Honorary Stupidity

November 9, 2013

MLK's "Sincere Ignorance and Conscientious Stupidity saying, November 8, 2013. (http://bitterrealities.wordpress.com )

MLK’s “Sincere Ignorance and Conscientious Stupidity” saying, November 8, 2013. (http://bitterrealities.wordpress.com ).

There are so many things I could say about Richie Incognito and the vocal group of Miami Dolphins and ex-NFL players who’ve been supporting him versus Jonathan Martin over the past six days. That NFL players are Neanderthals. Or that Black players and ex-players like Cris Carter, Warren Sapp and Ricky Williams need their own education on what is and isn’t racism or harassment. Or that ESPN and the NFL Network have pushed this story without bringing a more critical lens to it.

There are two points that emerged this week, though, that bother me more than anything else. The idea that Incognito is more “Black” than Martin. Because Martin doesn’t sound “Black,” doesn’t act out of willful stupidity like “Black” NFL players, because he’s biracial, because he attended Stanford University, because his parents are Ivy League-educated. Last I checked, on and off the field, Martin’s treated as Black, regardless of his “unique” background. And Incognito’s still a White guy, one that threatened his teammate and his family, calling him the N-word on and off the field. Aside from the fact that the idea of a White guy being an “honorary Black” guy is offensive in general (see Maya Angelou’s idiotic praise of neo-conservative President Bill Clinton as “our first Black President” for Exhibit A) there’s this reality. No matter how “Black” Incognito can allegedly act, it’s an act, one which comes out of his Whiteness, and with it, an ultimate sense of cultural superiority.

Richie Incognito, Miami vs Oakland, Oakland, CA, September 16, 2012. (June Rivera via Flickr.com/Wikipedia). Released to public domain.

Richie Incognito, Miami vs Oakland, Oakland, CA, September 16, 2012. (June Rivera via Flickr.com/Wikipedia). Released to public domain.

The other equally disturbing point is that because the NFL locker room is a unique place of hyper-masculinity, that what goes on there isn’t subject to public scrutiny. If that’s the case, why not go back to the days of alcohol in the locker room, where players could shoot up steroids and amphetamines? Or have strippers and groupies in the locker room as well? The NFL locker room, like other work sites, is not a static place, but an evolving one. If it wasn’t, then seventy to eighty percent of the players in it these days wouldn’t be Black, Latino or Samoan. It’s a stupid argument, one exactly like those made by NYPD and LAPD officers, construction workers and White supremacists.

Luckily, there are players and ex-players like Brandon Marshall and Mark Schlereth whose understanding of and sensitivity toward this issue has been exemplary. They are in the minority among the professional athlete and sports world set so far, unfortunately. Martin’s former teammates have unified in their portrayal of him as a villain and traitor and Incognito as the “real nigga” on the football field and in the locker room.

The reason for this should be obvious, at least for those of us with either uncommon sense or with a social justice core. Humanity apparently has no place in the world of sports, especially in football and even more specifically where Black football players are concerned. For owners, front office managers and fans alike, they are merely commodities. Ones that all often criticized for or envied over their salaries and torn down publicly for their sins and crimes. The players and ex-players see themselves as warriors and gladiators, or, in the case of the media savvy, as cut-throat businessmen. None of this allows for any sympathy or empathy for football players who have been genuinely harassed or abused.

Beef cattle on Eefie Hill. North Atlantic in the background, United Kingdom, August 18, 2005. (John Comloquoy via http://geograph.org.uk). Released to public domain via Creative Commons ShareAlike 2.0.

Beef cattle on Eefie Hill. North Atlantic in the background, United Kingdom, August 18, 2005. (John Comloquoy via http://geograph.org.uk). Released to public domain via Creative Commons Share-Alike 2.0.

It has meant that players like Incognito — or in previous generations, Michael Westbrook and Bill Romanowski — have fellow players willing to stand up for their criminal behavior, for in fact creating a hostile work environment. Players who suddenly respond like human beings to a dehumanizing workplace have found and do find themselves shunned by the fraternity. And to quit and air out the dirty laundry? It may well be easier to quit La Cosa Nostra and continue to live than it has been for Martin to quit the Miami Dolphins.

I, for one, don’t expect NFL locker rooms to change as a result of the ongoing investigation of Martin’s harassment allegations, no matter how true they may actually be. But I do suspect that even in the Dolphins’ locker room, there are players who haven’t forgotten their humanity, whose understanding of race and masculinity goes beyond a rap video or the N-word. At the very least, there will be much more to come in the form of dirty laundry, and not just from the Dolphins, either.

Know Food, Know The World

June 4, 2011

Chocolate Cake, Vanilla Icing, 2011. Source: http://www.tastebook.com

I don’t really dedicate much of my blogging to what I do these days, my college teaching work. I guess that I kick up enough dust talking about my Mount Vernon years, my Humanities years, my Carnegie Mellon years, and my former jobs and bosses as it is.

But this is a fairly positive post (mostly, anyway). It about something that I learned recently while teaching one of my World History courses. Something so simple that it’s amazing sometimes how stupid I can be.

I realized one day in discussing the age of exploitation, um, well, exploration that one of the best ways to think about this period — heck, any period in world history, really — begins and ends with one word: food. I’d taught this course a couple of times for University of Maryland University College already. Not to mention having served as a teaching assistant under the great Peter Stearns while a grad student at Carnegie Mellon a decade and a half before (see my “Ego Inflation” post from last month).

German Chocolate Cake, 2011. Source:http://blogs.courier-journal.com. Meet a cake that was never German, but named by an English guy. And, since when do coconuts grow in Europe or the US?

But on that fall evening in ’09, looking at exploration patterns, commerce patterns and the state of the world circa 1600 CE, it hit me how I could just about reorganize every aspect of the way I’d been teaching World History by just looking at how much food has influenced it. Every bite we take, everything we imbibe, has some history attached to it, and with it, stories of bloody conflict, imperial conquest or rare attempts at true humanity and cooperation.

This is about much more than Jared Diamond’s books on the rise and fall of civilizations because of resources and the lack thereof. Commodities like salt, sugar, black pepper and olive oil have all been written about over the past fifteen years. It’s fairly obvious that these spices and other foodstuffs were fundamental in the histories of the Middle East, ancient Greece and Rome, India, Timbuktu and Western Europe over the past 5,000 years.

Still, I’m not really talking about that kind of history, either. It’s more about something as simple as taking a modern dish and using its ingredients to tell a story. Take something like a chocolate cake with vanilla icing. If the ingredients are natural and not ones cooked up at a chemical plant in northern New Jersey, then they’ve come from all over the world. Cocoa, the main ingredient to mix with the flour, is from the cacao plant, which originally from South America, but is primarily produced in sub-Saharan Africa. Sugar’s needed to sweeten it, and though originally from India, has been grown in Florida, Louisiana and in the Caribbean for centuries. One of the main economic drivers for the enslavement of Africans was the European need to rot out their teeth with the stuff.

Vanilla extract or vanilla beans are originally from Mexico and other parts of Central America. But the largest producers of it are Indonesia and especially Madagascar. There’s history in every gram of devil’s food cake with vanilla icing that we eat.

You could do the same thing with a “traditional” Chinese stir-fry. Especially if ingredients like baby corn or

Sweet-and-sour-chicken, 2011. Source: http://www.foodnetwork.com

sweet and sour sauce are added to the mix. That’s because baby corn and tomatoes (the latter the main ingredient in sweet and sour sauce) are both from the Americas, not Asia or Europe. Both arrived in Ming China nearly 500 years ago.

Every dish, whether invented in 2011 CE or 2011 BCE, has a rich story attached to it. From that story, we can all find important patterns in world history, cultural development, domination and destruction within. It may not be the most profound thing I’ve ever stumbled upon. Still, I didn’t get this from Peter Stearns or Jared Diamond. If anything, I might’ve gotten this from Forrest Gump.


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