Tag Archives: racism

Confederate PTSD: Curing the South

PTSD-Confederate-FlagWhen I was in graduate school at Iowa State in the late 1980s I hit a period, during my second year, where a little homesickness set in. So I did something to remind myself of the place and people I was missing: I bought a Confederate flag and affixed it to my desk in the office, which I shared with 10-15 other MA students.

Some of my colleagues were, I think, appalled, and it was suggested that this was a symbol of slavery and racism. No, I said. I’m not a racist – it’s simply a reminder of home. I don’t think I used the word “heritage,” but from the outside what I was saying probably sounded exactly like what defenders of the flag are saying today.

As irony would have it, at the time I was dating a black woman. Continue reading Confederate PTSD: Curing the South

Racist thugs on Paris subway platform do not represent Chelsea FC supporters: #ktbffh

Pick a football site, any football site. Right now the raging topic of discussion is the abominably racist behavior of some Chelsea fans on a Paris subway platform in advance of the club’s Champions League Round of 16 match vs. Paris St. Germaine yesterday. What the heck, try The Guardian.

Many of you know that I’m a Chelsea supporter. And if you know football, you know that the Blues have a history. Their legendary hooligans, the Headhunters, rated their own chapter in How Soccer Explains the World, and if you go back a few decades you’ll learn that once upon a time the racism infesting the club’s fan culture was so vile that they abused their own black player. Continue reading Racist thugs on Paris subway platform do not represent Chelsea FC supporters: #ktbffh

Washington Post ed board to stop using racist NFL team nickname. FINALLY. But what about the sports dept?

Two decades ago the WaPo condemned the use of “Redskins.” A generation later, by god they’re doing something about it. Sorta.

Way back in 1992 the Washington Post concluded that “the time-hallowed name bestowed upon the local National Football League champions — the Redskins — is really pretty offensive.” (Emphasis mine.)

A rough estimate based on occurrences of “redskin” in a WaPo site search going back to 2005 suggests that they have since deployed the offensive term ~83,000 times.

Today they announced they will no longer use the term. By “they,” I mean the editorial board. The news and sports divisions will carry on being pretty offensive.

Small victories are better than none at all, huh?

On the one hand, it’s nice to see someone as influential as the Post ed board doing the right thing. On the other hand, well, how many of you take 22 years – more than a goddamned generation – to stop doing something once you conclude that it’s wrong? They wrote that piece when George Bush – the Elder – was still president. Continue reading Washington Post ed board to stop using racist NFL team nickname. FINALLY. But what about the sports dept?

Dasha Zhukova and Bjarne Melgaard’s “racist chair”: we all need to be more responsible with our outrage

Progressives with more passion than intelligence provide aid and comfort to conservatives, and as usual, Huffington Post is leading the charge.

Twitter is stupid and Instagram is Twitter for people who can’t read. @OfficialKat

The picture you see here has ignited a firestorm of outrage over the past few days.

In an airy white blouse, art gallery owner Dasha Zhukova poses serenely on a chair, in a photograph taken for a Russian fashion website. The only problem: the chair is fashioned from a contorted lifelike mannequin of a black woman, sparking an internet outcry and allegations of racism. Continue reading Dasha Zhukova and Bjarne Melgaard’s “racist chair”: we all need to be more responsible with our outrage

Italian football sanctions AC Milan over fan insensitivity

The Federazione Italiana Giuoco Calcio (FIGC), the governing body of football in Italy, just broke bad on AC Milan over its supporters abusive behavior. Gab Marcotti at ESPN FC explains.

The Italian FA charged Milan for the fact that some of their fans engaged in racist abuse during Sunday night’s match against Napoli. In accordance with the regulations, the stand from which the abuse originated (San Siro’s Curva Sud) will be shut for one game. (Individual supporters who are identified can also be charged under separate statutes. Had the abuse been reported as more widespread, Milan could have been forced to play behind closed doors. And had it been noted by the official, the game could have been suspended.)

As you probably know, we’re not fans of racism in football at S&R. Not at all. Nor are our guest posters. So the idea that FIGC is finally getting off its ass and doing something about the appalling behavior of it fan base is welcome news.

Except, well, except that this isn’t exactly what’s happening here after all. Marcotti continues:

But here’s the thing. Of the 14 Napoli players who played that day, 13 were Caucasian. The other, Juan Camilo Zuniga, is mixed race. And he wasn’t being targeted. In fact, the songs had nothing to do with race as in skin color. They were all about Naples and Neapolitans. And apart from striker Lorenzo Insigne, none of the players were from Naples.

The song in question talked about Naples being dirty, about Neapolitans not using soap, having cholera and stinking to high heaven. Another chant implored Mount Vesuvius to erupt and clean up Naples, presumably by killing all the Neapolitans.

It’s offensive and tasteless, sure. But is it the kind of thing that should be barred from football stadiums?

Let’s venture a bit deeper into the weeds, shall we?

The Italian FA is not just taking its cue from UEFA’s new disciplinary code and specifically Article 14 (PDF), which deals with “racism, discriminatory conduct and propaganda.” And in doing so, it’s basically acting as a test case for possible future legislation.

Article 14 punishes those who “insult the human dignity of a person or group of persons by whatever means, including on the grounds of skin color, race, religion or ethnic origin.” Read it closely and you’ll see that while racism, ethnic abuse and sectarian abuse are specifically mentioned, it’s actually about insulting the “human dignity” of a group or individual. That can easily include other forms of discriminatory abuse, such as homophobic abuse.

But what they’ve done in Italy is to specify what constitutes an insult to “human dignity” and, unlike UEFA, they specifically cite (in addition to sexuality) territorial origin.

Ummm. Listen, I’m all for dropping the hammer on racism. But…this isn’t racism, is it? Is it legitimately “ethnic abuse”? Well, if you dig into Italian history, yeah, the South and the North have somewhat different ethnic histories, sort of. Of course, the diffs probably aren’t as pronounced as the gap you’d find between the North End in Boston and the cracker neighborhood I grew up in.

I don’t know. I’m ambivalent here. There can be fine lines in cases like this, and I won’t deny that sometimes Northern Italians speak about their Southern countrymen in ways that feel a bit like racism. Still, I’m not at all sure that FIGC hasn’t overreached.

Part of me says lighten up – this is basic smack talk. It’s often insensitive, I suppose, but are we going to ban fans for hurting the feelings of their opponents? (Read the rest of the article – Marcotti is on his game here.)

This one troubles me, not the least because I have earned a rep as an accomplished purveyor of the trash myself. And my beloved Rocky Mountain Blues have been known to sings songs that are, ummm, potentially hurtful. For instance, we hate the Scousers (Liverpool FC), and the article notes a certain cultural stereotype pertaining to property crime. We like to sing this one, to the tune of “You Are My Sunshine”:

You are a scouser
A dirty scouser
You’re only happy on Giro Day
Your mum’s out thieving
Your’s dad’s drug dealing
Please don’t take my hubcaps away…

And there’s “In Your Liverpool Slums”:

In your Liverpool slums
You look in a dustbin for something to eat
You find a dead rat and you think it’s a treat
In your Liverpool slums

In your Liverpool slums
Your mum’s on the game and your dad’s in the nick
You can’t get a job ’cause your too fucking thick
In your Liverpool slums

In your Liverpool slums
You wear a shell suit and have got curly hair
All of your kids are in council care
In your Liverpool slums

In your Liverpool slums
There’s piss on the pavement and shit on the path
You finger your grandma and think it’s a laugh
In your Liverpool slums

We also love to sing in honor of Manchester United hero Ryan Giggs. To the tune of “When the Saints Go Marching In”:

Oh Ryan Giggs (oh Ryan Giggs)
Is fucking sheep (is fucking sheep)
Oh Ryan Giggs is fucking sheep
He’s fucking sheep, sheep and more sheep
Oh Ryan Giggs is fucking sheep

This one works equally well for Gareth Bale, or for matter any Welshman with the right number of syllables in his name. The Welsh are whiter than I am – is this racist? Ethnic abuse? Or is it simply nationalistic, tribalistic, etc.? Am I describing a difference that makes no difference?

We even have at our own. Referencing the infamous scandal involving Blues captain John Terry and the girlfriend of former teammate Wayne Bridge, there’s this one to the tune of “London Bridge”:

Mrs. Bridge is going down
Going down
Going down
Mrs. Bridge is going down
On John Terry

Of course, this is personal, not collective. I just wanted to throw it in because it’s my favorite.

Frankly, these are some of the nicer ones. There are lyrics in a few songs I’ve heard that you wouldn’t repeat in a crowd of drunken sailors.

Perhaps you get where I’m going. There’s no excuse whatsoever for racism, but there’s a line, right? It can’t be illegal to be rude, can it? Sure, it’s primitive and juvenile and frankly, we already knew that I’m a terrible human being.

I mean, if you adopted these kinds of rules in the US, that would mean I could no longer point out, when the Broncos are getting ready to play the Raiders, that Oakland is the world’s largest open-air latrine. When the Avs go to play the Devils, I can’t crack that the New Jersey state bird is the housefly. That Nebraska’s football team plays on natural grass so the cheerleaders will have a place to graze. It would probably be hurtful even to snark about what a high percentage of Bengal players wind up in jail.

Or are these things okay because there is no twinge of the ethic about them?

We’ll be watching as things develop in Serie A. Like I say, I applaud any and all efforts to scrub racism from the game. But it would also be a mistake to overcorrect, I think. I’ve had some opposing fans say nasty things to me through the years, and I’d hate to see them punished over a weak-ass attempt at cleverness.

It’s bad enough that their teams suck and their children look like the mailman, don’t you think?

Counterpoint: Riley Cooper is exactly what you see in the video

Crisis reveals character, they say.

I hope you read Otherwise’s piece on Riley Cooper the other day. It’s truly an exceptional example of the kind of honest, intelligent thinking I’ve come top expect from my colleagues here at S&R.

But while I agree with most of the principles underlying Otherwise’s reasoning, I’m not sure I’m convinced that they apply to Cooper specifically. Before I make my case, let’s review the video that touched off the whole firestorm.

I guess the question of whether to condemn Cooper or, as Otherwise suggests, give him a break, hinges on whether or not we believe what he has said since the video went public. True, he has in fact said and done a great deal that you’d ask someone who was genuinely contrite to do. No argument about that.

The thing is, I don’t believe him. Let’s begin by examining the timeline. The video broke on July 31, and the apologizing commenced shortly thereafter. But the incident happened on June 9. that’s over six weeks where he did nothing. He didn’t apologize publicly. He didn’t tell the club or his teammates and apologize to them. It doesn’t sound like he told his parents about it. You know, the people who didn’t raise him that way and who are now in the news for all the wrong reasons.

Six weeks. He. Did. Nothing. Despite his mea culpas and his insistence that this isn’t a word he uses and it isn’t the kind of person he is, he did nothing.

Okay, you may be saying, but if he made this horrible mistake and was this embarrassed by it of course he wouldn’t say or do anything. He probably hoped it would go away, and no way in hell he actually wants to draw attention to it. Think of the most embarrassing thing you ever did, Sam. Did you go public with it?

No I didn’t, and this is a great point. It’s not only possible, it’s plausible.

But it isn’t consistent with a couple of things. First, you don’t have to go public to apologize to the security guard. You can find him, apologize, maybe even try and make it up by doing something nice for him. Cooper didn’t do this.

What else? Oh – the team says he’s now receiving counseling, and if we’re to believe what he says he’s probably grateful for it. He asks us to believe that this outburst represents behavior that is out of character for him, and if so, he had to be shocked to hear that word coming out of his mouth. I can empathize with that. If I was pissed off and all of a sudden heard myself using that language it would rock my self-image to the foundation. I’d absolutely be seeking counseling of some sort because I’d be in need of it.

If Cooper sought counseling to address this horrid new self-revelation we’ve heard nothing of it, and rest assured, that’s precisely the sort of information that he and/or his agent and/or the team would be making a big deal of.

Finally, Cooper is emphatic in asserting that this is not a word he uses. Is this claim plausible? Well, Otherwise relates an incident where he got so worked up that he blurted out something that was utterly out of character. Do I believe that this happens, that people get mad and say things they don’t mean, that they call people names that they know will hurt?

Yes, I absolutely believe this. But I’m also really intuitive and I have this nuclear powered bullshit detector. I have been known to use a foul word or two. I’ve said things that would make a sailor blush. My vocabulary is a large one, and there are many, many wicked words that I have experience with. There are also words that I never use. My suspicion is that when I crack off a profanity-laced rant featuring my chosen epithets that they roll somewhat elegantly off my tongue. I imagine I might sound less fluid were I to try out new words mid-conniption.

So the question is, when you watch that video and hear Cooper in context, when you admire his rage in full flight, and then he says that isn’t a word he uses, do you believe him?

I don’t. To my ears the word sounds very much at home in his mouth. I grew up in a place where that word was common daily usage and Cooper isn’t the first Southerner I’ve heard bust it out in anger. When I watch that video, I am reminded more of that world and the people in it than I am of people who do not have that sort of racist language in their vocabularies.

I may be wrong. Otherwise may be right. I don’t know Riley Cooper and he may be telling us the straight-up truth in his recent public statements. If he is, I hope the counseling helps and that he learns from this mistake and goes on to be an example for a society trying to claw its way up out of an unspeakable history of prejudice.

I may be wrong. But I doubt it.

Paula Deen, “compassionate racism” and is it always wrong to use that ugly, ugly word?

I’ve been thinking about the Paula Deen mess lately. As any number of previous posts here will suggest, I don’t have a lot of sympathy for her or her kind. At the same time, I grew up in the racist South like she did, and I see the situation in more nuanced terms than do her critics these past few days. While none of my insights let her off the hook, I do think there’s some value in them for those of us keen on fostering a more enlightened society.

Just how malicious Deen’s racism may or may not be I can’t say. Don’t know her. There are reports floating around that suggest she’s not as kind-hearted as her apologies would ask us to believe, and that may well be the case. Or she may simply be just another ignorant, albeit good-hearted cracker.

The thing that I’m pondering, though, begins with the question that apparently touched off this whole firestorm:

Have you ever used the N-word?

I’m trying to imagine how I’d answer that question if I were being deposed under similar circumstances. Have I used “the N-word”? Well, what do you mean? Have I spoken it aloud or written it down? Or do you mean have I used it against someone? And what time frame are we talking about? Most importantly, does it matter to you? If my mouth has, at any point in my life, uttered those two syllables, am I damned for eternity regardless of context or intent?

Yes, I have used the N-word. Wait – I fucking hate that euphemism. Yes, I have used the word “nigger.” Nasty word, no doubt about it, and I have used it in any number of cases in order to illustrate and emphasize just how ugly the emotions it denotes really are.

I have also used the term when mocking racists, imitating their stupidity in their own coarse, hateful language. Again, authenticity helps make the case.

So, back to my deposition. Have I used that word? Yes. Does that make me a racist? You hit the links above and decide for yourself. And if, after reading all that, you conclude that using the word in those ways makes me a racist, then you’re a fucking moron.

Words have power. They convey intent. They embody, reinforce and project ancient social codes, assumptions, ideologies, values, biases. Words have histories and subtleties and they frequently say more than the speaker even realizes. Vocabulary is a negotiated space, where speaker meets audience, each with their own filters in place, and meaning is transacted through all kinds of noise that one, or the other, or both might be completely unaware of. Words are understood and they’re frequently misunderstood.

Language is perhaps the greatest technology ever devised, a tool that soars humanity to its greatest heights. It also enables a level of cruelty and destruction that our less evolved animal friends can’t begin to dream of.

The epithet in question is so packed with negative energy that we have decided it can’t be said aloud. Which is noble in intent, because it’s a word that hurts people. However, the downside is that when we impart such grave taboo status upon it, we give it more power and exponentially amp up its potential for harm. I, quite simply, don’t believe in making hurtful language worse than it already is. I refuse to mystify it. Like every other dark impulse in the collective human soul, I believe it’s best dealt with when we drag it out in the light. Thus illuminated, we can destroy its power over us and render it powerless.

And honestly – does saying “the N-word” instead of, you know, saying the N-word, does that somehow make racism better? Is the thing itself therefore less prevalent or less evil? Or does the shadow grow larger every time we shrink from it, every time we speak like silly children afraid to say the name of a bogeyman out loud?

Yes, I said it – every time I hear somebody say “the N-word” they seem a bit sillier to me than they did the second before. It trivializes a serious issue, it emboldens the bad guys, and it patronizes African-Americans, because clearly they aren’t intelligent enough or strong enough or mature enough to confront the insult head-on.

So yes, I have used “nigger.” And while I’m ashamed of it, when I was a kid in the racist, rural South I used it in its worst form. I have also plead guilty to the charge and devoted a great deal of energy to the challenge of making sure that one day, hopefully, other children won’t grow up ignorant the way I did.

If I’m Paula Deen, and if I answer this way, do I still have a show on the Food Network?

Not all racism is the same. None of it is good and it all needs to be eradicated, but in point of fact the basic ignorant racist (“let’s dress them up like lawn jockeys”) isn’t as bad as the violent white supremacist lynch-em-all variety (and there are way more of this crowd out there than I’d like). It’s all related, of course – all forms of prejudice are rooted in ignorance and the “good-hearted” variety provides social cover for the more virulent strains.

Again, I’m not naïve and I’m damned sure not offering an apologia for Paula Deen and/or her ilk. I’m just observing that there are nuances to be considered, especially when discussing those who grew up in a racist culture before the Civil Rights movement began making some initial headway in the general direction of social justice.

Let me tell you a story. I grew up in the very white Northeast corner of Davidson County, North Carolina. In my first grade class of about 25 there was precisely one minority, a black girl named Juatina. As fate would have it, she sat right behind me. Each morning we’d have a ten-minute break period where we’d all get chocolate milk and break out a little snack that our parents (in my case, grandparents) had packed for us. I always brought Fig Newtons, which I love to this day.

Except it wasn’t quite all of us. One morning I happened to look around and noticed that Juatina didn’t have anything. No milk, no cookies, nothing. I’d never really talked to her because she was, you know, one of them, but something in me instinctively felt bad for her. Here was this poor girl in the cheapest dress you could buy and she had to sit there every day and watch all the white kids with their snacks and chocolate milk.

So I gave her a couple of my cookies.

When I got home, I told Grandmother and Granddaddy about Juatina, and they apparently felt as badly for her as I did. So from that point on they packed twice as many Fig Newtons so I could share, and they also sent extra money along with me each week so the girl could have milk each day.

This – and you knew this was coming – made me a “nigger lover.” Which I didn’t like. But I guess it bothered me less than one of my classmates not having something for break.

This story tells you something important about the innate compassion of my grandparents. The other thing you need to know is how racist they were, especially Granddaddy. Every time he’d see a black in a TV show, he’d start ranting about how “they got to be everywhere now.” He switched to the Republican Party as part of the fallout from the Civil Rights Act. He voted for George Wallace. In the same way that “dog” was the word for the furry, four-legged animals he used to hunt with, “nigger” was the word for people of African descent. And I don’t even want to think about what would have happened had a black family tried to move into our neighborhood or join our church.

He managed black employees and got along wonderfully with them. They liked him and, as odd as it has to sound after that last paragraph, he genuinely liked them. He related to them at a personal level in a way that was wholly at odds with his social and political views on them as a collective. In doing so, I suspect he was like a lot of white folks of his generation. And, for that matter, of Paula Deen’s generation.

As I noted above, we’re hearing reports that Paula was perhaps less innocent in her intent than her apology suggested, and at the minimum, her “dress them up in white coats” fantasy reflects a mindset that our society, in 2013, simply cannot tolerate. We get it – you grew up ignorant. But that doesn’t excuse staying that way. And she’s going to pay a huge price for that racism. With luck these events will motivate her to learn and grow. Hopefully it will also send a clear message to other closet Scarlett O’Haras out there that these behaviors and beliefs aren’t acceptable. The marketplace of ideas, working as intended, etc.

That said, at the human level the issue isn’t 100%, if you’ll forgive me for putting it this way, black and white. It’s tempting and satisfying to demonize the crackers, and they probably deserve no better. But our goal is to rid the society of ignorance and prejudice, and the better we’re able to understand how the odd “compassionate racist” dynamic of my grandparents, the better we’re going to be able to address the problem in ways that are truly productive.

One final note. I’ve been to Deen’s restaurant in Savannah, and it was really disappointing. If you like artery-clogging Southern-fried goodness, I can probably find you 10 or 15 places in my own hometown that are better.