Why My Mom Stayed

September 11, 2014

My Mom at 48 years old, Yonkers, NY, December 23, 1995. (Donald Earl Collins).

My Mom at 48 years old, Yonkers, NY, December 23, 1995. (Donald Earl Collins).

I planned to write something about my Mom on her birthday again this October, focusing on her multiple roles as mother, breadwinner, domestic violence victim and evangelical Christian in that post. With the TMZ-released video of Ray Rice and the public response to the NFL’s misogynistic hypocrisy making the issue of domestic violence front and center this week, it makes sense for me to talk about my experience and my observations via my Mom this week as well.

First off, thanks to all the brave women who’ve tweeted, posted on Instagram, Facebook, WordPress and other places their experiences with domestic violence. Thanks especially to Beverly Gooden (@bevtgooden) for creating and using the hashtag #WhyIStayed in response to the barrage of criticism leveled at Janay Palmer Rice for marrying Ray Rice after his brutal act of violence against her. I know domestic violence and child abuse firsthand, as I watched my Mom experience the Isshin-ryu-Karate version of a knockout and concussion on Memorial Day ’82 at the hands of my then stepfather Maurice Washington.

Screen shot 2014-09-11 at 7.54.54 AM

This wasn’t the first time Maurice had hit my Mom, as I’d learn years later, but it was the first time I witnessed it. I’d seen my Mom attacked before, by my own father when I was little. My father was often drunk and equally incompetent during his attacks, so any physical damage that was done was from my Mom beating him up. The psychological and emotional damage, though, flowed right from her first marriage to my father to her second one with Maurice.

For seven years and sixteen days after the day my childhood ended, my Mom and Maurice lived together as husband and wife at 616. I can say with one hundred percent clarity that there wasn’t a day between Memorial Day ’82 and the final fight that led to my late ex-stepfather moving out that I didn’t feel some sort of dread, a cloud of lethargy hanging over my head, even while at college at Pitt. That was partly because I’d made a point of running interference and taking abuse to make up for not calling the police on that day of days.

I didn’t know why my Mom couldn’t find the strength to kick Maurice to the curb, at least not before the middle of ’89. But there was an incident between me and Maurice about a year before he finally moved out, one where what he said afterward gave me additional insight into my Mom’s inaction.

Screen shot 2014-09-11 at 12.52.50 PM

At least, I had to believe that, right? It just seemed we’d been through too much with a man who’d never paid a month’s rent, a phone bill, a Con Ed bill, a cable bill, and only bought Great Northern beans, rice and cabbage for his kids (my younger siblings) on the handful of days he decided to contribute to our malnourished family.

So finally, in the months after he left 616 for good, I asked. My Mom’s first answer was, “He fooled me. He fooled us all!” Her answer was completely unsatisfying, considering that I ran away from home to get away from Maurice when I was nearly nine years old.

The summer of ’89 wouldn’t be the last time I’d ask. Over the years, my Mom has given various explanations. “I thought he was a changed me,” she’d say, referencing their six-month separation in ’80-’81 and Maurice becoming a Hebrew-Israelite and “Judah ben Israel” in the interim. “What good would that done?,” my Mom would ask me in response, implying that she wanted to avoid a physical confrontation.

Really, I spent thirteen years reading in between the lines, asking relatives questions about my Mom, doing research and boning up on domestic violence and child abuse from a social science perspective, all for more substantial answers. Really, my Mom’s domestic violence experience, our fall into welfare poverty, and my child abuse experiences were the first reasons for me wanting to write what would become Boy @ The Window in the first place.

"Divorced at last" layer cake, or "Broken Marriage," March 2014. (http://www.nigeriancurrent.com/).

“Divorced at last” layer cake, or “Broken Marriage,” March 2014. (http://www.nigeriancurrent.com/).

By the time I did the family intervention in January ’02, I knew why. I knew that despite my Mom not remembering much from the beating, knockout and concussion she took in May ’82, she lived in fear. If for no other reason than from seeing the look of hurt on my face whenever the subject of her beating came up. Maybe not a constant, shaking-in-her-shoes fear, but the idea of having to force a six-one and overweight yet powerful man out of 616 probably scared my Mom. But that wasn’t her only fear. As I wrote in Boy @ The Window, “[w]e were already the children of one divorce, and I wasn’t sure if I wanted to see another one so soon.” I’m more than sure that my Mom felt the same way about herself and her relationships with my father Jimme and Maurice as well.

I also know with certainty my Mom would never want me to write about her, especially about her as a victim of domestic violence. But she wasn’t the only one to experience it. I may be able to live my life successfully despite it, but I’ll never be able to un-see what I saw nearly thirty-two and half years ago. It put me on a very long road, one that involved my own conflicting feminism and sexism (though with zero tolerance for violence against women). Or, what I call damsel-in-distress syndrome, where I always want to help, even when that help is unwelcome.

There are millions of reasons why women get married or stay in relationships and marriages, some of them rational, some based in fear, many who stay because abuse does untold damage to self-worth. I may not fully understand what it’s like to be a woman who’s been abused, but I do understand what it’s like to be the son of one. Most of us who don’t know of these horrors need to be quiet, read, and listen more.

Social Media Trolls, In a Pic or Two

August 16, 2014

Some folks who come at me through Twitter, my blog on WordPress, even in the “friend” zone on Facebook, are by definition trolls. According to Wikipedia (and apparently, an Indiana University webpage where the definition below comes from), a troll is

a person who sows discord on the Internet by starting arguments or upsetting people, by posting inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community (such as a newsgroup, forum, chat room, or blog) with the deliberate intent of provoking readers into an emotional response or of otherwise disrupting normal on-topic discussion.

A Sentinel cutting through the Nebuchadnezzar (screen shot), The Matrix (1999), August 16, 2014. (Donald Earl Collins). Qualifies as fair use under copyright laws - especially low resolution.

A Sentinel cutting through the Nebuchadnezzar (screen shot), The Matrix (1999), August 16, 2014. (Donald Earl Collins). Qualifies as fair use under copyright laws – especially low resolution.

But this isn’t a complete definition. Trolls are often anonymous, or, if not hiding in the shadows, often have few followers/follow few people in social media. They don’t just “start arguments” — they launch vitriolic personal attacks on individuals with whom they disagree in order to distract from that person(s) point or main topic. They often express every -ism and -phobia they have toward other humans, as if their own humanity and the humanity of the group they think represent is the only one that matters.

And when they find themselves engaged with other trolls, they swarm an individual in the social media world like Sentinels from The Matrix series, hoping to destroy the person in the process. It’s the virtual equivalent of bullying and harassment, and they deserve as much respect in the social media world as we’d give to a bully in the real world. The kind of respect that calls trolls out and puts them in check, the kind of respect that may well involve law enforcement and legal actions.

Swarm of Sentinels about to attack Neo in Machine City (screen shot), The Matrix Revolutions (2003), August 16, 2014. (http://www.cgw.com/images/). Qualifies as fair use under copyright laws - low resolution.

Swarm of Sentinels about to attack Neo in Machine City (screen shot), The Matrix Revolutions (2003), August 16, 2014. (http://www.cgw.com/images/). Qualifies as fair use under copyright laws – low resolution.

Trolls do one good thing, though. They remind us there are millions of people who want to sleepwalk through life unaware of power, privilege and injustice. Or maybe, they’ve become addicted to their own misery and narcissism. So though we may want to strangle them, the best way to deal with them is with a swarm of our own, to ignore, block and check them at every turn. Too bad we can’t also use an EMP on them.

Separating The Musical Wheat From The -ism/-phobic Chaff

November 25, 2013

Separating chaff (left hand) from wheat (right hand), November 25, 2013. (http://www.colourbox.com/preview/).

Separating chaff (left hand) from wheat (right hand), November 25, 2013. (http://www.colourbox.com/preview/).

Back in April, I managed to get myself into a Twitter argument with @BlkLibraryGirl over Rick Ross and Lil Wayne’s releases and the misogynistic, gang-rape-advocating lyrics that came with them. The problem was, she was in the midst of a long rant (which I didn’t realize at the time), and you should never interject into someone else’s Twitter rant unless you’re nodding your head in agreement. At least without going through their entire Twitter timeline first.

In response to another luminary on Twitter, @BlkLibraryGirl tweeted

But it’s not just Rick Ross’s rape lyrics. The entire Hip Hop genre is rape culture. Is somebody going to talk about that?:)

I specifically said that this strain of rape as/is okay is one that has deep roots in American culture, and in African American notions of masculinity specifically, which led to a barrage of tweets from @BlkLibraryGirl about how Rick Ross’ lyrics + ten-year-old Black boys = Black boys thinking that raping Black women is perfectly okay. And that I was okay with these lyrics, too.

Rick Ross, absolutely disgusting, September 30, 2013. (http://cdn.stupiddope.com).

Rick Ross, absolutely disgusting, September 30, 2013. (http://cdn.stupiddope.com).

She obviously not only missed my point. She didn’t care what my point was in the first place. But that’s an issue of the limits of being able to communicate complex ideas and emotions on Twitter, not to mention the larger issue of etiquette. @BlkLibraryGirl is but one example of the steady and growing criticism of rap/hip-hip as the source of all our cultural ills, -isms and -phobias. It’s the idea that a kid will watch a video and listen to lyrics, and with zombie-like reactions, act out the lyrics and the video as if they don’t have a mind and guidance systems in their lives to stop them from being Rick Ross’ and Lil Wayne’s puppets.

For those of you who know me or this blog, the one thing that should be obvious is that while my music tastes are eclectic, my rap music list in particular is a small one. I didn’t like much of the little bit of rap I heard growing up, got into it a bit in the ’87-’97 years, and have liked almost none of it over the past decade. I’ve never liked Jay Z, found 50 Cent to be about a notch and a half above Biz Markie, and still think Eminem is the best lyricist in the game today, despite the fact he is as homophobic and (at times) misogynistic as they come.

So while these fools will never win the Social Justice Music Awards, they do have the right to put out their schlock, to write lyrics filled with hate and angst, to play with tired stereotypes and archetypes in their music and videos. And we have the right to critique, to not buy, to provide ourselves and our kids with the wisdom necessary to see through the smokescreen of big business making big bucks off of rap/hip-hop “artists” who present themselves as little more than stereotypical Bucks themselves.

But let’s also not get carried away here, either. Last I checked, didn’t the rap I listened to in college contain some similar themes? Geto Boys “Gotta Let A Ho Be A Ho” and PE’s “the parts don’t fit” line from one of their raps on their Fear of a Black Planet album (both from ’90) come to mind. What about “running the train” lyrics from the late Notorious BIG or Tupac’s (perhaps the greatest poet/rap lyricist ever) works? How come critics of today’s rap and hip-hop game don’t go after the moguls and producers that make Rick Ross and Lil Wayne possible, folks like Sean “Whatever his nickname is now” Combs, Jay-Z, Sony Music Group or BMI?

Or, given my eclectic tastes, why limit this strain of cultural ugliness to rap and hip-hop? Why not be historical for a moment and go after Prince’s and Rick James’ sexist lyrics of the early-’80s, or the Ohio Players and The Jammers of the ’70s? Or, for that matter, R. Kelly in the ’90s and early ’00s? Why should we even limit this to R&B or hip-hop, as music is a universal — and not a neatly separated — language? What about Jimi Hendrix’s “Hey Joe,” or the White male angst and violence embedded in honky-tonk, hard-core heavy metal and grunge?

Fans protest Michael Jackson's innocence in the child molestation scandal, Paris, France, December 17, 2003. (Rafael Rozendaal via Wikipedia). Released to public domain via Creative Commons 2.0.

Fans protest Michael Jackson’s innocence in the child molestation scandal, Paris, France, December 17, 2003. (Rafael Rozendaal via Wikipedia). Released to public domain via Creative Commons 2.0.

Oh, I get it. Hip-hop’s a globally-dominant cultural and musical phenomenon, which means it could bring tens of millions more folks outside the US into our -isms and -gynys. But, has there ever been an individual in the musical world more culturally transcendent than Michael Jackson? You know, the guy who faced two trials in the ’90s and ’00s over child molestation charges? The man who struggled with identity issues — racial ones  included — for the bulk of his adult life before dying in June ’09? What do we do about the couple of billion people Jackson influenced beyond his lyrics, especially since child molestation must be as common as the common cold?

We should critique and advocate as much as we can over the sexism and misogyny, homophobia and racism, colorism and ignorance contained in the lyrics and videos of artists from Rick Ross, Lil Wayne, Nelly and DMX and so many others. But let’s not act as if this is a new thing, a strictly hip-hop and rap thing. This is an American thing. So why act surprised when it shows up in rap music videos and in lyrics?

As for me, I chose to enjoy Michael Jackson’s music and PE’s other lyrics even in the face of the contradictions between their lyrics and behaviors. I think that most hip-hop lovers — even those impressionable ten-year-old Black boys — will do the same. If I’m wrong, then the Apocalypse has truly arrived.

Shawn of the Dead (2004) pic, as used in Philadelphia Daily News, June 4, 2012. (John Baer).

Shawn of the Dead (2004) pic, as used in Philadelphia Daily News, June 4, 2012. (John Baer).

The Things Dumb Racists Say

July 27, 2013

John Bauer's illustration from Walter Stenström's The boy and the trolls or The Adventure in childrens' anthology Among pixies and trolls (1915), November 1, 2005. (Thuresson via Wikipedia). In public domain.

John Bauer’s illustration from Walter Stenström’s The boy and the trolls or The Adventure, in childrens’ anthology Among Pixies and Trolls (1915), November 1, 2005. (Thuresson via Wikipedia). In public domain.

I loved, I loved, I loved reading and hearing what Anthea Butler had to say in the wake of the Zimmerman not-guilty verdict from two weeks ago (via her piece “The Zimmerman Verdict: America’s Racist God” and MSNBC). I love the courage and strength she’s shown over the past two weeks in standing up to the trolls in social media who’ve literally called her everything except a child of God in expressing the very racism they’ve attempted to deny.

If I’ve been reminded of nothing else in the past fortnight, it’s the fact that the US has a significant reading and writing crisis. In looking at Butler’s The Things People Say Tumblr page, it’s never been clearer to me that the average American can’t write a single sentence without a significant misspelling or grammatical error, and that angry people expressing their bigotry are even more prone to screw up the English language in any form.

UPenn Professor Anthea Butler, circa 2011. (http://www.sas.upenn.edu/religious_studies/faculty/butler).

UPenn Professor Anthea Butler, circa 2011. (http://www.sas.upenn.edu/religious_studies/faculty/butler).

Yet the most ignorant thing I’ve seen beyond the indirect threats, the nasty racist name-calling and the demeaning of academia for making Butler one of their “affirmative action” hires is the sheer ignorance about religion, Christianity and the ways in which this group of (mostly) White trolls has use both to justify their vitriol and racism. On one level, it’s pretty simple. How dare this [pick any expletive and add either the N-word or the C-word] say anything to point out how some Whites use Christianity and God to support their racist world views, right?

But this simplicity belies a greater truth. That not one of Butler’s post-Zimmerman trolls understood their own religion and the walk of Christianity. They haven’t a clue as to the sheer work it would take to earn any doctorate, much less one in religious studies. These folks have no idea that a PhD in religious studies doesn’t require becoming a priest or a pastor, or sounding all high-brow and polite in the face of injustice. (Heck, I’ve met religious studies professors who are agnostic or atheists!).

They are ignorant, and willfully so. My guess is, they are a small sample size of maybe 100 million Americans — mostly, but hardly exclusively White — who wallow in ignorance thinking that this will shield them from the inexorable march toward a majority of color country that the US will be well before mid-twenty-first century. The fact is, Butler’s trolls are so scared of change that they are threatened by a seventeen-year-old wearing a hoodie with cellphone, Skittles and iced tea in hand. As well as by a University of Pennsylvania professor who they see as unqualified (a bit of a contradiction to be threatened by someone they see as insignificant, but that’s racism for ya!).

I might have worded it a bit differently, though (but then again, I’m a different writer, no?). As a Christian for more than twenty-nine years, I don’t see my God as one who represents racist Whites. After all, we are commanded to “treat our neighbors as we would treat ourselves.”

Evelyn de Morgan's The Worship of Mammon (1909), September 7, 2006. (Shell Kinney via Wikipedia). In public domain.

Evelyn de Morgan’s The Worship of Mammon (1909), September 7, 2006. (Shell Kinney via Wikipedia). In public domain.

But since Butler’s trolls obviously do think that they worship God, let me at least say this. If you believe in corporate capitalism and the corrections of the market, then your god is money, and the love of/lust for it. If you believe in the criminality of Blacks and Black male bodies, then your god is White. If you believe it’s okay to voice your displeasure by calling Butler a “n—-r c–t,” then your god is one that subjugates women, especially Black women. These beliefs do not and cannot represent my beliefs in God, in the life of Jesus, heck, in life of anyone who has ever spoken on behalf of social justice and human rights in history.

To misquote The American President (1995):

“Professor Anthea Butler has done nothing to you, trolls….You want a character debate? You better stick with me, ‘cuz Professor Anthea Butler is way out of your league.”

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.

Virtual Linsanity

February 25, 2012

Jeremy Lin (Knicks) beating Matt Barnes (Lakers) in the paint for a layup, Madison Square Garden, February 10, 2012. (AP).

As a New York Knicks fan since my mother’s third trimester with me (the fall of ’69, the season the Knicks won their first of two NBA titles) here hasn’t been much to be excited about since Patrick Ewing popped his Achilles’ tendon in between Games 2 and 3 of the ’99 Eastern Conference Finals.

Enter Jeremy Lin, the sensation that’s sweeping the NBA Nation. When he scored 28 points in his first game as a starter nearly three weeks ago, my only thoughts were, “Finally, we have a real point guard who can get the ball to Stoudamire and Carmelo.” Beyond that, I thought of one of my high school students from the JSA-Princeton University Summer Program in which I taught in ’09, because they have the same first and last name. My former student, though, is still in college, and not at Harvard, either.

Patrick Ewing raising the roof after a dunk in Game 7 of the 1994 NBA Eastern Conference Finals against the Indiana Pacers, June 5, 1994. (AP).

Leave it to ESPN, the New York media and the motley crew of naysayers, though, to raise Lin to celebrity status faster than the USS Enterprise-D could reach maximum warp. The fact that Lin plays for the Knicks, a franchise in a decade-long search for respectability, and decades-long search for its lost glory, is reason enough for me to see their perspectives on the point guard as more than slightly skewed. I mean, New York’s the reason why sports fan still think the sun shines out of every Yankees’ behind, even Don Mattingly’s.

Not that Lin’s good and often very good play didn’t warrant attention. But if you could dig deeper into all the attention, it was as if the sports and entertainment worlds were shocked — actually shocked — that Lin could start and play with all the precision and poise of an above-average NBA player. What would bring this kind of outpouring of skepticism wrapped in somewhat exaggerated hype? The fact that Lin went to Harvard? The fact that he’s just under six-foot-three? What, pray tell, has been the key to this burst of attention?

Could it be, could it possibly be, about race? Really? After two decades of international competitions between Chinese and American basketball players? Really. By the time some of the shock jocks and uncouth commentators began to spread their versions of Lin-adjectives, Lin-verbs and Lin-phrases, it was obvious that the shock went something like this: “Oh my God! An Asian guy from Harvard can play professional basketball? Bring on the MSG!”

It all crystallized in one stupid, and yes, racist tweet on the part of a “journalist” I used to respect, Jason Whitlock. “Some lucky lady in NYC is gonna feel a couple of inches of pain tonight,” Whitlock tweeted while Lin scored 38 points against the Lakers on February 10. At the very least, this is a sign of some deep-seated insecurity being pushed upon Lin as a proxy for two stereotypes rolled into one. At worst, Whitlock was merely expressing what many White and Black folks feel about some Asian American guy excelling in an allegedly “Black” sport. Either way, it’s almost as disgusting as ESPN’s “Chink In The Armor” headlines from

Jay Kay in Jamiroquai's "Virtual Insanity" (1997) music video screen shot, January 6, 2006. (via Wikipedia). Qualifies as fair use under US Copyright laws because of picture's low resolution and relevance to blog post.

the Knicks’ February 17 loss to the New Orleans Hornets.

I don’t understand the exaggerated hype and the subsequent race-baiting, playa hatin’ comments in mass and social media around Lin since the middle of Black History Month. I played tons of pickup games at Pitt and Carnegie Mellon when I was in graduate school, and a good portion of the folks I played with were Asian or Asian American. Like the Whites, Blacks and Latinos I played with, some of them could really play basketball, and some couldn’t dribble three steps without bouncing the ball off their foot. Some could shoot from seventeen feet blindfolded, and others had the accuracy of a Scud missile.

Lin, as good as he is now, can and should get better. How good is anyone’s guess, but we shouldn’t be comparing him to Steve Nash or Magic Johnson quite yet. Nor should we write him off when he faces a team like the Miami Heat and turns the ball over five times in a three-minute span. We shouldn’t celebrate a media that apparently has bipolar disorder when it comes to anyone whose body of work cuts against stereotypes.

Lin’s success shouldn’t threaten anyone’s Blackness, sense of manhood or intelligence or the world view of American sports journalists. At least no more than my having a PhD or being a writer on race, education reform and diversity should threaten higher education or anyone’s Whiteness. But, then again…

Black Male Id-entity & the F-Bomb

May 26, 2011

Gay Rights Month isn’t for another six days, as it’s still May. But in light of Joakim Noah’s unfortunate anti-gay slur outburst, “Fuck you, faggot!,” it makes sense to start this year’s conversation a week early.

This is more than about the NBA, gay athletes in the closet or what professional athletes should and shouldn’t say to fans and to each other. The behind-the-curtain issue here could just as well be about Black male identity (whether heterosexual or gay) and how Black males express themselves to each other and to the rest of the world.

My first memories playing with a group of Black males in Mount Vernon, New York are all negative. When I was six in ’76, a group of preteens on the neighborhood playground near Nathan Hale Elementary on South 6th Avenue tried to force me into sucking one of their dicks, practically sticking it in my face to do so. I got away before being truly scarred for life. After we moved to 616 East Lincoln Avenue in April ’77, our first time playing outside was spent running away from the other kids, who greeted us by throwing rocks at us and calling me and my brother Darren “faggots.” (see my June 1, 2009 post, “In the Closet, On the Down Low” for more).

When I was nine, I played basketball on a court near 616 for the first time with a group of kids from my building. After throwing up an awkward brick and an air ball, I got five minutes of “You terrible!,” “You need to sit down!,” “You’re never gonna be an athlete!,” “You need to get back to reading them books of yours!,” and “You shoot like a faggot!”

Even though I eventually learned how to dribble with both hands, shoot a j, make layups, block shots, and on rare occasions, dunk a basketball, I’ve been leery being around other Black males on the basketball court. One would think after playing pickup with former Pitt basketball players while in grad school that I’d completely forgotten what happened to me back in the spring of ’79. But I hadn’t, at least on an unconscious level. I often watched what I said, I mean, down to every single word. Not to mention how I walked, where my arms were, and how I held my head. Still, I sometimes felt inadequate on the court, whether I went 8-for-9 or 2-for-7, blocked a shot, stole a ball, or got knocked down guarding someone six-foot-six and 260 pounds.

But I figured out something in those years of playing pickup at Pitt and Carnegie Mellon and other places in Pittsburgh and DC over the years. That blending in doesn’t matter. Fools — even ones with momentary lapses in judgment like Joakim Noah — will be fools because on the playground or court, it makes them cool in the minds of their peers.

Yes, this isn’t just a Black male issue. Sean Miller, currently coach of the University of Arizona men’s basketball team — not to mention an all-time Pitt basketball great — once played a prank on me our freshmen year. He called me up in my Lothrop Hall dorm room late one night, offered me a blow job, and called me a “faggot” in the process.  So being called a “faggot” or saying that something or someone is “gay” is part of our culture on and off the basketball court, for Black and White males to be sure.

But unlike Michael Wilbon, I can’t excuse it because it’s commonplace and therefore it may be difficult for some young men to immediately stop themselves from saying “faggot.” Nor can I rationalize this like Touré (a.k.a. TouréX on Twitter) attempted to do in a Twitter exchange with me a couple of days ago. He compared the use of “faggot” to “nigga,” with the idea that both words have more than one meaning and that the meaning can sometimes be positive, depending on context.

I can see the argument for “nigga,” even though I don’t like it when younger men use it to affirm each other and especially me. But “faggot” meaning “less than a man?” Or “stupid” or “dumb?” So is Noah or Kobe more of a man for telling someone else they’re not a man? Even in context, this isn’t positive — it’s potentially soul-destroying, and not just for someone being called a faggot.

Of the preteens and young boys who called me “faggot” growing up, at least three have served hard time. Is there a direct connection? Of course not. Still, it seems that a culture steeped in the requirement of being cool, finding quick and easy success and putting down others while doing so lends itself well to a crash-and-burn mentality that so many of us have about our lives.


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