Sunday, November 28, 2004

Ron Artest, American

The past few days have been difficult ones for Black athletes to say the least. First there was the vaguely O.J.-esque image of a naked Nicolette Sheridan leaping into the arms of Tyrell Owens. It is a testament to how far we’ve come as a country that Mr. Owens wasn’t killed shortly thereafter. We were later pulled away from that kumbaya-campfire thanks to the antics of a few fans in Auburn Hills, Michigan. Sandwiched between both incidents was the soccer match between England and Spain with the Spanish busy re-writing the book on racial epithets complete with imitations of monkeys.

While only the soccer incident was overtly “racial”, you needn’t be on the business end of Ron Artest’s fist to realize the full bloom of a racial moment that seemed to loom ever larger with each beer hurled from somewhere deep in the American subconscious. For a brief moment the curtain had been pulled back and it was clear that the erstwhile amiable, cuddly Black athlete who had been safe enough to seduce on Monday Night had unilaterally decided by Friday that he needed to re-write the script.

All of which is to say that this country continues to have a tortured relationship with Black athletes. It is at once both attracted to and repelled by the image it encounters on television or in the arena in much the same manner that it is similarly conflicted with Black popular culture. America likes it rough but then not too rough because this is, as Larry Brown offered up, really about what we teach “the kids”. Failing that, it is most definitely about market share and ancillary revenue. No doubt the kids will figure this out if they have not already.

The curious thing however was watching the commentators put their own spin on melee. They were, for the large part, careful to sidestep the racial element; quick with a ready background sketch of Mr. Artest that included the requisite “troubled past.” Having signed this troubled past to a multiyear contract, the NBA felt the need to distance itself from it if only temporarily, as if one needed a “troubled past” to charge someone after they threw a drink in your face from a distance of a few yards. Maybe this is what they teach you in the suburbs where all the kids aren’t left behind but something tells me Artest and those that fought with him learned differently.

As David Stern, the NBA commissioner, stepped in to lay out the punishment, it was an attempt to stuff the cat (rather ceremoniously) back in the bag; to show to those frightened suburbanites, fearful that not only had Tyrell Owens absconded with their wives but that there could possibly be a beat down attached to it, that order had indeed been returned from chaos. In short, the Negroes would be maintained and the games would continue. The revenue stream would go on unabated; the natural order would be reaffirmed.

Yet as I flipped my screen between a “civil” war in Detroit and the real one in Iraq, it dawned on me that given the same set of circumstances, wouldn’t the current administration have charged into the stands as well? Didn’t Osama hurl a drink into our national face as we lay restive and unaware, secure in our comfortable pre-911 mindset? Wasn’t our latest Latrell Sprewel simply bringing U.S. foreign policy to a level we could all understand? For the kids even? Namely, you mess with me and I’m coming after you. Didn’t we have an election about this a few weeks ago? Never mind that Artest got the wrong guy; that he heightened a situation that was by all accounts cooling down, when Artest charged the stands, he was doing so in the full spirit of Bush Administration.

And therein lay the hypocrisy of the much televised hand wringing. The myths we tell about ourselves on television are at odds with how we live our lives. In order for the system to work (and by work I mean generate profits) we must all pretend that these millionaire athletes spring forth (from the head Zeus if need be) fully sanitized for public consumption, otherwise the toothpaste and Viagra won’t sell. But of course, they do have a history and no amount of salary is going to scrub it clean, nor should it. This is the way things are and the good often comes intertwined with the bad. Sometimes the Marine will shoot the unarmed adversary at close range; sometime the athlete will charge the belligerent fan. This is life and the kids need to see it because after all isn’t really about them anyway?

Friday, November 19, 2004

Requiem for a Lightweight

To quote Malvolio in Twelfth Night: "Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon ‘em." Add to that "And some, in turn, cast greatness off of themselves" and you have the curious case of our Mr. Colin Powell.

Never had the American political scene expected so much of one man and never before have these expectations been left so wanting. Having been billed as that most remarkable of Black men- accomplished, polished, connected--in the harsh light of day he seemed to wither within himself, unable to act as he was undercut on all sides. So when they marched him into the U.N. Secretariat on that fateful morning he proved to be little more than he was, a man carrying water for forces greater than himself. Only the times didn't call for another companyman. We were up to our eyeballs in men and women of questionable ethics and more questionable spines. We'd had all the water we could take and so we needed a great man. We needed a man willing to the live or die for something greater than himself--a principle. Not a focus group "principle" but a Muhammad Ali I-ain't-going-to-Vietnam principle. But we forgot that our man was a soldier. He wasn't there for the principle. He was just a man with a bucket of water for the throne on which he had so lovingly been perched. And on that cold winter morning, he flushed.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Powell Says Iran Is Pursuing Bomb

And yet the funniest thing about Powell stating this is that he seems entirely unaware of the fact that no one really cares what he thinks. Having prostituted his credibilty for a few pieces of silver, he finds himself unable to be in on the joke.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

A Tale of Two Executions

Amidst the deluge of death that we have come to know as the Iraq war, two deaths rose above the collective din to stake their claim on the latest news cycle (which is to say that it will take us slightly longer to forget them). News of Margaret Hassan's death reached a critical mass yesterday at about the same time that the Marine Corp was trying to figure out how to deal with the apparent execution of an Iraqi insurgent by a Marine on camera. While it was clear to the media that former was an incident to mourn, the narrative for the latter is still being contested. Was the Marine right? or wrong? Is it the fog of war? Although the moment lacked Eddie Adams' iconic Vietnam image, all signs are unambiguous--we have indeed wound up right back in the quagmire.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

A Dutch F*ck

The act of lighting a cigarette off the lit end of another is known, among other things, as a "dutch fuck". Yet that appellation may apply equally to the nascent fires of intolerance and xenophobia currently threatening to engulf a country more famous for its patina of tolerance than for pitched ethnic strife. The murder of rightwing filmmaker Theo Van Gogh in Holland last week has thrown into high relief the plight of that country's muslim immigrants who often find themselves ghettoized within a society that has done little to accept them and one they have failed to embrace with open arms with either.

In the aftermath, the popular press has already cast the major players: the angry Muslim youth; the heretofore tolerant European society; European identity under attack. Lost is any real analysis of how either community found itself in this position in the first place.

And so insult, begets murder, which begets school bombing, which begets church burnings . . .

Monday, November 08, 2004


It's funny how names force themselves into our (American) consciousness. This year it is Falluja. I think it is meant to take over the space in my head that is still rather tentatively being rented by Kandahar. Something tells me Kandahar will be moving soon (if it hasn't vacated already). Its bags already packed and waiting in the lobby. Such is the luxury of being an American. Places don't matter so much as names and the names don't matter all that much either when you get down to it. No one I know plans on visiting Falluja, or even Kandahar. The ones I know tend to go places that aren't on the target list. And there are even more Americans who won't even go to these. Which is to say that maybe one day Cancun will be Kandahar. And yet there are currently several hundred thousand people right now for whom Falluja is a very real place. A great deal of them will be killed for little more than the bad luck of being in the "wrong" place, one that doesn't even exist for those tasked with the job of making it Kandahar.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Post Election Analysis

Having spent yesterday in what can best be described as a deep depression brought on by the resounding defeat of John Kerry, I can now offer up my two cents of analysis that you won't get from the talking heads and politicos on the nations airwaves.

If you want to know why the Democrats have consistently been losing national support since the mid-sixties you need look no further than the Voting Rights Act of 1964. Signed into law by Lyndon Johnson, the Act federally guaranteed voting rights to African-Americans. In doing so, Johnson essentially married his Democratic Party to African-Americans in the eyes of the South. Southern whites immediately began shifting their allegiance to the Republican party which was more than happy to accommodate them.

As the analysts attempt the inevitable post election analysis of what went wrong, they consistently overlook or downplay the effect the Voting Rights Act. Why? Because at its heart is the issue of race in America and Americans are nothing if not extremely skittish about any talk of race politics. This works to the Republicans advantage. They are allowed to talk about God, Gays, and Guns when ultimately it's really all about Blacks. The one thing that unifies so-called "Red America" is a belief that social programs, which the erroneously assume to be for the sole benefit of African-Americans, are too expensive and unneeded.

The Democratic party needs to get itself reaquainted with the country it purports to lead. It needs to realize that no candidate from the Northeast is ever going to win the presidency. It needs to stop trying prove that theorem wrong because it is quickly becoming a hard and fast rule. They need to get used to it. That means no Hillary; no Cuomo; no Schumer; no anybody from their current stable of high profile politicos. In short, they need a Southerner and they don't have one. They'd better spend the next year looking for one.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

The Morning After

Back to the drawingboard . . .

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

ELECTION DAY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

. . . and may this long national nightmare of a presidency come to an end. Let's put on the party hats ; cue the music people.