Friday, September 12, 2014

Let’s Go Krogering: Memphis: In Black & White

            There is no doubt that my hometown has a problem with violent crime.  But on the night of Saturday, September 6, 2014, I was appalled at what was captured on the cellular phone camera by a witness.  To see a herd of Memphis teens, all of which appear to be African American (even though some eyewitness accounts claim that some members of the mob were white) caused a tempest to churn inside of me.
 I watched as teens ran wildly across the parking lot of the Kroger grocery store on Poplar and Highland.  I cringed at the sight of one Black male kicking and stomping a Kroger employee, who happened to be white.  I shed a tear or two when, to add insult to an unconsciously injured human being, the aforementioned youngster, and others, forcefully threw large, seasonal pumpkins at the head of the incapacitated victim.  Lastly, I became enraged.  I became enraged because I knew, even though it was a crime against humanity, my city, Memphis, Tennessee, would conjure the ghosts of division and racism that have resided here since the days of Ida B. Wells’ anti-lynching campaign and the race riots of 1866.  I hoped we wouldn’t, but, as I have followed the aftermath of the incident and read comments on social network sites and listened to conversations on talk-radio and throughout the city, my “hope” was in vain.
There are litanies of nuances that can be intricately analyzed and critiqued as it pertains to the riot-like atmosphere that resulted in the physical harming of three individuals, but the most pressing and paramount concern, for me, is the visual that has produced such frenzy, not only locally, but nationally as well.  Even veteran Hollywood actor James Woods has expressed his concern and desire for Attorney General Eric Holder to visit Memphis as he did Ferguson, Missouri to address racial violence, tension, and hate crimes.

When analyzing a visual text, one must observe what is seen and not seen.  In this tragedy, all most people in the audience see is a white teen being physically assaulted by one particular Black teen while other Black teens are running wildly around—some could be participants and some could be onlookers and voyeurs getting thrills from watching another human being hurt.  What the visual recording displays is what looks to be a racially motivated attack, but who can really know if race was the prime motivator?  With African Americans viewing non-Black on Black crime as an incident of “hate”, it is only logical that whites would view a Black on white crime through the same sociological lenses.
But, there is more to it.  Sure the teens that were involved in their idea of a “fun” game entitled “pick ‘em out, knock ‘em out” (a game where individuals randomly select unsuspecting individuals to punch/knock out) should be punished.  Sure, the parents of the aforementioned teens should be chastised and held accountable for the rearing and actions of their offspring.  Yet, should we, as a viewing audience, publicly lynch the character of these Black teens and relegate them to a state of perpetual thuggery and criminality?  Some may think so, but we have all been young and youth is often filled with idiocy and bad choices.  And being a resident of the Southern Bible Belt of Christianity, I do believe in second, third, and fourth chances.
We all must stand for justice regardless whether or not one whom “looks” like us is a victim.  Black and white Americans should march, protest, and become advocates against violence even when we do not identify with the victim.  What causes divisiveness is when we only rally around the home team.  As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote in his “Letter from Birmingham Jail”, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” and like millions of others, I concur. It shouldn’t matter the color of our uniform, we all play for the same team.

*Gee Joyner is an English Professor, lecturer, and author of Kim; The Story of John and He Talk White:  The Scholarly and Artistic Works of a Writer

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Still A Nigger: A Day in the Life of a Black American Professor

It is always a strange and unfamiliar territory when one is transitioning from one thing to another—be it a relationship, home, city, or job.  And, in my case, the transition from a small HBCU (Historically Black College or University) to a large state university (PWI-predominately white institution) is no different.  It’s strange because I once walked this campus in the pursuit of two degrees and a Literature certification.  I walked this campus racking up numerous graduate hours in Education.  I once walked this campus stockpiling Doctoral hours in English, yet upon my return, it all seemed alien to me.
            Having taught for over half a decade, six years to be exact, at a predominately Black college, and when I say “predominately”, I mean during my tenure there I saw maybe eight or nine white students and never taught any of them, I had resided in a Black vacuum of Negro culture.  Sure, aggressive commentary, behavior, and bodily gestures were oft times prevalent, but what I experienced today on this white campus was different.  It reeked of pale privilege (insert white privilege).  It took me back to my elementary, middle, and high school days.  It transported me at warp speed to the subtle prejudice and racism I endured growing up in a Southern white suburb on the outskirts of the chocolate city of Memphis.
            First of all, I must inform you of my sojourn to campus the day before my paranoia set in.  Yesterday, I came to campus to meet with the Director of Writing just to bounce around some ideas pertaining to the courses I would be teaching.  When I arrived on campus, I parked in the lot reserved for a white fraternity.  The lot was literally their frat house’s lot.  I knew it was forbidden, yet I parked there anyway because on a campus of more than twenty thousand students, parking is always hard to find.  I met with the director for fifteen to twenty minutes, went back to the lot, cranked up my vehicle, and made my exodus.  But, on today, I decided to park in the frat house’s lot again because I knew I’d only be there for ten or fifteen minutes top.  I came to sign some paperwork, submit a voided check to payroll, and pick up my textbooks for instruction. 
Today was different.  I pulled into their lot and parked.  I exited my vehicle, pressed my alarm, and walked across the street.  In mid gait, I heard a voice holler, “Hey! Hey!” I turned around to see a beer-bellied frat boy with his hat turned backwards.  We both displayed orbital recognition, then, he yelled, “You can’t park here!” I immediately turned around and headed back to the lot to move my car and find another place to park.  I watched him as he walked back into the fraternity house and thought no more of it.  Then, a bigger frat member comes out of the frat house.  And by “bigger”, I mean 6’4” and about 240 pounds of the lard that Southern cooking and beer puts on a man—you know, Mike Brown of Ferguson, Missouri big.  He walked toward the parking area and says, “Hey, boss.  You can’t…” and before he could say “park here”, I frowned and said, “I’m not your boss, man.”  I unlocked my car and saw him turn and walk back into the house and hear him murmur, “Boss, you can’t park here.”  I replied in a louder tone, “Don’t do that, dude.  Don’t come at me with that ‘boss’ shit.”  He continued into the house and I turned on my automobile and left—upset.

I left because I felt that Black and white Americans are on edge.  Is it because of the Mike Brown murder/Ferguson uprising?  Is it because of the racial tension that has been boiling and stewing over since 1619?  You make the call.  But, I felt some type of way about my small incident (if it was even an “incident” at all).  I didn’t feel it was necessary to be told twice that I couldn’t park there.  I felt some type of way about the tone in which both of these frat boys spoke to me.  I wasn’t a student.  I wasn’t a passerby.  I may even be their professor come next week.  But, how would they know that?  I wasn’t dressed like a professor. (however a professor dresses.)  I didn’t have a huge medallion hanging from my neck saying “I’M A PROFESSOR”.  But what I did have on was a costume of Blackness that I’ve adorned since March of 1978 when I escaped from my mother’s womb.  What I did have on was a costume of Blackness that seems to garner disrespect, subjugation, subordination, castigation, and condescension in the good ole U.S. of A.  What I did have on was a uniform of Blackness that seems to create fear, trepidation, and wariness from non-Black Americans.  What I did have on was a cloak of Blackness that says “Nigger” (with the –er).  To them, and even to me, I was a nigger.  A nigger who was parking in a place that I wasn’t supposed to park.  To me, and to them, I imagine, I was still a nigger.

Monday, August 11, 2014

No Flex Zone: Killin’ Season on Black Males and the Psychosis of the Cops Who Are Doing It

While we are mourning and hash-tagging Michael Brown, don't forget John Crawford of Ohio who was killed by police in a Walmart for holding a bee bee gun/rifle in which the chain store sells! Stop putting a name to these unarmed Trayvons. Apparently, they're just "Niggers" or "Coons"! And therefore, I'm gonna hold my son's hand until he's 40!
Regardless of what these two particular young, Black males did or did not do, as well as the unnamed and unknown Black males did or didn’t do, there is no excuse for them being murdered in cold, freezing blood at the hands of U.S. law enforcement.  I am tired of writing pieces that my colleagues within the Academy will deem fitting.  I am frustrated with always adhering to the guidelines of rhetorical composition.  I am sick and tired of trying to copy and paste and research statistics and incidents that back up my “claim.”  This time, I will write my opinions. Opinions null and void of scholarly sustenance.  I wanna write my anger onto this page.  Voice my outrage in this piece.  Be pissed off and say, “Fuck the formal and informal”.  I’m gonna write what hell I wanna write.  Shit, it’s my blog, right?  So, with that being said, where in God’s name is the white American outrage when unarmed Black Americans are being gunned downed like raccoons in the southern woods by “law enforcement”? What laws are they enforcing?  I need to read that damn handbook!!!
            While we are mourning & hash-tagging Michael Brown, don't forget John Crawford of Ohio who was killed by police in a Walmart for holding a bee bee gun/rifle in which the chain store sells! Stop putting a name to these unarmed Trayvons. Apparently, they're just "Niggers" or "Coons"! I'm gonna hold my son's hand until he's 40!  There has been a devaluing of the life of the Negro since 1619.  Why would a being that was brought here as a chained and enslaved individual, here to do the laborious tasks of cultivating land and crops and international revenue, somewhat like a beast of burden, be viewed as anything more as a means to an end?  So, I am no longer surprised when Black males, and even Black females (see Renisha McBride and Marissa Alexander), are either victims of the judicial system or casualties of the police brutality and judicial system.
            I had a conversation over Sunday dinner with my parents and sister, while my 6-year-old son was in the den playing with toys and his imagination and laughing at cartoons, and they both, being that they were raised in the height of the 50’s and 60’s Civil Rights Era, down South, were adamant about how “we” (Black folks) need to teach other Black folk what they need to do when accosted or approached or in the presence of police.  My parents said that we need to “obey their orders” and “do as we are told”.  My reply was, “What if that isn’t enough.  What if they still shoot and kill us?” Silence.  
I began to try to remind my father of a time when I was in high school, my senior year, and I threw a back-to-school swim party at our home in a 99% white suburban subdivision, and he told a white cop who came to our home voicing complaints from the neighbors, “I don’t need the police to police my home.  I can handle this.  I’ve been running my house for 15 years.”  I said, “Daddy, you could’ve been shot and killed for being a Black man who was “non-compliant”.  He stood in silence as he was slicing the pork roast.  My sister and my mother were mute.  I wasn’t.  I knew and know the man that he was and is.  The man that came to my aid when my racist 8th grade English teacher humiliated and subjugated my fellow classmates to ridicule and unjust punishment simply because they were Black students at a predominately and exclusively white suburban middle school.  He came to my aid when she attempted to embarrass and condemn me to punishment.  He was there vouching for me and my record of incidents of racism when she eventually got to me during her path of racist retribution upon Negro minorities.  He was the one who stood up to her and the Black, hand-picked principal who was just glad to have the position.  He was, and is, my hero because of the aforementioned, and with what has happened to the young man in St. Louis and Ohio, he was at a loss of words.  His only reply was, “Negroes gotta just watch what they do around these white police.  I know it sounds harsh, but ain’t nothin’ changed.  Folks gonna have to teach these young Negroes to keep their mouths shut and do what the police say.”  And this, is the problem.
            What exactly can “Negroes” do to avoid presumed police provocation. Not frown, blink or sneeze? Not question officers’ orders? Not sag their pants?  Not listen to Rap music in their vehicles?  Walk with their heads down?  Though the entire story and truth hasn’t come out about either Brown in St. Louis or Crawford in Ohio, any intelligent and modestly objective media voyeur can surmise that something is afoot.  No weapon.  No definitive crime committed—and even if there was a crime committed, that doesn’t give law enforcement officials the right to kill these youngsters.  It seems as though the noose and the Ku Klux Klan has been replaced with bullets, batons and policemen.  I don’t agree with the notion that young Blacks should behave a certain way around cops or give cops a particular level of respect to avoid the loss of their lives.  In my estimation, that defeats the premise of the modern-day Civil Rights Movement.  Equality means, to me, that one shouldn’t have to be of exceptional intelligence, wealth, or behavior in order to be treated in a humane manner.  And for my extreme conservatives, both Black and white, miss me with the idea that we, as Black Americans, are blowing another incident out of proportion by invoking race and racism.  Stop saying we are "playing the Race card"! It ain't a card game when losing means a disparity of pay, inequality, incarceration, or the loss of your life, damned Fool!
While we are mourning & hash-tagging Michael Brown, don't forget John Crawford of Ohio who was killed by police in a Walmart for holding a bee bee gun/rifle in which the chain store sells! Stop putting a name to these unarmed Trayvons. Apparently, they're just "Niggers" or "Coons"! I'm gonna hold my son's hand until he's 40! 

                                                                                                    -Gee Joyner

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Don't Mess With My Messiah: Black Jesus, Blind Faith & Biblical Foolishness

I watched it.  Then I watched it again.  Not necessarily because it was so captivating, but more so because when I watched it the first time I missed the introduction (it felt like trying to read the bible by starting in the book of Matthew or John; at some point you’ll have to begin at Genesis to get a better context).  I watched it a third time because I was impressed by the way the theological themes were being teased out with Christological creativity and satirical sophistication.
It actually affirmed and reminded me why I have spent the last 16 weeks teaching the #SonOfGod: Black Jesus & White Lies – Race in the Black Church series at Abyssinian Baptist Church which was birthed on the back of the constant cinematic revisions of Biblical history which kept perpetuating ancient Hebrews and Egyptians (from Moses, to Mary, to Jesus) as white people.  As an emerging servant-scholar-pastor, public theologian and college professor of religion I’m ever mindful of the truth in Dr. Cornel West’s statement in his latest book Brother West: Living and Loving Outloud, “In America, every card in the deck is a race card.”  Race matters...especially in 21st century religion, contemporary theology and spirituality.  I! Get! It! 
That’s why I was taken aback (sadly) when met with information of the impending protest of Aaron McGruder’s new series Black Jesus.  Have people of faith nothing better to galvanize behind? How about we spend our ecclesiastical energy around instances highlighted by Dr. Leslie D. Callahan in her article, Black Jesus: We Have Other Things to Boycott?  Callahan argues, “...this is not because I am incapable of indignation. I’m just saving my ire for other things, such as, the carnage in Gaza, food insecurity in my city and every city, and even the nonsense folks preach in pulpits depicting Jesus as a money-hungry capitalist, which by the way is at least as blasphemous as portraying him as a cussing, smoking, homeless dude in the hood.”
Why were so many in the black faith community so disturbed? What has McGruder done (this time) that has disrupted so many?  It is, again, abundantly (and sadly) obvious for me.  There continues to exist in the life of those in the 21st century a gap, void, chiasm between the characters and catalogue of the biblical text and the life of black folks in North America.  People are familiar with scripture, salvation and the Lord and Savior but people usually don’t place themselves in close proximity of those who we find in the chronicles of our faith.  We hear about the forerunners of the faith, but few of us simultaneously imagine their bodies being kissed by the sun like ours.  We presume most biblical characters are white.  We think race and racism existed then in the same fashion it exists now.  We think God is white (an old white man with a long gray bear to be exact – google “God” and see what comes up). 
We think the Jesus of the bible and in history, literally looks like the painting authorized by the Vatican of a pale skin, brunette with light brown eyes.  We think that we’re reading and referencing a text that has little or nothing to do with our history, legacy and life with the exception of the connection between the Hebrew slaves and the African-American slaves or maybe some subtlesimilarities in songs sang in the civil rights movement based upon the scriptures.
So when McGruder takes the artistic liberty, theological acuity and satirical courage to depict a “neighborHOOD Jesus”, those who think they have a monopoly on biblical interpretation and a sickening spiritual superiority complex feel compelled to defend the myths – it makes perfect (pathetic) sense.  Fact is,McGruder's Jesus is more contextually/historically accurate than most preachers’ presentations on Sunday's.
In the mainstream Jesus is most often presented as a social-superstar who gives back-stage-passes to prosperity (read: WHITE), instead of a religious revolutionary who is concerned with social-political-religious liberation not simply our "soul's salvation." (read: BLACK) You think I'm upset with McGruder for presenting an alternative "hood" Jesus? "...Do you still not see or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear?" PUH-LEEZ.... we're so colonized that we don't even understand when we're defending the elements of our own oppression!!! Therefore, when it comes to those who are so gung ho about using their faith as a means to protest pictorial representations of religious figures on television but silent about abusive priests, manipulative ministers and pimpish politicians, I’ll let them have it.  But be clear, I am NOT impressed with our colonized Christianity and pathetic attempts to perpetuate piety.  And neither is God! 

                                                                       -Rev. Earle J. Fisher

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Them Niggas Were Coonin' Too: The Ironic Subjectivity of the Black Minstrel

I’ve often wondered why African Americans give the Black pioneers of cinema a pass, yet the modern-day African American community, as a whole, particularly those of the scholarly or academic ilk, castigate the new-age minstrels (i.e. African American reality kings and queens) such as those characters portrayed on the Love and Hip Hop shows, both Atlanta and New York, Real Housewives of Atlanta, and R&B Divas among others are demonized as the worst thing that has happened to the image of Black Americans since the crack epidemic, Gangsta Rap, and Flavor Flav. 
A couple of days ago my father and I were having our usual post-breakfast conversation on America and pop culture and Black America and Black American pop culture and I brought to his attention how, back when I was in Graduate School, the African American professors at the university in which I attended, always, like sheep, fell in line and were obedient in lauding the Black actors and comedians, who seemingly consistently portrayed stereotypical Negroidian roles on stage and film, as pioneers who paved the way for the New Negro to revel in national, and oft times international fame, notoriety and wealth, yet lambaste the Black actors, rappers, comedians, and, even athletes, of today as being coons who were and are disrespectful of those who have paved the path for them to economically and socially flourish in the 21st century.  Moms Mabley came to mind.  I said, “Daddy, them niggas didn’t have a choice, but neither do these new Niggas.  I mean, sure they perpetuated the derogatory stereotypes be it their aesthetic appearance (i.e. bucked eyes, bulbous lips, spooked-out/frightened/dumbfounded facial expressions, or tattered and subservient attire) or their perpetual use of Black slanguage or Black Speak (see bell hooks or Zora Neale Hurston).” He casually replied, “Hell, they didn’t have to do it either.  They should’ve just not taken the roll or acted the part.” 
I laughed and agreed.  This is true.  Was being in show business that important?  I know that one’s art or craft, whether it be to live vicariously through a written role in a film or to make someone laugh or dance or cry, or, in a writer’s case, to think, is a gift and talent, but I wouldn’t write for the sake of garnering money or fame or acceptance.  So, why did these people?  I am fully aware that great entertainers like Moms Mabley utilized their artistic expression to subtly cram racism and sexism in the face of the hierarchical structure under the guise of comedy, but can you not say that Stevie J of Love & Hip Hop Atlanta isn’t doing the same by deconstructing the notion that the only way to obtain wealth, or at least a consistent paycheck, while being a Black male is to be educated at the finest universities or colleges and procuring internships and wearing slacks and loafers and neckties and speaking with clarity and enunciating his syllables and pronouncing his words correctly?  You know, being “articulate” as Black and white Americans say when hearing a Negro who doesn’t sound like a Throwback-Thursday Antebellum slave.
The peculiarity in the way that Black reality stars are demonized befuddles me, because, for the most part, they are utilizing all of the characteristics and motifs that early Black comedy, Black Exploitation films of the 70’s, and Hip Hop of the late 80’s, 90’s, and early 21st century have done.  They are being “them”, or at least I hope so, because I’m a fascinated fan of realism and ratchedness that they portray on the television screen week in and week out.   Both Black and white Americans alike love voyeurism, and reality television is a hit, and has been since the early 90’s when MTV introduced The Real World.  So, why not be compensated and be afforded the ability to provide yourself and your family and friends with a lifestyle that is reminiscent of what we all have been told and sold as the American Dream?  Expensive everything: car(s), house, clothes, jewelry, and food.  If being a perpetual stereotype, no matter whether any positivity or negativity can be found within the textual message one is disseminating, is a crime, do you really want to be right?  If these niggas are coonin’, let them coon.  Coons gotta eat, right?

                                                                                                 -Gee Joyner

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Tales from the Thot: The Objectification of Black(female) Sexuality

I can remember the first time I heard it.  It was a few weeks into the Fall 2013 semester.  I was doing my routine 3-5 minute ice-breaking monologue for one of my classes.  Asking students about their weekends and giving them a detailed yet graphic description of mine.  Ala Arsenio Hall (in the 90s) or any other network talk-show host you may or may have fancied.  And one student mentioned a party they had attended, and if you knew anything about collegiate parties or gatherings, particularly HBCUs, you know they can run the gamut from lame to no-holds-barred cage match type gatherings to all out pseudo strip clubs and grind fests.  Anyway, the student was giving a brief outline, if you will, and stated, “It was plenty of Thots, Mr. Joyner.’  Then, another male student chimed in, “It was a thotfest out there, man.”  I stood befuddled, bewildered, even ignorant.  Female and male students alike burst into laughter and full-toothed grins.  So, I asked, embarrassingly, because I knew, due to the context, I was losing touch with the millennial generation, even though I consider myself pretty cool, hip, and “with it” because I have always been cool, hip, and “with it” as far as Generation X’ers are concerned and because I have the cache of mingling with the youth of today considering my occupation as a professor, “What is as Thot?”  In unison, half of the class replied, “That hoe over there.”  I inadvertently laughed and lowered my head.  I love acronyms.  And this acronym shook me to the core, yet me thinking I’m still cool, chose not to expose it to my students.  I was laughing and smiling, but to me, the “term,” or acronym-turned-noun (synonymous with whore) wasn’t funny whatsoever---it was disturbing. 
Since the beginning of recorded language there have been many words used to describe a sexually promiscuous woman: harlot, trollop, whore, slut.  So, I guess it is only right that the 21st century colloquial lexicon, just as its predecessor popularized the slanguaged term hoe, a derivative of whore, would introduce another disparaging piece of language to further demonize the sexual freedom and frequency of intercourse of women, particularly the Black female.  But the dilemma lies in the idea of judgment, personal freedom, and morality.  And all of these three tenants in which women and their sexuality and their usage thereof exist under a microscopic lense of subjectivity.  Who is to say what morality is and whether or not a woman is cognizant or unaware of what it is she is doing or attempting to do when it pertains to her nether regions?  As far as Thots are concerned, this new terminology has replaced hoe, even though hoe is represented by one of the letters in the acronym, and is not only synonymous with a promiscuous woman but it is also connoted with a woman who seems to be irresponsible and unaccomplished, be she a negligent mother, an untrustworthy friend, a cutthroat criminal, or an occupier of a dead-end job.
But why is the Thot so castigated?  Because she utilizes her looks or her physique or feminine wilds to get what she want?  Money, housing, attention, or a mere sexual satisfying of her pleasure principle.  Possibly.  But, what is ironic is the fact that both women and men alike seem to detest a woman who chooses to occupy the space that men, both Black and white, have occupied for so long-- a space of patriarchal prestige, power, and entitlement.  A space where one’s superiority in a particular discipline or occupation or physicality affords them the opportunity to dominate another.  So, are Thots to blame for creating a space that defines them as superior, or, at the least, getting what they want in a given situation vis’ a vis the tools that they were given or capitalizing on what society as a whole wants?  In graduate school, as a graduate assistant, I wrote a headnote for a Norton Anthology on the late June Jordan, famed author, feminist, and social activist, and in doing my research, I came upon a quote by Audre Lorde that has stuck with me for the past 13 years and aided in making me comfortable in what I was and am trying to do as far as my own artistry.  She stated, “If I didn't define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people's fantasies for me and eaten alive.”  Maybe the Thot has a freedom that those of us that glare and condemn her do not understand.  Maybe we are the one’s enslaved to the worry of judgment and marginalization and ostracization.  If we really think about it, haven’t we all been a Thot, both male and female, for someone?  Just a piece of meat or a piece of sex or something to pass the time while the person we performed for waited for a better man, woman, or thing to pin there hopes upon.  Shirley Chism famously said, “The emotional, sexual, and psychological stereotyping of females begins when the doctor says, ‘It's a girl.’”  That’s funny, yet true.  We all must revisit, deconstruct, and reconstruct the way the vagina, and the woman it is attached to, has been demonized for wanting and doing what it and she wants to do.  Double Standards are a bitch, but you better not call a man one.

Monday, April 28, 2014

D'Jonald Unchained: The Los Angeles Clippers and Their Massa

Let's be honest. Donald Sterling, formerly Donald Tokowitz, is a racist. Not because of the alleged comments (secretly recorded by his minority mistress) pertaining to Blacks or African Americans that were disparaging and bigoted, but because he literally holds a position that allows him to successfully subordinate and objectify the African American via his money, position, power, and ability to employ and/or fire people.  That is, in my opinion, the true definition of racism.  Though the conversation that was more than likely leaked to the media by his mistress as either extortion or revenge was disgustingly painful to listen to, that is the least of the problems the NBA has in regards to Sterling’s ownership of a franchise.  His comments were bigoted and reeked of prejudice and stereotypical vitriol, but we, as the viewing and paying public (ticket holders, subscribers to NBA TV, and purchasers of paraphernalia), should be up in arms concerning the numerous allegations of racism and sexism in the Clippers’ front office and the racial discrimination lawsuits levied at Don in the past decade.  The phone recording is spilled milk.  The lawsuits and the details thereof, on the other hand, are a socioeconomic oil spill that should have been cleaned up years ago.

By now, the entire social network populace and those who have tuned in to any major media outlet in the United States has heard excerpts, if not all, of the recorded conversation between Donald Sterling and his mistress, so I won’t regurgitate the salacious rhetoric in an attempt to bolster my audience or my “shares” or my “likes”.  What I will do, though, is try to articulate why this isn’t just about Sterling but about the NBA and its ownership.  In 2006, the U.S. Department of justice sued Sterling for housing discrimination because of claims that he purportedly refused to rent to Latinos and Blacks, and those he did rent to, in particular Kandyce Jones.  In sworn testimony, one of Sterling's top property supervisors Sumner Davenport claimed he made racist comments about black people living in one of the buildings he had just acquired: "That's because of all the blacks in this building, they smell, they're not clean. ... And it's because of all of the Mexicans that just sit around and smoke and drink all day."  Davenport went on to testify, "Kandynce Jones' refrigerator dripped, her dishwasher was broken, and her apartment was always cold. Now it had flooded. Davenport reported what she saw to Sterling, and according to her testimony, he asked, 'Is she one of those black people that stink?' When Davenport told Sterling that Jones wanted to be reimbursed for the water damage and compensated for her ruined property, he replied: 'I am not going to do that. Just evict the bitch.'"  That suit was settled for $2.765 million dollars without Sterling having to admit any liability. 

In 2009, NBA legend and Hall-of-Famer Elgin Baylor, who served as Director of Basketball Operations for the Clippers for 22 years sued Donald for unlawful termination vis a’ vis age and racial discrimination.  Although Baylor lost the lawsuit, disturbing commentary from individuals within the Clippers’ organization, if true, became known.  Baylor stated, “[Sterling] said, 'Personally, I would like to have a white Southern coach coaching poor black players.' And I was shocked. And he looked at me and said, ‘Do you think that’s a racist statement?' I said, 'Absolutely. That’s plantation mentality.'"  In the suit, Baylor also claimed that three top Clippers players — Sam Cassell, Elton Brand, and Corey Maggette — complained to him that Sterling was bringing women into the locker room to look at the players, and once said to one of the women, "Look at those beautiful black bodies."  As early as 1983, two years after Donald Sterling acquired the team and was attempting to move it from San Diego to Los Angeles, he was courting NCAA championship coach Rollie Massimino in hopes of luring him to the NBA, and Massimino allegedly recalled a brief glimpse into the racial ideology of Mr. Sterling: “Here’s this guy, and he has this blonde bimbo with him, they have a bottle of champagne, they’re tanked. And Don looks at me and he says, ‘I wanna know why you think you can coach these niggers.”  Now, don’t just look at the words in these accusations.  Go up a few lines and read the alleged actions connected and directly connoted with Sterling’s views on Race, and in particular, those of African American descent. 

To understand Sterling’s racial ideology, we must understand the man’s background.  As I mentioned earlier, he was born Donald Tokowitz.  A son of Jewish immigrants who allegedly came to this country flat broke.  Sounds eerily similar to those of us whose ancestry derived from those dark-skinned Africans who landed in what is now the United States of America in 1619 (give or take a few years depending on what historian you talk to).  He apparently changed his surname either in an effort to distance or erase his past or to escape his Jewish heritage, which either way would make a superb case study in Self-Hate and Self-Deprecation.  His history authenticates that Sterling is a Horatio Alger story for the ages.  He grew up in Los Angeles, became an injury and divorce attorney, invested his money, and bought one of the hometown sports franchises.  Bravo.  But what is lost in this story is how he utilized his wealth and societal positioning to assimilate into the stereotypical culture of WASPS.  His upward mobility freed him from his immigrant roots and poverty, more than likely associated with his ethnic plot in the United States.  His money freed him from oral censorship.  His money freed him from moral responsibility of human empathy and sympathy.  The fruits of his labor and his business acumen unchained him from his marginalized past and allowed him to be free to literally ‘do’ whatever he wants to others (i.e. subjugate, denigrate, and deny residency/occupancy). 

Being that the NBA is an exclusive sports league that can allow or disallow ownership at its discretion it is ironic that they have never called major media attention to this owner.  Unless one lived on the West Coast, before the Baylor lawsuit, you’d probably never knew who owned the Clippers, what he looked like, or what sketchy past the man had.  But now we do.  And the bigger question is why haven’t any of the other 29 owners of NBA franchises, excluding Michael Jordan, the sole Black owner in the league, voiced their personal and professional opinions on this matter.  Not the recording, but Sterling’s massive history of racial inequality.  Better yet, with almost 80% of the players in the NBA being Black/African American, how often is this type of thing going on within the league’s team’s front offices.  We just heard what Sterling has said and have seen his discrimination suits played out in the public sphere via the media, but only God knows what is going on with the other owners.  I would like to know the percentages of non-player personnel that is Black in the NBA.  Yes, D’Jonald has been unchained and off the chain for years, but what about the other owners who are quiet as church mice during this public smearing of the Clippers, its owner, and the NBA brand?  The new commissioner, Adam Silver was under David Stern’s tutelage since 1992.  I’m sure a smart, Jewish lawyer like himself knew Sterling’s resume on equality and discrimination.  We have.  But I guess the league helped to unchain him.
                                                                    -Gee Joyner

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Sherman, Smart, and Sam: America's Caging and Censoring of the Black American Athlete


     When Seattle Seahawks’ cornerback Richard Sherman startled a white female sideline reporter, and the television viewing audience, with his verbal chastising of San Francisco Forty Niners’ wide receiver Michael Crabtree, I elected not to write nor publicly say anything.  The night amateur athlete and Oklahoma State guard Marcus Smart shoved a loyal Texas Tech fan after being verbally assaulted (be it a racial slur or not), I was so quiet you could hear a rat piss on cotton. Then, University of Missouri defensive end Michael Sam “came out” and proclaimed his homosexuality to the world in an interview, and I decided it was time that I say something.  Something needed to be written. I needed to write something.  I needed to compose something that illustrates what I believe is going on in this post-racial America courtesy of the almighty Obama’s election and reelection. There seems to be a deconstruction and reconstruction of the Black American male athlete, and this reconstruction may very well void the only positive stereotype that exists and persists in the American and international psyche as it pertains to the self-worth of the Black male.   

      Via extensive media coverage there is no need for me to intricately detail or do a play-by-play analysis of what occurred with Sherman or Smart, but I must state that, in my thirty-five years as a United States resident, the only African American stereotype that doesn’t wreak of inferiority, criminality, and minstrelsy is that of the Black male’s athletic/physical prowess, prominence, proficiency, and superiority.  Asians are smart.  White people are rich, powerful, and intelligent.  Latinos have a rich heritage and culture and are hard working.  Italians are Catholic and have a love of family and familial traditions (ok, yes, they have mafia connections). But, outside of the Black American being fast, coordinated, and can jump high, we have been inundated with the notion of Blacks being dumb, thuggish, absentee or neglectful parents, and are the face of poverty and welfare in the U.S.A.  Yet, Sherman, Smart, and Sam, or at least the media’s portrayal of them and the audience’s response to them, may be the undoing of the image of the Black athlete as a heroic figure in American folklore.

        I intend to do something within the next four-hundred to six hundred words or so that is something that is studied, analyzed, dissected, celebrated and commodified in the halls of America’s upper tier academic institutions, mainly private, white, and economically exclusive, is a claim for scholastic fame and intellectual adoration for Black scholars who have terminal degrees in African American Studies and anything “AfAm” and have extensive research experience and publications because of this—the “freestyle”.  Rappers have bars that are pertinent, poignant, and profound, and my bars are sentences.  I just want to construct a brief, cold-blooded rhetorical foray, without the fire (phi) beat, into the negative depiction of African Americans, specifically and explicitly athletes, by mass media once they roam outside the zoo of American sports entertainment. 

        Because Richard Sherman was animated and aggressive and braggadocios and insulting to his individual opponent, a wide-receiver, being that he is the defensive antithesis to the position of wide receiver in football, and startled the white female reporter in front of thousands in attendance and millions in the viewing audience, Sherman was labeled a thug, out of control, and “out of line” by many in the media after his alleged tirade. I always felt like the media was upset with his aggression even in the mere presence of the white female reporter whether or not his tirade and aggression was aimed at her or anyone else.  Sherman had the nerve to be hostile in the mere presence of a white woman.  He was no longer tamed.  The game was over.  The money was made.  The fans got their monies worth.  And this Black robo-animal should be able to hit the “stop” button and get a hold of himself and act with some sense.  Be seen and not heard.  And Sherman, Smart, and Sam are doing neither of the aforementioned.  These three talented Black athletes, who happen to be top tier in their respective fields or level of athletics, will be seen and heard as long as they maintain the skill level required to have an extensive career in the American sports workforce.  
       Marcus Smart violated the code of relieving himself of his duties as zoo animal and spectacle by putting his hands on a white customer, a white ticket buyer, when he responded to the verbal insult that was hurled at him.  Note to America—you are paying to be entertained not paying to verbally abuse the athletes who you vicariously and voyeuristically want to be like and salivate at their physical abilities and coordination.  Whatever sadistic thought is in the live and viewing crowd’s psyche should not be acted out upon these gladiators that perform for the viewer’s pleasure.  A “boo” here or there is fine, but, please, no name-calling.  Particularly in college.  They are amateur athletes.  They aren’t getting paid to endure your internal and malicious ire.  Oh, and Michael Sam should not have to be worried about whether or not his potential employment by an NFL franchise is predicated upon his sexual preference or orientation.  He has informed us that he is a homosexual male athlete months before the NFL draft, so that the league and its family of teams cannot blackball him because of a "secret" that has been known for months in collegiate football circles.

     Yet the media and residents in the universe of social networking outlets are condemning the actions, some warranted, of the aforementioned athletes.  Sherman should have more class and shut up.  Smart shouldn't have put his hands on that fan regardless of what kind of insult was hurled at him.  Sam shouldn't tell because we didn't ask.  The American media wants to tame if not destroy individualism and free speech and free think and harness the physical capabilities of the Black male athlete once he is done playing the game.  Be humble in an interview.  Be quiet about your sexuality. Don't put your hands on a white fan no matter what he or she says, or, I assume, does to you.  The mystique of the machismo connoted with the image of the Black male athlete is being deconstructed for the 21st century.  No longer is the superior athlete someone to admire.  He is now someone to revile and detest because he seems not to know his place like Cassius Clay changing his name, becoming a member of the Nation of Islam and refusing to be inducted into the U.S. military because of his anti-Vietnam War sentiments.  Lik John Carlos and Tommie Smith and their hoisting of the Black Power salute. Jim Brown's constant stance against discrimination in America and American sports, and Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf's refusal to hold his hand over his heart and sing the national anthem during pre-game NBA rituals.  In essence, just run, nigger, run.

                                                                                                                   -Gee Joyner