On Dumb-Assed Ignorance and Race

August 7, 2012

Gabrielle Douglas on balance beam, Olympics Women’s Gymnastics All-Around, London, August 2, 2012. (Gregory Bull/AP).

A couple of years ago, I wrote a post titled “On Being An Ignit American” (February ’10). It was about how this issue of what is and isn’t “authentically” Black often has folk Black, White, Brown and Yellow thinking and speaking in stereotypes, especially Black folk, who should know better. The past week has demonstrated well how ignit some of us are or can be on this issue of race and so-called authenticity.

The thousands of ignit tweets on Gabby Douglas’ hair in the midst of her becoming the first African American to win gold the Olympic gymnastics all-around was just dumb and shameful. I mean, who the heck cares about what Douglas’ hair looked like as she hovered a good five feet over the balance beam last Thursday? Did it keep her from winning gold? Did it suddenly mean that she was no longer Black? No! All it showed was how much better an athlete, person and woman Gabby Douglas was and is than the dumb asses who decided to take issue with her hair.

Given that Douglas was competing and practicing every day, at sixteen, in a city she can’t be familiar enough with to run to a hairdresser, why would it be necessary for her to satisfy the superficial ignit folks among the Twiterati? Seriously, we don’t expect our male athletes to “get their hair did,” even though most of them have bed head on the eve of their competitions. No, the thousands of dumb-ass comments about Douglas’ hair is a reflection on a group of people who have never been passionate enough about any dream of theirs to take risks, to sacrifice, to give everything they are and have to achieve that dream. They also lie to themselves, in that being Black and female is to care more about your hair than your goals in life.

D.L. Hughley at The Huffington Post Pre-Inaugural Ball, Washington, DC, January 20, 2009. (Carl Clifford and D.L. Hughley via Flickr.com/Wikpedia). Released via cc-Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

Then there’s D.L. Hughley, the master of the put-down. He’s the kind of guy that if I’d gone to high school with him in Mount Vernon, I’d killed myself from the constant ridicule, or beaten him half to death with a brick. What makes someone like Hughley dangerous as a comedian is that he thinks he’s much smarter than he really is. Hughley, though, is about as smart about race as Rush Limbaugh, and only slightly more funny.

Let’s face it, on the IQ scale of comedians on race, if Richard Pryor was a 225, Eddie Murphy a 190, and Chris Rock a 155, Hughley would be about a 72. Even Bill Burr would be a 99-108 on this scale. Hughley obviously has deep connections in the entertainment world. How else can anyone explain all the small screen opportunities he’s had the past two decades? Perhaps it’s because Hughley’s funny, if only in a pedestrian, what-is-and-isn’t-authentically-Black sort of way.

Which is why I bring Hughley up here. Last week, while thousands of folks made fun of Gabby Douglas’ hair, he gave an interview on SiriusXM Radio mocking President Barack Obama’s intellectual and calm response to criticism. Hughley said, President Obama “doesn’t seem to get that you have to be willing at some point to fight fire with fire. He’s closer to being a white kid. Intellectually, like his experiences are so different from mine that, I should say, he responds like an intellect as opposed to a regular guy.”

Yes, Hughley, or should I say, dumb ass, Obama’s experiences are different from yours. He went to Occidential College in California for two years before transferring to Columbia on an academic scholarship. He worked as a community organizer on social justice issues for four years before getting in to Harvard Law School. He was president of the Harvard Law Review, a state senator for eight years, a US Senator for four, a constitutional law professor, all before become POTUS. As your contemporary Chris Rock would say, “How the f— you expect him to sound?” Hughley, you are so seriously ignant about race and authenticity that it may be time for you to go back to school.

Don’t you Gabby Douglas’ haters and ignant folks like Hughley get it yet? There’s always been more than one way to be Black, to be human. Why should we choose to act the same way, think the same way, look the same way, to satisfy the limited way in which you see the world. You are people of the worst sort. Too ignant to truly understand the world around you, and too chicken to really better yourselves, to pursue your own dreams and success.


The Land of Second Chances – For Who?

October 21, 2010

Purple Mountain Majesty, October 21, 2010. Source: http://bojack.org

I’m so tired of hearing commentators talk about how this is a country that gives people second chances. “What? Really? Are you insane?,” I think when I hear such drivel from people like Tony Kornheiser and Joe Scarborough. Do these talking heads even think about who they’re talking about or what they mean when they say the words “second chances?”

Seriously, true second chances in this country are reserved for folks who are among the elite — rich, famous, public officials, entertainers, athletes (sometimes), usually (but not always) White, almost always male and heterosexual. For these folk, America is a land of second chances. For most of us, this isn’t even a land of first chances, much less second ones. As Bruce Springsteen would say, “born down in a dead man’s town, the first kick I took was when I hit the ground” is an apt description for a majority of Americans.

The working-poor and living-from-paycheck-to-paycheck sub-middle class, while doing all they can to improve the life chances of their kids, ultimately are dependent on breaks provided within our society for their kids to have a chance. It comes down to a decent, if not happy family life, with no major financial or job disruptions. And living in a decent neighborhood, along with being able to attend an above-average public school or having parents willing to scrape together the money for private or parochial school. Not to mention finding opportunities for outside opportunities for their kids to explore themselves, like through art classes, soccer teams, travel, and so many other things that make growing up more than just a biological process that occurs in chaos.

Little Pink Houses, Carole Spandau, Uploaded October 21, 2010. Source: http://fineartamerica.com

Little Pink Houses, Carole Spandau, Uploaded October 21, 2010. Source: http://fineartamerica.com

If anything goes wrong, if a kid makes even a relatively minor mistake, that first chance will go away. Homelessness, bankruptcy, poor grades, even minor criminal activity or rebellion against authority figures will short-circuit chance number one. For kids of color, especially males, a robbery, playing around with marijuana, a fight at school or repeating a grade puts them in jeopardy long before they may realize that life doesn’t grant them a whole lot of first chances to begin with.

If these kids are lucky or disciplined enough to make it to adulthood with a high-school education, that may open a door, but it still won’t grant even the first chance. As comedian Chris Rock would say, many of these kids have to “make miracles happen” — force open doors — for that first real chance for their lives.

Not so for the likes of Eliot Spitzer, Ben Roethlisberger, even (to a lesser extent) Michael Vick. These folks aren’t struggling to find themselves while living in obscurity, and have more opportunities to work with in any given day than the average American person will likely have in their lifetime. But for White males with money and/or the public spotlight, second chances are almost automatic. Spitzer has his own show on CNN. Roethlisberger would’ve only lost his job if he’d been convicted of rape. Former Boston Globe columnist Mike Barnicle is still a respected journalist in many circles, even though he’s a proven a plagiarist and fiction writer. Vick, meanwhile, only got a second chance after he served two years hard time for dogfighting.

Even for the famous and financially fortunate — yet of color — the second chance remains elusive. Tiger Woods didn’t break any laws, didn’t commit a crime, but has spent the past year as a pariah (no need to go into the psychosis that comes with race and males of color, Black ones in particular). Jayson Blair will probably never have another shot at hardcore journalism. Maybe Blair shouldn’t have a second chance, but then, neither should Barnicle.

1%'s Playing Field cartoon (applicable to who gets second chances, too), December 28, 2013. (Mike Luckovich, Atlanta Journal-Constitution).

1%’s Playing Field cartoon (applicable to who gets second chances, too), December 28, 2013. (Mike Luckovich, Atlanta Journal-Constitution).

To be sure, John Edwards, Larry Craig and Jim McGreevey won’t be running for office again. But they are exceptions to the rule. Edwards could’ve jeopardized the Democratic Party’s ’08 election with his scandal, while Craig and McGreevey were outed as closeted gays involved in down-low activities. We don’t give politicians like these second chances.

So, we are a land of second chances. At least for those with the keys to the kingdom of the public arena. You just have to be straight, White, male, affluent, committed a crime before the age of twenty-one — and one that didn’t involve murder or Black-on-White crime — to have them.

As for Ray Rice, because many assume that his one act of domestic violence toward his now wife Janay Palmer Rice is the only one he’s committed, and because of all his charitable contributions, the NFL will grant him a second chance. The question isn’t whether Rice deserves a second chance. The question is why Janay Palmer Rice never had a first chance at a violence-free relationship. The answer is patriarchy, misogyny, racial animus, and increasing class inequality. What second chances, and for whom indeed!


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