March 3, 2014

Basketball Jones

Guest Post by Jamie Ruff 

Sport is indeed a microcosm of society and here’s another example of how it’s socialism for the wealthy but capitalism for the rest of us.

The NBA is starting to throw support behind an NCAA rule mandating collegians play at least two years of college basketball before becoming eligible for the professional draft. It wasn't that long ago, however, that the league backed a rule requiring every high school student to play at least one year of college ball.

The argument was then, and continues to be, that the time in college lets the players better develop his game while also giving college basketball fans a better "product." 

Perhaps. The question, however, is what that has to do with the draft choices these professional franchises make?

This change would have nothing to do with giving a better product for the public, and everything to do with helping owners avoid their own dumb draft picks. The wealthy NBA owners want someone to save them from themselves by blocking them from paying millions to someone who may not have the maturity -- or character -- to succeed at the game's highest level .

Fine, you say? Why shouldn’t they?

Well, because that’s not how capitalism works for most of us.

There is no casino in Las Vegas or New Jersey or anywhere in between where the casino cuts you off before you lose the house payment. The theory is that you might win way bigger than you lose. See, that’s how capitalism works. In other words, you have a right to be stupid.

But, of course, that’s because that’s your money, and these owners are talking about their money. So it’s time to change the rules.

The fact is professional franchises aren’t required to draft underclassmen, anymore than they were required to draft someone straight out of high school. That’s a choice they made. The problem was that for every Kobe or LeBron, there was probably seven Kwame Browns - high schoolers with tons of potential who, for one reason or another, never paid off. 

The smart money would say draft the known product, the one you’ve gotten to know thoroughly over four years in college; that’s what the smart money say; but everybody is afraid they might be the one to miss out on the next great thing, so time and again they have overlooked seniors whose limitations they had been able to see and gone for “potential” and “upside.” 

Tired of getting burned more than rewarded, the owners decided to remove the temptation to bet big and lose big by ducking out on drafting high school wonders; now they want that temptation moved even further away by one more year.

That’s how to say steps aren’t sometimes taken to protect consumers. But when Congress created the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau with the intention of protecting the interest of consumers against the double-speak legalese of the likes of mortgage lenders and big banks, opponents dismissed the effort as unnatural. It seems that if you’re not smart enough to out-think high-priced lawyers and multimillion-dollar corporations looking to trap you in bad debt, well, that’s on you.  

Capitalism would say shouldn’t anyone who thinks he has the talent to make it in the NBA be able to enter the draft? I mean, in theory I can submit my name for consideration, though I guarantee you that after looking at my statistics – age, weight the fact I never played organized basketball and couldn’t even make my high school JV team – there would be no way I would be drafted. And why should I be? The point is, I could declare, but no one would be obligated to take me. So there.

Look, if the change takes place – and I have can’t help but think the rumblings are a sign of what is to come – it is most certainly to be mutually beneficial to both products, professional and collegian. But make no mistake, that’s a byproduct of a selfish decision of two wealthy organizations looking to stay that way and not caring what it means to you.

February 26, 2014

Bitter Rain

Guest Post by Jamie Ruff 

Black people – catching hell in America since the day we arrived.

There, I said it. Now dismiss me as another angry black man – because I am angry, and I am black. But that’s not quit accurate, because I have a joke for you.

The problem is that African Americans and Native Americans have unique, uncomfortable relationships with this nation.

Naive Americas are the former landlords who came home to find that through legal maneuvering and force of arms the family they had taken in had taken over and now owned the house, replacing every picture, the furniture and the carpet. Black Americans, by contrast, is the neighbor being held hostage in the home’s basement, his screams and cries ignored.

We all know the history: Every other ethnic group came; the African American was brought – in chains … under protest, not that it mattered. Every other ethic group has been assimilated and nurtured. We have been raped and robbed. Our talents and creativity is used to enrich, our due given generations later and reluctantly.

 We have had to fight for everything we got. We’ve had to take everything we have, and that is never forgotten: you took my job … you took welfare … you’re taking up air, the angry complain.
We are credited with having taken everything, yet we have so little; maybe that’s why we are culturally psychotic: we love our country thought it shots down our children; we want to celebrate our ethnicity, yet the same people who remind us that we are the others are just as quick to remind us that our ethnicity is American.

We’ve all had the conversation with a well intended white person at one time or another.
“Why be African American?” you’re asked. “Why not just be American?”

And, actually, we, like the Native American, are distinctly American. My roots go back to South Carolina and then back to – a continent. You can take pride your roots go back to Russia or France or England or Portugal or Spain or Germany. You can hand down names and words that reach back to that homeland, and maybe even a town or village. I have to make up names. The African American distinctness makes us a blend like no other. That should make me the good stuff. Top self. But, of course, it doesn’t. It makes me less likely to get a good paying job, more likely to suffer from high blood pressure, more likely to be incarcerated for the same crime that you don’t even get arrested for committing … shot  by another black man or by a cop I was running toward for help, or by a white man who can claim it was fear that make him carry a gun and pull it.

Let a black man shot a white child and see the outrage, but when a white man shots a black child -- that’s just the manifestation of fear, though no one ever seems to give a good explanation on how the grown man with the gun during the shooting at an unarmed child gets to be afraid.

I’m angry because it happened again.

On Saturday, Feb. 15th, after several days of deliberation, a Florida jury finally convicted Michael Dunn of four charges relating to his shooting into an SUV full of black teenagers during an argument over loud music, including three counts of attempted second-degree murder. The convictions are expected to put him behind bars for decades. But the jury failed to reach a verdict on the most serious charge of murdering 17-year-old Jordan Davis.

Dunn’s attorney, Cory Strolla, reported said that his client was “in disbelief” at the verdict and asked “how is this happening?”

I’m in disbelief and want to know how this happened, too? I can’t help but wonder how he could not be convicted of murder?

State Attorney Angela Corey said prosecutors will seek to try him again on the murder charge. That’s a good thing, but it misses the bigger point. Dunn is not the first white man to shot an unarmed black teenager and have a jury not think it murder and I’m fearful he won’t be the last.

Of course, the most famous was another Florida case, the acquittal of George Zimmerman for the killing of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. Like Dunn, Zimmerman argued self defense, though he, too, was armed and made a point of confronting and shooting to death an unarmed black teenager whose only offense seems to have been drawing the ire of a white man.

On Nov. 23, 2012, Dunn pulled into a Jacksonville gas station in Jacksonville, parking next to a red Dodge Durango that Davis and some friends were in. They had stopped to buy gum and cigarettes; Dunn had just left his son's wedding and was with his fiancée, who went inside the store for wine and chips.

Dunn said he asked the youths to turn down the music and was threatened, claiming he saw the barrel of a gun sticking out of the Durango. Investigators did not find a weapon. Dunn fired 10 shots at the SUV. When he left the store, Dunn drove 40 miles to a bed and breakfast in St. Augustine, where he walked his dog, ordered a pizza, then drank rum and cola. Apparently that’s how he deals with being “stunned and horrified,” since that’s how he later explained he felt. He also did not bother to call police and tell them what happened.
And still a jury couldn’t be convinced of his guilt.

So here’s my angry black man joke:

How many white men does it take to murder a black child?

None. A white man can’t murder a black child.

Not funny? I’m not laughing either …

November 21, 2013

So the debate in Black America is on, again: RGIII or Cam …

In barbershops from here to there, the question is asked, debated and argued: who’s the up-and-coming can’t-miss star or soon-to-be-National Football League star, Robert Griffin III of The Washington Franchise (I'm not using the nickname) or the Carolina Panther’s Cam Newton?

Wow, what a difference a few weeks make.

Last season, RGIII was the second coming … of … well, what Cam had been the year before – the Anointed One, The Greatest, the Future of Professional Football. Ask a brother today, and he/d say, RGII is … well, he’s a’right, but he ain’t all that.

Mind you, that’s the attitude most of Black America had about Cam last year as he struggled playing for a mediocre NFL franchise in a second-tier media market that got little national exposure. But a couple of years ago? Well, that was when Cam, a first-round draft pick from Auburn with amazing skills and a NCAA championship under his belt, was the latest Anointed One, The Greatest, the Future of Football.

I’m not hating on the haters, I’m just saying. Because the truth is, I’m not surprised. We like our winners doing one thing: winning.

 Last year, it was RGIII. This year, it’s Cam. And so it goes. Of course, the conversation could focus on all the things that tie into success: how teammates are performing, is the team running plays that make best use of its strengths while exploiting the weaknesses of the opposition, and, of course, have they been just plain lucky? But, bump that, the real question is, who’s the better quarterback?

The conversation highlights one of the problems of our society: we want – no, we need – instantaneous gratification. History will tell us which was really the better quarterback, and factors within and beyond each man’s control will influence that determination -- the type of line he played behind, the strength of his team’s defense, the strength of his division, injuries to himself and teammates. But we don’t want to wait for history to decide.

So we make the decision today, if not yesterday, if not the day he was drafted. I have no problem with it for conversation, but too many people don’t just see it as conversation. Some of the same people who are arguing how horrible RGIII is now will, if he comes back strong next year, take to talking about how wonderful he is. Same guy, and yet with success everything about him will have changed. Go figure.

I guess some people believe they can make judgments without bothering to gathering relevant data. But, like I said, I’m not hating. Some people’s knees just jerk that way.

Which brings up the next issue: the recent victory by the Panthers over the New England Patriots has opened up a whole different conversation over who is better, Cam or the Patriot’s quarterback, Tom Brady.
Actually, it may not be so much a conversation as a celebration.

Some brothers and sisters are loving on Cam because HE beat the Patriots, and specifically Brady.

Where’s that coming from? I doubt Carolina has that big a national following, and Cam hasn’t had a chance to establish himself as a came that should be mentioned with the premiere quarterbacks.

Trust me, I understand why the conversation is so important.

We love our sports. But it’s also deeper than that. It is what so much of life is about in America: race. Black people don’t just want Cam or RGIII to do well, they have to do well. They are we. Their place at the table is our place at the table; and the fact that they get to eat means we all get to eat.

But before you take it too literally, this isn’t about food; and before you take it too figuratively this isn’t about money; this is about acceptance. Finally.

You see, we’ve been here before.

Think about Doug Williams, Randall Cunningham, Air McNair, Daunte Culpeper, Michael Vick, or Vince Young. All of them NFL starters, all of them successful enough, but for some reason all dismissed as not quite good enough, no matter what their success. Heck, even Warren Moon, maybe the patron saint of the black quarterback, didn’t get an invite to the NFL until he had toiled for years in the Canadian Football League.

It says something about the psyche of black America that 26 years after Doug Williams outgunned John Elway in Super Bowl XXII there is still this undercurrent, this lack of acceptance of black quarterbacks in the NFL. So the fact that Cam Newton outgunned Brady … well, that’s a moment that can’t be denied or taken away. But it can be celebrated; so we do. 

You see, to the masses Cam represents every black quarterback who has been in or is in the NFL.

While Brady is the golden boy – the standard for success and the definition of what a quarterback looks like – Cam is what black quarterbacks end up being: a question mark from the day he arrives. Coaches can’t seem to figure out what to do with them. Seems these guys are always drafted with hopes of being the franchise, but within a few years it always seems like the decision is made to go in another, more conventional direction, and the running black quarterback ends up getting replaced with the drop-back passer who happens to be white.

The league has just never figured out what to do with its Next Big Thing, not the running quarterbacks Randall Cunningham, or Kordell Stewart, or Newton or Griffin. It always happens the same way: these players are drafted with fanfare and high expectations, but before they can even arrive there are questions about the accuracy of their passing and talk that they will have to become a pocket passer or perish.

Part of the failure, I chalk up to a lack of innovation and commitment to building a team around these players particular set of skills (I’ve always wanted to say that;) It can certainly be said the same thing happened to Tim Tebow, with the exception that he really was/is an inaccurate passer – maybe more so than anyone else I’ve mentioned. I will be curious to see the tone of the conversation and what happens, however, when Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel comes into the league.

At best, even the more traditional black quarterbacks have always been the stepchild of the league. Let’s look at, say, Jason Campbell.

Campbell had a different coordinator each of his first six years in the league. By comparison, for that same time period, Peyton Manning had one. ONE offensive coordinator. That wasn’t an accident. It was intentional. And it goes back to my favorite saying: some people are set up to succeed and other people are set up to fail.

September 17, 2013

It's the guns

It's the guns, people - the guns! The guns!!

Judging by the early reactions, a lot of focus will be placed on the mental state of Aaron Alexis, the shooter who mowed down 12 people in a US military facility before police shot and killed him in a running gunfight. Guns don't slaughter people, goes the argument, crazy people do.

Which I think is beside the point: how many rational mass shooters have there ever been in the sad, long history of these sorts of incidents? His mental state notwithstanding, had he not had have access to guns, how many victims would he have been able to claim with, say, a knife? A baseball bat? Bow and arrow? A slingshot?

It's the freaking guns.

*       *       *

Conservatives, predictably, are howling that the shooting at an armed Navy base in the shadow of the Capitol Dome refutes the argument for gun control -- Washington, DC has some of the strictest gun control laws in the nation (something that irks the GOP-led Congress to no end).  But NPR and others are reporting that Alexis, the shooter, purchased at least one of the three weapons he used in nearby Virginia, a place with such permissive gun laws firearms may as well be sold in vending machines.

It's the same deal in Chicago, where the city itself has clamped down on guns but the criminals who want them simply traipse over the state line to Indiana, or buy them from smugglers. In that city last year, more than 400 people -- most of them African American boys and young men -- died from gun violence, helping push homicide as one of the leading causes of death nationwide for black males ages 15 to 35.

Until we can force people to go through metal detectors at state lines, however, stricter uniform gun laws, nationwide, are the only defense we have against random gun violence and mass shootings.  But flimsy doesn't even begin to describe the national patchwork of laws designed to prevent another Navy Yard. Or Aurora. Or Oak Grove, IL. Or Pearl River, KY.

Authorities have long held my former home, Virginia, responsible for the lion's share of illegal guns available and/or used in crimes along the Eastern Seaboard -- a situation known as the "Iron Pipeline." It's not unusual for police to trace weapons used in gang or drug-related shootings in New York, Philadelphia, Washington and urban points north, south or in between to the gun stores that pepper the Old Dominion's landscape, especially along the I-95 corridor.

It's no surprise things haven't changed: even though Virginia was the site of the worst mass shooting on a college campus and one of the worst mass shootings in American history -- a 2007 incident that cost Virginia Tech, the state's premier land-grant university, dearly in blood and treasure -- the state legislature continues to block sane gun-control laws, pass new pro-gun measures and, without conscience, advance the NRA's insane, perverted agenda of a weapon in every pot.

Not even the blood of 20 first-graders and their teachers could convince them that guns are the problem and not the solution, or loosen the death grip the NRA has on Republican and conservative Democratic lawmakers nationwide.  Indeed, the organization believes that more people carrying concealed weapons is the answer -- NRA President Wayne LaPierre's illogical, mind-blowing and widely discredited argument that "only a good guy with a gun can stop a bad guy with a gun."

There were plenty of good guys with guns at the Navy Yard yesterday; it's an active US military installation with armed checkpoints and plenty of side-armed Marines and sailors still in a wartime posture. A flood of Metro police officers stopped Alexis dead - but not before 12 people were slain, several more were injured and plenty of lead filled the air during his final gunbattle with cops, a situation that could have led to even more bloodshed had bystanders been caught in the crossfire.

If you want to argue that mental illness is the primary factor in mass shootings, ladies and gentlemen, I give you Exhibit A: lawmakers who respond to senseless tragedy not by changing what we know isn't working but by reinforcing the pro-gun laws even though we are already awash in them: 90 guns per 100 people at last count.

It's the freaking guns, people.  It's the guns.

*            *           *

In Colorado last week, two state legislators who backed tighter gun laws in the wake of the Aurora, CO, movie theater shooting that killed 12 people and wounded 70 a year ago (and 14 years after two suburban Denver high school students mowed down 12 schoolmates and a teacher in what has become pop-culture shorthand for senseless, unprovoked mass shootings) were ousted from the state legislature for doing the right thing.

The lawmakers in question, Colorado Senate President John Morse and state Sen. Angela Giron, both Democrats, had strongly supported stronger, long-overdue gun-control laws in the wake of  Tucson, Aurora and Sandy Hook.  They sided with New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's pro-control Mayors Against Gun Violence and reportedly accepted campaign funds from the deep-pocketed mayor for their gun-control positions.

Yet that outrage, in the eyes of the NRA - lawmakers viewing a national tragedy in their home state as an opportunity for progressive change and prevention of death - would not stand. State Republicans, sensing a golden political opportunity, linked arms with the NRA and punished the two Democrats, setting up Morse and Giron for recall votes, the first such elections in state history.

Both Giron and Morse lost their seats, proving the power of NRA spending and propaganda ("They took your guns! Freedom!!") and a polarized electorate that's apathetic on one side. Giren's district is 47 percent registered Democrat, but GOP turnout there reached an estimated 38 percent for the recall.

It's the freaking guns, people.  It's the guns.

*        *       *

Alert: the following scene may be too graphic for younger viewers or those with delicate constitions.

When I was a young reporter on the cop beat in the mid-1980s, when Richmond led the nation in per-capita homicides, I'd usually show up at a crime scene after the body had been hauled away. But late one Friday night, I arrived on a homicide call in the northside -- an especially messy outdoor killing -- before the body had been removed.

It was a grisly scene: body fluids coated the inside of the car in which the victim had been shot, and a fairly large pool of blood had congealed on the street on the passenger side by the curb. The deceased was a young black man, around the same age as I was, from what I could tell.

As I quizzed the night duty lieutenant at the scene for bits of information about the crime, my brain suddenly shifted to something I'd always wondered about: how did the cops get rid of blood on the street after a crime like this?

His answer was simple: "We call the fire department."

As if on cue, a Richmond Fire pumper truck showed up and parked behind the car.  Firemen hooked up a hose to a nearby fire hydrant, turned it on and aimed. Within minutes, the high-pressure spray had washed the macabre puddle down a nearby culvert; by the time I left the scene, there was barely a trace of blood on the asphalt.

Although stomach-churning, it feels like the right analogy here: after each of these incidents, we are shocked and horrified, and vow never again.

In the upcoming days, the Washington Post, the New York Times and countless networks will run heart-wrenching stories of the victims and lives lost, and report on overlooked warning signs and missed opportunities to stop Aaron Alexis before he opened fire on his coworkers one cool fall day in Washington. We'll empathize with loved ones and promise to take action.

Until the NRA shows up with a high-pressure hose filled with money, washing the blood from our collective consciousness.

Until that money convinces us to forget that the Navy Yard shooting has happened before, too many times in too many places.

Until we believe that there's another Aaron Alexis, another Adam Lanza, another James Holmes, another Kip Kinkel, and another Dylan Klebold or Eric Harris at a gun store somewhere in America, listening to the voices in their heads, legally arming themselves for a final bloody assault against innocents, a senseless crime that will shock and horrify us. Again.

It's the freaking guns, people.  It's the guns.

July 22, 2013

Diversity rant - Snails, Zebras and Donkeys

As part of the dialogue on race we’re all supposedly having in the wake of the George Zimmerman verdict, I’d like to ask: can we pleeeeease ask Hollywood why they seem reluctant to make an animated kids’ movie with a central black or Latino character?? 

To escape the heat and threat of rain, I took the kids to see "Turbo," the latest Dreamworks kid flick about a little snail with a big dream: to win the Indianapolis 500.  Through a series of unlikely happenstances (it’s a kids’ movie, after all) the snail sees his dream come true – courtesy of a pair of Latino brothers from Los Angeles, one of whom believes in the snail and his dreams.

Though the movie’s pretty predictable and not the worst animated feature film I’ve ever seen.  The obligatory central message imbedded in the movie – dream big, and work to make it happen – is supported by a less obvious,secondary affirmation: diversity is a good thing. 

The snail, who comes from the suburbs, is befriended by the aforementioned brothers, whose taco restaurant is the lynchpin of a down-at-the-heels urban strip mall. Their mall "family" includes a female Latino mechanic, a sassy Korean woman who owns a nail salon and an old white man who runs a hobby shop. It's a far cry from the well-scrubbed castle of "Cinderella" or the antiseptic woods in "Snow White."

Given that, Turbo does better than most movies of the genre; there’s real economic and racial diversity on the screen. But the bar is pretty damn low.

Michael Pena and Luis Guzman are outstanding in decent roles that push the story along. But most of the story – and the heroic moments that had me and my kids enthralled -- are told through or focused on Turbo, the star of the movie. 

A friend noted there’s nothing inherently wrong with that, and I agree: the movie is, after all, called “Turbo,” not “Turbo the African American Wonder-Snail.”  But why not have Turbo voiced by a black or Latino actor? How come precious few movies are made with a black hero? Do they think whites won't relate to black characters? Or that the movie won't make enough money at the box office? 
Which brings me to Pixar, creators of my two favorite movies, and not just in the animated category: “Cars,” and “The Incredibles.” Both feature great storytelling, believably flawed, three-dimensional characters who have depth and texture. And they're visually amazing.
Clearly, those guys are geniuses.

Yet of Pixar’s blockbusters – “Cars,” the “Toy Story” franchise, “The Incredibles,” which is poised for a sequel – there are only a handful of characters who aren’t black, and they’re ALL SIDEKICKS.  Frozone, voiced by Samuel L. Jackson in “The Incredibles,” is blond, blue-eyed hero Bob Parr’s loyal buddy. Flo and Ramon – she an African American “show car ” from Detroit; he a Latino body painting artist from Los Angeles – are part of the town, but they barely factor into Lightning McQueen’s road to redemption.

And if memory serves, “Toy Stoy,” “Toy Story 2,” and “Toy Story 3” – which made billions of dollars worldwide in box office receipts alone, spawned several catch phrases and arguably put Pixar on the map as a kids’ entertainment force – didn't have a single character of color in the whole cast. I could be wrong but I don’t think I am.

I wish I could say I’m surprised by the fact that diversity hasn’t caught on.  But I’ve been watching animated films for 14 years now and, other than “The Princess and the Frog,” which made headlines because it featured a black princess and a mostly black cast, I can't remember seeing a movie where the main characters look like my kids.

And there’s no sign of improvement: at the “Turbo” screening, we saw about five trailers for children’s animated features coming up for the holiday season – including what looked like lame sequels for “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs,” “How to Train Your Dragon” and “Lego Movie” – and none featured identifiable characters of color.

So why does it matter? After all, my kids don’t seem to mind, mostly because they’re kids. “Turbo” hooked them: they laughed, they cried, they cheered when the hero went for his dream instead of playing it safe.

Well, this is why it matters. And this. Also, as the father of a young black boy, I think this is kind of important, too. 

In the New York Times article on "Princess and the Frog," the reporter quotes Michael D. Baran, a cognitive psychologist and anthropologist who teaches at Harvard and specializes in how children learn about race. He was asked specifically about "The Princess and the Frog," but his answer pretty much applies across the board.

It matters, he says, because of Disney’s outsize impact on children. 

Think merchandising: Products from hit animated films are everywhere in our kids’ lives.  Toys. Backpacks, Sheets, pajamas, toothbrushes, salty snacks, breakfast cereal, yogurt packs, video games. Ad executives have even hooked up those stupid yellow, capsule-shaped Minions from “Despicable Me 2” with Flo, selling insurance between McDonald's Happy Meals commercials. 

My daughter, when she was a toddler, had a Disney Princess gown and wand. My son has a pair of slippers shaped like Mater, Lightning McQueen's buddy in "Cars." When those messages of approval -- and exclusion -- invade your child's world, 24-7, for years at a time, it takes a strong kid and an even stronger parent to push back fight back. 

Says Baran: “People think that kids don’t catch subtle messages about race and gender in movies, but it’s quite the opposite.”

Even Chris Rock, who co-starred as the motor-mouthed sidekick Marty the Zebra in the “Madagascar” movies, got the memo. 

At the 2012 Oscars, Rock told a national audience that voicing kids' films are an actor's dream because, “in the world of animation, you can be anything you wanna be.” 

“If you’re a fat woman, you can play a skinny princess," he said.  "If you’re short wimpy guy, you can play a tall gladiator. If you’re a white man, you can play an Arabian prince.

“And if you’re a black man,” he said, “you can play a donkey or a zebra.”

Sometimes, not even that

July 19, 2013

Going nuclear with the 'N-bomb'

Guest Post by Jamie Ruff

No, white person, you shouldn't use the 'N-word." . 

I would like to say you can’t, but, of course, it's a free country, as you like to remind us.  So no one can stop you. And I decided a long time ago that white people who seem bothered that they can’t use the N word are probably just bothered that they can’t say publicly what they have always said privately.

For decades there's been a persistent debate among white people, and even some blacks, as to why black people can drop the 'n-bomb' with impunity -- especially since hardcore rap has gone mainstream, and one groundbreaking group -- featuring a guy who's now making millions hawking high-end headphones and rap's angriest young man who now stars in dopey kids' movies and silly beer commercials --  named themselves after it.  

So, let me try again to explain why black people can use the word and why white people shouldn’t. The simple answer is the shared cultural significance of the word -- the historical context between the races.

Don’t get me wrong, there is certainly a stink to the word, a stigma, even when I hear it from one black person to another.  But it is worse when it passes through white lips.

Like it or not, there is a nuance to the N word when black people say it to each other – an expression of love, of anger and frustration, but always of camaraderie -- a bond based on a shared historical experience. Slavery, hardship, discrimination; the investment of blood, sweat and tears in a country that, when it comes to African Americans, has never given as much as it has received. 

By contrast, there has never been any nuance to that word when uttered by a white person.Throughout history, when whites say it, its meaning has dripped with hostility and hate and the promise of violence – worse, violence without any threat of retaliation.

 Historically, when a white person has used the N-word it has been as a metaphorical bullwhip -- a reminder that your blackness makes you as defenseless as whiteness makes them all powerful. When spoken by a white person, the N-word echoes the perception of superiority and the promise that whatever I do to you, I do with unchallenged, unquestioned, merciless and absolute power. It says, 'No cop would arrest me, and if he did, no jury would convict."

I doubt we can imagine for how many black men the N word – uttered or yelled but in whatever case filled with every drop of the hate and hostility that it carries -- was the last thing they heard as they were being beaten to death, shot or lynched.  

The N-word  put you in your place, with the threat of violence to back it up           .

You see, when black people use the N word among themselves –  in jest or in anger – it is not inherently threatening or menacing, but an acknowledgement that the lash of the word and all that comes with it (last hired, first fired; higher incarceration rates despite similar rates of criminal activity) has been felt, and probably will be again. 

But when the N word is spoken by a white person – be it whispered, uttered, yelled or even written – it is a reminder to the historically powerless of their relationship with the historically powerful.

That’s why we can use it and you can’t. It’s as simple as that.

I tell you what, white people, when the N word stops meaning what we all know it means, I’ll have no problem with you yelling it from the rooftops and dropping it into everyday conversations. But something tells me that if it didn’t have the same meaning, so many of you wouldn't feel so pressed to use it.

July 18, 2013

Echoes of History

I wrote this post Saturday night, just after I received word that the Sanford, FL, jury hearing the George Zimmerman murder case had acquitted him of all charges.  I was on Twitter at the time - hence the 140-character paragraphs.  I decided to keep my thoughts in their original format, as kind of an experiment in micro-blogging. 

late Saturday, a friend called in tears: "they found him not guilty. his mama had to listen to him kill her baby. what am I supposed to do with that?"

good Q reminded me of when my son was born. joy, then a tiny bit of heartbreak: "shit. we brought a black boy into this world."

around that time - 2004 - I was city editor for a regional paper, but still a black suspect, esp. on an empty city street blocks fr. home in "liberal" Cambridge, MA.

1 a.m., pocket full of cash from ATM run - cab fare for a trip to the airport the next day. at a corner, I saw a cop car. my antenna went up: they saw me.

any black man knows what I felt next: "fuck." ice in the gut. cop car followed me, slowly, for two blocks, then turned w/me up my street. "shit. here we go again."

one block from my urban middle-class home - one stinking block - blue lights; spotlight in my face. then, questions: "where are you going? where were you?"

fought panic: wad of cash in my pocket, no ATM receipt. remined myself: stay cool. don't get angry. "got ID? stay there." spotlight. blue lights. anger. humiliation. frustration. stayed cool.

radio traffic on the cop car: "no, that's not him." spotlight goes out, car pulls away. no apology. no explanation. no surprise. no justice.

same thing happened to my dad, an aspiring artist: Philly,1950s, before Miranda & brutality lawsuits. cops beat him up, tossed him in jail, then let him go.

his crime: walking while black. in a white neighborhood. in broad daylight.

that night in Cambridge was 3rd or 4th time I'd been stopped while black; once, they were looking for a mugger. my wallet: on my dresser, forgotten. cop's hand was on his gun.

 never beaten or jailed, but the rage never vanishes. city editor? White House journalist? black man. suspect. "prove you're not a criminal."

Stand your ground is a bad law that cost a teenager his life; still, it's repealable. less so: WWB, an unwritten law that's generations old.

WWB seduced the Sanford watchman; Stand Your Ground was a convenient defense.

WWB landed my dad in jail and nearly got me shot. more than once. Trayvon is only the latest victim: Michael Stewart, Amadou Diallo, Emmit Till.

it's egalitarian: newspaper reporters, bus drivers, college professors - think "beer summit." even cops, sometimes shot by their own homes.

 WWB survives like a roach after nuclear war.  a black president can't change it. it's invisible to most whites, incl. the Supreme Court.

I have a son, a 10 YO black boy with autism: hears, sees the world differently. I'll love him, teach him best I can. and pray for progress.

but history tells me he'll face a cop - or a neighborhood watchman man with a license to kill - who thinks his skin color and gender = suspicion and/or guilt. WWB gets applied.

will he play it cool, alive but with a wound that won't heal? will he buck and fight like Trayvon?

will I have to identify his screams on a 911 recording in a police office or courtroom? I pray I won't.

 but the echoes of history are too powerful to ignore.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...