Sunday, March 11, 2012

LINSanity and Race: Hypersensitivity and Victim-Blaming

Cross-posted from the Rogue Scholars Society


Courtesy of Jerome


They say the beginning is a very good place to start but that will not work here because the 'beginning' starts with me having very little interest in sports and the conversation being too long for one blog post. I rarely watch sports but that doesn't mean I'm unaware of the discussions of race that occur in the arena of sports. There was one such phenomenon that even I have heard about. That phenomenon is Jeremy Lin and the Linsanity that has come with him.

Although I am not a "sports guy," like most people, I still heard about the phenomenon that is Jeremy Lin. I have also witnessed the controversy such as interracial anger and there being a "chink in the armor", which has followed. Many have been interested in talking about this newfound Linsanity including fellow sociologist Dr. Rosalind Chou , who does a brilliant analyses of the racial issues at play in the Linsanity madness. (A link to the video is here or via the amazing blog on racism run by Dr. Jessie Daniels and Dr. Joe Feagin.)

So, why is someone who isn't a sports guys writing about sports? Well, the answer is simple. Racism is a problem and when I see it, I like to call it out and discuss it so we can move beyond it. With that said, discussions of racism must be handled with care as they are very sensitive but their sensitivity does not negate their necessity for being discussed. In fact, this is the perfect place to discuss it.

My friend, a PhD student at the University of Buffalo, pointed me to a video featuring Stephen A. Smith and Skip Bayless discussing the the hypersensitivity of people of color and the controversy surrounding an ESPN writer who was ousted and an ESPN anchor who was suspended after using the phrase, "Chink in the armor". While watching the video, I quickly realized that much of what was said is problematic. First off, I have to agree that the experiences of racism faced by Rev. Jesse Jackson, Rev. Al Sharpton, Rep. Maxine Walters, and others are part of a different generation. Their generation chose to bury the N-word whereas the next generation brought it back on "Easter"[40:35] (I'm looking at you Chris Rock). I also agree that as a society, we are not beyond race and yes a lot of it is covert, but this is where the agreements end.

I do not agree with the ESPN commentators' opinion that the Black community is hypersensitive. Many times what is perceived as racist is in fact racist. There is no tiptoeing here. Talking about getting rid of affirmative action in the university admissions process and ignoring legacies is racist. Being followed in a store and not being offered help while a white customer is not followed AND offered help is an experience of racism. In court it would perhaps be difficult to prove that these and other events are racist. We have witnessed different events such as those involving Rodney King, Oscar Grant, Troy Davis's execution, the banning of ethnic studies, racist taunts driving someone to death, the invisibility of people of color in the Oscars, and recently a young Bronxite being killed by police in his home despite being unarmed. Racism is not dead and racial minority communities are not being "hypersensitive". Their lives are on the line. It may not be 1969, but we still have a long way to go to reach racial parity and equality.

Courtesy of Machine Made

Labeling Blacks as hypersensitive is problematic. What is even more problematic is to say that minorities create "controversy" when they "perceive" certain actions as racist. Communities of color must continue to speak up. For example, if as one of the commentators in the video says, "[Blacks] are in danger of becoming an endangered species", then wouldn't it make sense to continue to speak up? With the advent of Facebook, Twitter, and mass media via the internet, anything an individual says can be broadcasted. If picked up, everything said can be continuously spread and heard. The words don't disappear and that the constant reminder of them makes it harder to forgive, especially considering the wide variety of social media tools we have at our disposal. There is serious power in social media. It gives a voice to the voiceless.

Another part of the discussion in the video is about not speaking on behalf of the Black community but the commentators use generalizations of the Asian community, the homosexual community, and others. I do not represent all Latinos, all Puerto Ricans, all men, all gays, all bloggers...BUT if I am offended I will speak up and not just for me and the groups that I identify with. For example, I am not a woman but Rush Limbaugh offended me with his "slut" comment even if he did apologize. One of the video commentators, Stephen A., goes on to say that he gets flack for talking about White players and goes to his White friends to see if it was problematic, as though they represent all individuals who identify as "White". That in itself is problematic. His friends may not be offended but that doesn't mean what was said was less problematic. Later Mr. Smith goes on to say you cannot legislate what is in someone's heart. It doesn't matter what's in your heart to be honest. It's what you do or don't do. What you say or what you don't say. I'm going to leave it to Jay Smooth to talk: "How to Tell People They Sound Racist". We don't know what is inside the soul of the ESPN writer or the NY Post writers [see below] but racism needs to stop regardless of the person saying them and their intentions.
Courtesy of Carlos M. Camacho
I don't know how common the general knowledge is of the problem with the word "chink" but I did a Google search and of the first five hits definitions, three are slang and/or racist. We should not only know not to use offensive words but also not want to say them at all. We should not only avoid offensive words to simply not upset someone but also because there are better ways to discuss or describe someone without denigrating an entire racial/ethnic/sexual or other group.

As I begin to wrap up, there are two big things that I saw as worth discussing. Stephen A. says that for some Black young people racism is a "built in excuse" to not go for the gold, fight to the finish, etc. This is probably one of the most problematic things he says. To say there are no people who give up because of the racism they expect to face is impossible but to generalize and, in my mind, blame young Black people, and by extension other people of color, is wrong and hugely problematic. Racism is not an excuse of us not succeeding but it is a partial explanation. People of color tend to live in poor communities with few resources, problematic school systems, violence, experience domestic violence and much more so we see it first hand. We know that not everyone can make it out but that doesn't mean we give up and to imply that is wrong, discouraging, and is pushing the conversation in a place it should not be going in 2012. We have had enough victim-blaming. Quite enough.

My last point ties into the one that is victim blaming. Hypersensitivity. Blacks and people of color are not making racism up. It is, for many, an experience lived daily. We see from the financial crisis, the mass incarceration, the income inequality and so much more (see above) that racism is alive and well in the US and to say Blacks are hypersensitive and that this caused other groups to be hypersensitive is wrong. Latinos, as an example, do not need to take a lesson in hypersensitivity from Blacks because like Blacks we see racism. We have a movement of Librotraficantes working to sneak books like Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States: 1492 to Present, The Tempest by William Shakespeare, and more [see Banned Books link] into Arizona because they were banned. Further we have to have a movement to stop the use of illegal as a term to describe undocumented people in the US. We have a reason to be outraged and to be "sensitive". Our communities are being targeted and destroyed and if we don't speak up and make noise who will?

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