them that ends their life prospects, their economic future, or their lives themselves for no other reason than being Black or Brown. Some of it is because there are stereotypes associated with being a person of color, such as being historically made out to be a threat or a menace. Some of it is because of pure, irrational racism that drives home unfounded (and normally proven to be untrue) assumptions and beliefs about people of color ranging from them being international terrorists associated with Al-Qaeda to being domestic terrorists associated with the Crips. These Black and Brown folks have become accustomed with this manner of living, with a regular worry that something needlessly oppressive will occur and that they will have no recourse to avenge any wrongs or injustices.

Over time, there was a buildup of these injustices and no reckoning. Black and Brown people (and even some white ones) noticed the pattern of injustice, who it continued to follow and negatively effect, and the policies enacted to maintain and protect oppressive institutions. Rather than remain resigned in their collective disappointment of their local government and community, they decided to engage the public at-large via massive demonstrations and a media campaign to re-educate the masses regarding the plight of Black and Brown people. The best method of quickly explaining that mantle, they decided, was to scream out with all of their souls, “Black Lives Matter!” They were met with a heavy police presence despite the largely peaceful protesting (an oxymoron in itself), something considered appropriate since there were a lot of Black and Brown people who were (justifiably) angry at the continued oppressive state they lived under. Quite frankly, when Black people get mad, white people get nervous.

One way they responded to the nervousness was to claim that “All Lives Matter” in defiance of “Black Lives Matter.” Fortunately, in Anytown, U.S.A., bad things can happen to anybody, and a young white woman met her unfortunate demise in Anytown as a result of police misconduct – she was gunned down needlessly while unarmed and not resisting or posing any danger. One might expect that there would be a response, since she was a victim of injustice. Perhaps a march down Main Street shouting, “All Lives Matter,” holding signs with pictures of her. But in Anytown, U.S.A., there was no march down Main Street. There were no signs with this young woman’s picture on it. There was a news report and a quiet firing of the officer, with rumors of a civil suit emerging in the aftermath. Anytown continued with business as usual, unconcerned with lives mattering as justice has been done (to some degree).

Business as usual in Anytown included regular dismissal and hostility towards homeless people and the poor. It included dismissals of women’s claims of sexual abuse. It, of course, included regular discussions behind closed doors regarding the problems of Black culture and ways to capitalize off of it. But this young woman’s death ended up a quiet nonstory in Anytown, a simple reminder that All Lives Matter only when people yell out Black Lives Matter.

At a recent Democratic Presidential debate, a fan question came in that asked, “Do Black Lives Matter or All Lives Matter?” The candidates responded, some saying the former, others the latter. Nobody stopped to address the elephant in the room – doesn’t this question sound like it has to be one or the other, not both? Is it impossible for Black lives to matter…precisely because all lives matter? Better yet, doesn’t all lives matter sound trivially true and practically false? Let me explain what I mean.

All lives matters seems to be obviously true. Everybody matters. Everybody’s special. Everybody’s got a place in the world, right? That really all hinges on what we mean by “matters.” What it means to matter can go a number of different ways based on what kind of criteria it takes for a life to matter, and what kind of mattering is being discussed. Here are a few examples of ways you could matter: to your family, to God, to your community, including your country, with respect to rights, and with respect to justice. This list isn’t meant to be exhaustive, but should give a pretty good example of the many ways we all could matter in some respect. Some of these collapse upon each other, since rights are usually conferred or protected by governments – so if you matter to your country, the protection of your rights matters as well, being one of the ways a country can show that someone matters to it.

Let’s assume that in matters of justice in the United States, all lives matter. Then Black lives have to matter in terms of acquiring justice when confronted by something unjust, such as voter suppression tactics (which intimidate Blacks from using one major application of being a citizen and participating in the democratic process), a mass incarceration program that is directed towards Blacks (which, again, limits their ability to vote among other rights), and institutional racism that prevents many Blacks from accessing the resources and opportunities needed to flourish. There’s no way to slice it – if all lives matter in terms of justice, then Black lives (which HAVE to be a subset of all lives) matter with regards to the injustices that have happened and rectifying the injustices that have occurred. This claim doesn’t hold up if you have a different view of what All Lives Matter means.

Giving a charitable read of the All Lives Matter argument, I’ve come up with something like this:
1) Everybody deserves justice.
2) By focusing on the perceived plight of Blacks, it ignores that everybody deserves justice.
3) By focusing on the perceived plight of Blacks, it ignores that everyone is the same – color and race don’t matter in terms of justice.
4) Since everyone deserves justice and color and race don’t matter, Black Lives Matter doesn’t make sense.
Conclusion: All Lives Matter, not Black Lives Matter.

If this is the view, then Black Lives Matter doesn’t work at all for a number of reasons, chief among them its divisiveness in a country that is beyond color and race politics. This assumes that this is a country beyond race, which seems to be patently false. The call to be beyond race is often made by those who would stand to benefit from the end of race because it ends any form of historical guilt or those who think they will benefit from the end of race because it ends any form of contemporary discrimination. But if All Lives Matter, even from this particular stance, why hasn’t there been any marches for the dead white woman? Because from this particular viewpoint, there isn’t any systemic problem of police violence, it was one bad agent who happened to be a police officer. This is how any issue such as racism or sexism is viewed – one bad actor who may be in a position of authority.

Crucially, All Lives Matter is a position of critique and, in and of itself, critique isn’t a bad thing. It’s necessary to refine crude ideas into diamonds that our culture live by. Critique done with the purpose of undermining a status quo shaking position, however, doesn’t serve to strengthen our culture…unless you believe strongly that the status quo is effective. As many say, America is the greatest country on Earth, which assumes that because you’re the “best” that you’re not above improvement or that you don’t have to improve until the competition improves. LeBron developed a three, after all.

Here’s another problem with saying All Lives Matter – do mosquitos lives matter? Or the cow and pig that we ate today, do their lives matter? Plants are alive – do their lives matter? It strikes me that if their lives matter, they matter only relationally to ours. Plants should be afforded independent lives as long as their existence is needed or if we can turn them into paper. Bees’ lives matter only because of their relative importance to pollination and creating honey. All lives on this planet don’t matter, even if we said strictly human lives, as there would be much more concern for global politics and deplorable living conditions. All lives certainly still don’t matter if we say humans in the US, as the local homeless person you step over does not matter in terms of their justice claims. These latter two problems can be viewed without a racial lens, which prompts the question: do All Lives Matter or Some Lives Matter?

Without a question, some lives matter. It’s much less illegal to say you’ll kill me rather than saying you’ll kill the mayor of whatever city you reside in because political figures matter more to the community than Joe Schmo’s like me. Rich people’s lives, presumably because of their necessary existence for the success of the capitalist market, matter more than poor people’s lives, who suck on the teat of the rich for their existence according to some. A less abrasive example would be your interest in justice for your loved one or friend if he or she were a victim of an injustice compared to your interest in a stranger across the country being a victim of injustice. Some lives hold more perceived value than others; our decisions regarding who deserves justice are informed by their perceived value to us, our community, or our culture. Assuming this, hollering Black Lives Matter actually makes sense as a program to change the negative perceived value of Black lives. Hollering All Lives Matter is more like yelling, “The world is flat,” something that seems trivially true and yet actually false.

2013 Ended Crazy – Megyn Kelly

I’ve been shocked by some of what I’ve seen to conclude the year.  Beyonce dropped a new album that made every woman go bananas (again), Jameis Winston wasn’t charged with rape (then won both the Heisman and National Championship), a football player left his team because of bullying and racism (and the team nearly made the playoffs following this episode), a kid even got drunk and killed 4 people (and was sentenced to probation), Instagram added direct videos and pictures (and you can’t just send them to everybody), and that’s not even half of the shit that just surprised me (government shutdown, rollout of Obamacare and the ensuing backlash, Edward Snowden telling us what we already knew).

But Jesus and Santa as verified white men is where I’ll begin my recap of what was a uniquely volatile year in human history.

Megyn Kelly from Fox News provided a moment of the year when she uttered:

“Jesus is what he is, which is white.”

Flipside is that there’s a professor accused of racism when she was talking to a journalism class about…racism in the media.

Megyn Kelly gave us some shock last month, telling America that Santa and Jesus are verifiable white men.  She went afterwards to try to clear up what has started a firestorm, focusing on Santa, and effectively blaming folks for spinning her words into what she didn’t mean and making character assassinations of her.  She even went so far as to say that it was clearly a joke, when nobody on the panel even chuckled.  Perhaps it’s because, as Kelly says, “Race is still a volatile subject in this country,” and the other panelists recognized her potentially troublesome joke and didn’t want to be part of the ensuing volatility.

But, if I may, she can shut the hell up.

I don’t get offended anymore by surprising revelations, such as, “Jesus was white, obviously!”  Or the even better, “Santa just is white!  Duh!”  I do get offended when people try to pull the wool over my eyes, as though nobody has done anything questionable.  Kelly (I just don’t wish to keep typing this ridiculous name – for all the shit people talk about Black names, who the hell puts a Y where an E goes?  Me-gyne is what it reads like.) did say that she was referring to the commercialized Santa, who is normally depicted as white.  Which is the same image that Aisha Harris was referring to as being problematic because Santa is only conceived of as white.  Commercialized Santa, however, is not Santa himself – it’s the popular depiction of Santa.  Just like the popular depiction of Jesus is of a white guy with a possible tan is not Jesus himself.  So no, Me-gyne, you can’t claim that you saying that Santa is white is backed up my popular depictions and that because the popular depictions are what we have, that it must be true.  If that was the case, given popular depictions of you, we would have to say that Me-gyne Kelly is a racist because it’s the consistent, popular depiction of you (regardless of if it is true of you, actually).

Even worse, she tried to make Harris’ piece into a form of comedy by claiming that her inclusive Santa response of a penguin must be a joke.  As somebody who grew up with Black Santa in the house, I’ve always had to be imaginative about how Santa must be.  He’s a fictional character, so there’s nothing about Santa Claus (not St. Nicholas) that prevents us from altering a depiction of him.  More to the point, Santa is for the kids anyway!  Kids NEED to use their imaginations to learn the difference between reality and fantasy, so if we’re telling a fantasy tale about a guy in a magic sleigh, with magic reindeer, who gives gifts to good kids (and lumps of coal to bad ones) all across the world in one night…would Santa being a penguin really change the fantastical nature of the story?  A morbidly obese white man who appears to be one too many chimney drops away from being rolled out in an ambulance, we’ll give him some latitude on our imaginations, but a penguin is too ridiculous?

Finally, Me-gyne has missed the boat on what Santa does – he gets to determine who has been good and who has been bad by watching over you the entire year, all day every day, and then dispenses favor or no favor as a result.  A permanently white Santa might make children of color frightened, seeing as there are ample instances of white judgment unfairly going against Black people.  It also lends itself, given the closeness of power to Santa and God (in kind, not degree), to the depiction of Jesus as white.  If one nearly-omniscient and nearly-omnipotent being apparently exists and is white, it’s an easier pill to swallow that an omniscient and omnipotent being would be white.  And we only talk about Santa when we’re about to talk about a holy holiday.

So yes, there was much bluster about race-baiters, whatever the hell those are.  But beyond the bluster lay a poor argument and even poorer justification for treating Santa and Jesus as verified white men.

Insight into the “Intellectual” Mind

Yesterday morning a piece from Brian Leiter’s blog came across my virtual desk, about the racial diversity in the discipline of philosophy.  I won’t yell and scream, but I do think if you’re interested in diversity in the workplace, look at the comments section of the post.  The main point of the brief post was a commentary by a philosopher who says he cannot recommend to his undergraduate Black philosophy students to continue pursuing philosophy.  With that as the background, the comments section ends up becoming, “What question do we ask?”  Is the pipeline problem (there aren’t many departments with a good minority student pipeline to get more minorities into graduate programs) really a problem or is it one of interest?

While some are asking about how to get after the “problem” (and like philosophers, a few asked if the dearth of Blacks in philosophy is actually a problem – which in itself is part of the problem), I read the comments with a leery eye.  As though this was another philosophical thought experiment, where the questions matter and the approach matters but the answers, while important, are treated like byproducts (not the intended products) of the thought experiment.  Nevertheless, one person described their experience during graduate school, which was laced with “questionable” moments from faculty, and while nobody wanted to discredit his experiences, there were plenty of people searching for data and they needed to understand that data collection includes his story, not just hard numbers.  Numbers do not tell the whole story (not all of the respondents will be openly honest if asked if their department treats them well for an official survey for many reasons – for example, they won’t bad talk their department publicly), and yet until the numbers reflect the structural bias that leads to the lack of representation that yields the current shit state of Black philosophers, this won’t get treated as a real problem.  It’s not either representation or institutional/structural bias, it is both.

Anyway, the point of this is that if you want to see how some philosophers approach concrete problems in our own damn field, check out the comments section of Leiter’s post.  Laugh when appropriate too – it’s…interesting insight into the intellectual mind.

My Fear of Being A N*****

I’ve been recently doing work on the post-racial concept and my healthy skepticism about race in America kicked in (like it always does).  I can’t seem to shake a fear.  It festers in my soul, noticeably so as to gently remind me of its existence and simultaneously not irritating me.  I fear that no matter what I do, no matter what good I may ultimately bring this world…I’ll be viewed as a nigger and nothing more.

It makes me uncomfortable to have this feeling, and I often wonder if it’s an irrational fear.  I suppose that’s redundant, given that fears are generally irrational, but of the normal fears one could have, this one might well seem a bit crazy.  I mean people can get fears of heights because the view is overwhelming and so is the fall.  Folks are scared of water because it can kill them even if you know what you’re doing.  I’m scared of a certain animal because it can sneak up out of nowhere and some can kill you.  Those fears are generally rational, and based upon a belief that doom will befall them if they encounter whatever it is they fear.  But a fear that I’ll be viewed as a nigger?  That doesn’t involve causing physical harm to me, right?  It seems out of left field.  Just who is it that’s going to view me as a nigger?

Perhaps that’s the irrational aspect of this fear.  I don’t have a specific person in mind.  I think that one day, when I go to a philosophy conference and present, there will be some folks in the audience who think to themselves, “There goes that nigger.”  Maybe it’s an unfair belief to have, hence why it’s an irrational fear.  But I cannot shake this fear for the life of me.  I fear that even those white people I know view me as a nigger.  It’s crazy reading this as I write it, but this is a thought that I have.  I’ve got no way to verify if they do or don’t, and I have to tell myself that I have no reason to have this fear.  But the fear remains, popping up from time to time.  I don’t understand what precipitated this fear.  If I were to be Freudian about this, I should look at my childhood.  And an event that sticks out to me is the first time I heard a nigger joke.  Perhaps this was my experience that created this fear.

When I was in sixth grade, I was a popular boy in school.  I was the President of the School Store, was a mentor to some younger students, and all of the teachers loved me.  My peers were fond of me as well, and I had many friends, some of whom I keep in touch with still.  But I had one friend in particular who had been my buddy for a lot of my time in grade school.  I won’t use his real name, so let’s name him Billy.  Billy was a white guy and he was a little weird, but he was my friend.  We hung out a lot in the school, and we’d hang out on the weekends sometimes.  He was a very good friend.

I don’t remember the date exactly, but I do remember there was a soccer game going on.  I was hanging out with some friends of mine, chatting about whatever it is sixth graders chat about.  Someone, I don’t remember who, ran over to me and got my attention.  The person said, “Billy is telling racist jokes!”  I was hurt.  My good friend Billy?  I knew that racists exist, and that there were some white people not to be trusted, but Billy couldn’t have been one of them.  I didn’t believe the person, and said, “Alright, if he’s telling these jokes, I’ll go catch him in the act.”  I didn’t believe the person, but that’s a pretty serious allegation.  I needed to check to see if Billy’s name was being slandered, because that’d be a problem.  We walked over near where he and some other white guys were standing.  I took a wider angle and hid next to the bleachers, just within earshot but clearly out of sight.  I heard the group giggle, and then I heard Billy speak.

“Hahaha, you want to know the difference between a bucket of shit and a nigger?  The bucket.  Hahahahahaha!”

I was crushed.  His laughter infuriated me.  I jumped out from my hiding spot and surprised him and everyone else.  Billy looked embarrassed; he knew he’d been caught and that I had every right to be as pissed at him as I was.  He stammered a little bit, as I took strides towards him quickly.  I don’t remember what he said, and quite frankly I didn’t care what he was saying.  My friend betrayed me in such a terrible way.  I don’t remember what I was saying to him as I walked up to him.  It probably involved a few profanities and anger and disbelief.  I  marched right up to him and got right in his face.  He looked scared.  Somewhat defiant, but still scared.  He didn’t know what I was going to do, but I have a feeling he knew he deserved it.

I decked him.  Gave him a right hand right to his jaw and it knocked him down.  I walked away after that.  The matter was settled then.  No matter what harm my hand gave him, he wasn’t going to tell.  They’d ask me what happened, and I’d tell the joke I heard him say.  And those teachers loved me – they knew I wouldn’t make that up.  The kids knew this also.  I never spoke to Billy again after that.

Perhaps this event is what precipitated my fear.  That even a person who appeared to have a genuine interest in me as a person will still think of me as a nigger.  It makes the fight against being called a nigger seem so futile.  All of the work to say, “Hey!  You have no right to call me a nigger not only because it’s rude but it’s also an inaccurate description of me,” it seems so worthless.  Because there will still be so many people who still look at me like I’m a nigger.  I’m a PhD nigger.  I’m a well-spoken nigger.  I’m a creative nigger.  The list goes on and on.

I can always tell myself that this is an irrational fear.  Remind myself that those people who do view me as a nigger no matter what (this is all based, I suppose, on the assumption that one can change the minds of those who do view all Black people as niggers) don’t mind to begin with.

But I can’t shake this fear.

Dr. Laura’s Views Revisited (The Intelligent Side)

The other day, I posted an ignant rant of sorts regarding the good Dr. Laura and her (former) radio show.  Having given it a few days to set in, to the intelligent side of the court we go, and there are two specific issues I would like to highlight in her statements beyond the use of the word, “nigger.”  She’s made some sweeping generalizations about Black people and the use of the word “nigger,” and also about the current state of racism in the United States now that there’s a Black man as the President.  Both of these views are problematic for the intellectual side of me (clearly, not so much for the ignant side).  As to the first (and possibly more pressing) issue, there’s a slippery slope that continually gets presented with her depiction of the “common” use of the word “nigger.”

At first, “nigger” is all over HBO and used by Black comedians, according to her.  Then she says that Black guys say it all the time.  This is concerning because both of these generalizations end up going from a smaller, more restricted group to a larger, more expansive group.  So from HBO and Black comedians (and to be sure, both of those are reaches in their own right) to now all Black guys saying it is a pretty large leap – in the grand scheme of Black people, the percentage of Black comedians relative to the Black population is minuscule.  But what worries me is just how quickly and how unverifiable these claims are.  To go back to Aristotelian logic, we’ve got claims like “All B’s are N’s,” “Some B’s are N’s,” and “No B’s are N’s.”  Substitute “are” with “say” and I think the logic still holds (“All Blacks say nigger, some Blacks say nigger, no Blacks say nigger”).

As a quick aside, I think it’s interesting to note that Dr. Laura, in her own words, “articulated the ‘n’ word all the way out.”  This may or may not be something to work on later on, but “nigger” is a pretty particular word in the history of the English language – and I don’t really hear full articulations unless it is meant to be an insult (albeit for comedic purposes at times).  This would probably be a precursor to the nigger/nigga distinction, but that’s for another time.

Anyway, back to the matter at hand – Dr. Laura’s slippery slope.  To go from a smaller group who use “nigger” to a larger group that apparently all use “nigger” without any sort of qualifiers like “some,” “a section of,” (I would even take a “there are many”) takes us down the slippery slope of saying that all Blacks say “nigger.”  Not to set up a strawman, but this type of slope could implicate an entire group of people or indict a culture due to the negative history of the word (that, ironically enough, these people didn’t create).  I’m not a fan, Dr. Laura.  These types of broad, sweeping generalizations have got to be avoided, even in an open discussion of the use of the word, “nigger.”  Quite frankly, these types of generalizations, while possibly unavoidable out of some sort of Humean habit, are dangerous when unchecked because they lead to multiple stereotypes about groups of people, and nobody likes being stereotyped.

Another question that comes up for me is: Why do some white people WANT to say “nigger” so badly?

A quick story: I was talking to a white guy I met in a bar one night about being a young man in Memphis and how he views the city.  Somehow, we got to talking about race relations and segregation and things of that sort.  At some point, the “n” word came up and he asked on a few occasions if he could use it in front of me.  I said that it’s his choice to say the “n” word and that it’s my choice to kick his ass if he did.  He laughed…but he damn sure didn’t say it.

Another quick story: I was talking to this white woman at a bar in St. Louis.  I’d told her I was a philosopher (great pickup line when used appropriately) and she was excited because she didn’t have deep conversation ever and was craving it (see, great pickup line).  We were talking and she was saying how she was tired of all of the racial angst and that she just wanted this stuff to be done with.  She was really exasperated and said, “And I’m sick of all of these white guys saying “nigger.”  She was making a general example of how the word was being used, so I didn’t mind it.  It wasn’t “nigger” to be able to say it and say it in my face to try to rub it in my face that you can call me nigger; it wasn’t malicious, it was historical.  I can live with that, like reading it in a book.  Though in hindsight, she didn’t need to say nigger – the “n word” would have sufficed.

All of that is to say, I still don’t get why white people want to say “nigger” so badly.  I have my theories though, and that’s perhaps to come in a later blog post….?

The second problem I have with her from my intellectual side is her idea that even with a Black president that there are Blacks trying to demonize white people still.  Here are a couple of quotes:

CALLER: — since Obama’s been in office —

SCHLESSINGER: — the point I’m trying to make —

CALLER: — racism has come to another level that’s unacceptable.

SCHLESSINGER: Yeah. We’ve got a black man as president, and we have more complaining about racism than ever. I mean, I think that’s hilarious.

And on “demonizing”…

SCHLESSINGER: I really thought that once we had a black president, the attempt to demonize whites hating blacks would stop, but it seems to have grown, and I don’t get it.

Both of these statements make me laugh.  I think she may have fallen into False Claim #1 with the Obamamania – him being the President doesn’t end racism.  Like there’s a Black president and then racism *poofs* and disappears.  That’s ridiculous.  A Black president doesn’t mean all Black people have equal clout as whites and are respected as their equals – there are people who really think Obama was not born on American soil, for God’s sake.  I agree with what the caller said, that there are some white people who are very nervous about a Black person in power and that these nerves are showing right now (think about the recent serial killer in Michigan).  Vitriol towards Blacks has been steadily rising with the rise of Obama, in my estimation, though it hasn’t been directed towards all Blacks.  It’s been directed towards Obama, and as a Black president, I believe that Black people take up for him (as well we should, in some regards.  In our minds, he needs support because he’s the first Black person to pull this off – he needs some backup).  Nevertheless, since Obama’s election, I’ve been worried about this particular claim gaining weight – that we are now beyond race and therefore;

1) We shouldn’t have such sensitivities to the past – it’s the past, duh!  The racism of the 20th Century is over in the 21st Century!

2) Because the racism is gone, we should all stop making white people feel bad about the past because we are all a part of a brand new future!

Of course this is kind of hyperbolic, but I think it’s a reasonable (albeit, thin) explanation of two implications of the post-racial era.  Being “beyond race” in and of itself isn’t very problematic for me, but the implications of the post-racial era do scare me sometimes – and this is one of those times.  I’ve touched on this subject briefly on a number of occasions, and won’t continue to do so now.

I won’t belabor the points any further – Dr. Laura’s infamous rant has produced a couple of problematic views that she (and I imagine many others) hold regarding Black people in the U.S. in the current cultural climate.  Thoughts?