Category Archives: Essays

Day Eight: Read me on The Classical!

So instead of reading me here tonight, head on over to The Classical, where I wrote an essay on Liverpool’s Raheem Sterling, a young midfielder from England (by way of Jamaica) and one of the most promising young footballers in the world.

He’s one of my favorite players right now, but he also has a problematic history of violence against women which makes watching him play an internal struggle between right and wrong. I’m proud of the piece and I think it’s important insofar that the conversation I’m trying to have about Raheem Sterling is relevant to guys like Kobe Bryant, Jason Kidd, Jameis Winston, Adrian Peterson and so many other disgraceful but supremely talented athletes.

I hope you enjoy it.

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Day Six: Yes, You’re Racist; or Don’t Be an Asshole.

(image via KOLR, h/t Gawker, Mediaite)

(image via KOLR, h/t Gawker, Mediaite)

Here’s a good rule of thumb: if you have to say “it’s not racist to…”, it is absolutely, positively racist. But in case some folks need reminding: yes, white pride is racist.

The question most racists love to ask is something along the lines of, “well, if blacks and Latinos and Asians can have their own associations, why can’t whites?” And the answer to that requires an understanding of the concept of racism, as it is experienced in American society.

Racism is an institution whereby one group in the majority asserts social, political and economic power over others. That power is wielded outwardly to oppress minorities through policies such as red-lining or various immigration acts that allowed for more European immigrants than ones from Africa or Asia or South America, but also through subconscious decisions born of xenophobic, racist pathologies. (And, it should be mentioned, it is because of the systemic nature of racism that whites can never experience racism in this country. They can certainly experience anti-white biases, but nothing systemic or institutional in the same manner that non-whites experience racism. Okay, glad I got that off my chest. Let’s continue.)

As Sendhil Mullainathan pointed out in the TimesThe Upshot this weekend, these pathologies have infected every inch of American society:

■ When doctors were shown patient histories and asked to make judgments about heart disease, they were much less likely to recommend cardiac catheterization (a helpful procedure) to black patients — even when their medical files were statistically identical to those of white patients.

■ When whites and blacks were sent to bargain for a used car, blacks were offered initial prices roughly $700 higher, and they received far smaller concessions.

■ Several studies found that sending emails with stereotypically black names in response to apartment-rental ads on Craigslist elicited fewer responses than sending ones with white names. A regularly repeated study by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development sent African-Americans and whites to look at apartments and found that African-Americans were shown fewer apartments to rent and houses for sale.

■ White state legislators were found to be less likely to respond to constituents with African-American names. This was true of legislators in both political parties.

■ Emails sent to faculty members at universities, asking to talk about research opportunities, were more likely to get a reply if a stereotypically white name was used.

■ Even eBay auctions were not immune. When iPods were auctioned on eBay, researchers randomly varied the skin color on the hand holding the iPod. A white hand holding the iPod received 21 percent more offers than a black hand.

You don’t have to be racist to have been influenced by a racist pathology – locking your doors while driving is not racist in and of itself, but purposely doing so while driving through Newark is racist because society has been trained to fear young black men. Again, it doesn’t mean that you are racist, it just means that society has taught you to subconsciously act on racist sterotypes. What those studies show is that racism affects the lives of people of color every day in some of the most benign ways, regardless of the intentions of whites.

The reason why black or Latino or Asian associations exists is precisely because ethnic communities feel the need to work together to better one another, to achieve a level of privilege that WASPs have enjoyed in this country for centuries.

So whiteness is the thing to aspire to. Not everyone does, of course, but many minorities have a conflicted longing for WASP whiteness or, more accurately, for the privileges of WASP whiteness. They probably don’t really like pale skin but they certainly like walking into a store without some security dude following them. Hating Your Goy and Eating One Too, as the great Philip Roth put it. So if everyone in America aspires to be WASPs, then what do WASPs aspire to? Does anyone know?

That quote is from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s phenomenal novel, Americanah (which I named my favorite novel of 2013), and it perfectly describes why minorities find the need to associate with one another and employ one another: we’re trying to get on your level. (If you also need to know why people of color need their own magazines and publications, there’s also this quote from Americanah.) We do these things because these aren’t privileges we’re afforded in society, at large; we have no representation in local, state or federal government and so we look to one another for help and opportunities.

White pride organizations are racist because there’s nothing left for white people to accomplish in this country – you have all of the privilege and security one could ever need. You’ve faced no oppression in your lifetime. (Yes, Irish, Italians and Jews have all been oppressed at various times in our history, but they’ve all now been accepted into the greater construction of “whiteness” [though, of course, anti-Semitism still exists in some pockets of society]. You’re not losing out on job opportunities in 2015 because your last name is Murphy, but you are if it’s Muhammad.) You’ve inherited wealth, sometimes for generations. You’ve even got advantages in online dating. None of this is necessarily your individual faults, but this is a level of privilege that no one else is afforded. We should all be given the same opportunities, and that’s not happening if white pride organizations – through which whites continue to assert their social, political and economic dominance by hiring and electing other whites or by segregating communities – continue to exist.

Listen, we get it. Being white is AWESOME; it doesn’t mean you’re inherently better, but it’s pretty clearly better to be white in America. I mean, you can’t dance and your rappers suck (and still benefit from the privileges of whiteness), but I understand why you love it. Thing is, you’ve already won, white people. You’ve achieved a level of privilege and security that everyone else aspires to. That everyone else is fighting for. Congratulations.

Just don’t be assholes about it.

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Donald Sterling Does Not “Own” the Clippers

A Google News search for the terms “Clippers owner” returns over forty-two thousand hits from New York and Los Angeles Times, Sports Illustrated, ESPN.com and a myriad of other outlets, whether large or small, reporting on the racist remarks of real estate billionaire Donald Tokowitz, who happened to purchase the Los Angeles Clippers basketball team in 1981 for $12.5 million (Tokowitz legally changed his name to “Sterling” for what I assume were business purposes).

Mr. Tokowitz, who has a long, well-documented history of racism and racist policies as a businessman (a compendium of which has been edited by Tim Burke of Deadspin), was recently recorded by his bi-racial mistress as justifying his racism because he “give[s] them food, and clothes, and cars, and houses.” He also justifies his beliefs because in Israel, “the blacks are treated just like dogs,” chalking it up to our “culture,” saying, “we have to live within that culture” rather than help foster change.

The culture Tokowitz is referring to appears to be that of the antebellum south’s plantation culture, only Tokowitz lives in 2014. Mr. Tokowitz is nothing more than a modern plantation owner – he has no use for blacks, or people of color, unless he can exploit them for monetary gain or stick his dick in them. For Mr. Tokowitz, Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan are the slaves that have made his $12.5 million investment worth upwards of $575 million today (Doc Rivers is probably his version of Stephen from Django Unchained).

Mr. Tokowitz is the Los Angeles Clippers’ “owner” insofar that he purchased the franchise for millions of dollars. Tokowitz, however, does not own the Los Angeles Clippers – he owns a trademark, not a group of players. But, given his sordid history of racism, the idea that he fancies himself as a benefactor of “the blacks” in the same way that a southern plantation owner would have should not be surprising. After all, we continually refer to him as “Los Angeles Clippers owner, Donald Sterling”; Donald Sterling is Chris Paul’s “owner” not his boss.

Referring to the white millionaire and billionaire plutocrats who purchase sports franchises as “owners” does nothing but reinforce this sort of plantation owner mindset: “Do I make the game, or do they make the game? Is there 30 owners, that created the league?” Donald Tokowitz’s self-importance comes entirely from the fact that he signs paychecks that enable young black men to become conspicuous consumers, famously telling Danny Manning, “I’m offering a lot of money for a poor black kid.”

At some point, maybe we should stop referring to these rich white guys as “owners.” I don’t know what we should call them, and frankly I don’t care. Let’s just not allow them to delude themselves into believing that they own a bunch of “poor black kids” who help make their “owners” even more millions of dollars than they earn themselves. Because, while Donald Tokowitz may be the only purchaser of a sports franchise that we know to be a virulent racist, I highly doubt he’s the only one.

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Game Recognize Game: On Carlos Gomez and “playing the game the right way.”

Athletes sometimes do stupid things. That’s because athletes are people, and people sometimes do stupid things – Johnny Knoxville, for instance, has somehow made a living out of it. So when athletes do stupid things, the most one should really do is laugh – mistakes are not a referendum on one’s character.

To wit:

(GIF via Mike Prada, SB Nation)

via Mike Prada, SB Nation

Nick Young took a shot that looked like it was going in – watching live, even I had thought so – so he turned around and raised his arms in celebration, only to realize the ball had spun out. After the miss, Young, or “Swaggy P,” got a little annoyed that he missed and got back on defense.

That was the end of the play.

Neither Amare Stoudemire nor Pablo Prigioni, nor any other Knick, chided Young after the play or even after the game (though it didn’t help that they had lost to Young’s team by 34 points). Fans weren’t angry at Young for “disrespecting the game” or “showing up” his opponent – we laughed. We GIF’d and Vine’d the play, chalked it up to Swaggy P being Swaggy P.

What Nick Young did on that play is, in reality, no different than what Carlos Gomez had done on Easter Sunday.

Gomez hit what he believed was a home run, flipped his bat, and took a couple of slow, admiring steps out of the box only to realize the ball had hit the wall, at which point he hauled ass to third base. It was a play that, at most, deserved a facepalm (especially for Brewers fans, considering that Gomez had potentially cost himself an inside-the-park home run).

Pirates’ starter Gerrit Cole, however, took exception to this, and shouldered the responsibility of reminding Gomez of baseball’s normative decorum – never mind the fact that Sunday’s was only the 23rd start of Cole’s career while Gomez is an eight year veteran, or that Gomez’s pre-mature celebration saved Cole and his team of an earned run – because baseball, you see, must be played “the right way,” which is to say that baseball must be played in a manner approved by folks like Gerrit Cole.

Incidents like this don’t happen that often, but they occur often enough that a familiar pattern has begun to emerge. Just last season we had different situations involving Carlos Gomez and Brian McCann, and Jose Fernandez and McCann. In each of these three situations a white, American ballplayer has decided to inform a Latin American player how they can/cannot act, and how they can/cannot celebrate their considerable feats.

(Gerrit Cole claims to have allegedly told Gomez that he can celebrate if he hits a home run, yet McCann took exception to Fernandez and Gomez celebrating after home runs – so apparently even the Protectors of the Game can’t agree on the “right way to play the game.”)

That a 23 year old in his first full big league season believes he can tell a veteran player like Carlos Gomez how to handle himself speaks, at best, to his personal privilege as a kid from Newport Beach, California, and, at worst, to his (false) sense of paternalism, an attitude which – no doubt – has been fostered by the game’s prevailing white power structure.

In 2012, Major League Baseball was 63.9% white – a number which doesn’t take into account all of the white coaches, scouts, executives, etc. around the game – and 26.9% Latino. That same year, the NBA was 78% African-American, and a majority of NBA head coaches were people of color. There’s a reason why Nick Young’s mistake is brushed off while Gomez’s is considered “disrespectful to the game”; there are no “unwritten rules” in the NBA or the NFL, but there are in baseball and golf. In a league dominated by white American culture, the majority has taken it upon themselves to dictate, judge and otherwise punish the behavior of others – assimilate, or face consequences.

Worse, this nonexistent code of conduct is seemingly enforced by umpires and the commissioner’s office, which appeared to be the case last season when Bryan Morris (perhaps not coincidentally of the Pittsburgh Pirates) plunked Jordany Valdespin after he “pimped” a home run one night earlier and faced no retribution (thanks to Zachary Levine for bringing this to my attention). Major League Baseball’s failure to suspend Morris, Cole or Brian McCann, is an implicit endorsement of these players’ actions. Their failure sends a message that white ballplayers have carte blanche to say or do whatever they’d like to black or brown players without repercussion; it sends a message to black and brown players that they cannot react to those rules henceforth established by their white counterparts, lest they be branded as “thugs.”

This isn’t to defend the actions of Carlos Gomez, he clearly overreacted, but an overreaction is the result of consistently being told that you’re not carrying yourself correctly, or playing the game properly – even if you led the entire league in bWAR last year. As Tomas Rios told me on Twitter, Gomez has taken so much shit over the years that he’s simply decided to stop taking it – he’s earned his place in the game, same as McCann and especially Cole. He’s one of the best players in the entire sport, who the fuck is Gerrit Cole to tell him what he can or cannot do?

These incidents, however, aren’t truly about “respecting the game” or “playing the game the right way” (Craig Calcaterra’s done a pretty good job of illustrating why that’s bullshit), after all one of the most storied (and perhaps apocryphal) moments in baseball history is Babe Ruth’s “called shot” during Game 3 of the 1932 World Series. (Could you imagine the reaction if Yasiel Puig had done this?) What these incidents are about is one group of people enforcing certain behaviors and attitudes on others without consideration for their own cultural norms. This does not mean that they’re racist, rather that they’re staking a false ownership claim over the culture of baseball.

Baseball does not have to represent all things to all people; it’s a game that is played differently all over the world, whether in the US, Japan, Cuba or the Netherlands. Kids in the Dominican Republic and kids in Orange County both grow up playing baseball, but they might learn to play different styles of baseball in the same sense that English is spoken in England, the US and Jamaica, but they’re all different dialects – different cultures have adopted the game and made it their own.

(There’s an argument to be made – one that I do not possess the data nor time to make – that baseball’s cultural exclusivity plays a role in Major League Baseball’s steady decline in African-American players. Sure, blacks and Latinos can play big league ball, but if the sport isn’t accepting of their cultures and personalities, why would they want to play baseball if they could play a sport like basketball, where their cultures and personalities aren’t just accepted, but embraced? Characters like Nick Young/Swaggy P, JaVale/Pierre McGee or Ron Artest/Metta World Peace could never exist in baseball, the closest we’ve ever gotten are Nyjer Morgan’s “Tony Plush” days in Milwaukee, and he found himself in Japan two years later [though he’s back now].)

If Major League Baseball wishes to become the globalized sport that they clearly aspire to, they cannot, and should not, expect for their players to assimilate into this milquetoast version of baseball we play here in the States. Carlos Gomez – a man whose playing style places his body at risk of injury on a nightly basis – plays the game “the right way.” So, too, does Brian McCann; and Gerrit Cole; and every other player in baseball. That’s because there is no right way. Everyone who has ever stepped foot on a baseball diamond – whether they be from California, the DR, Japan or any other place where baseball is played – has their own way of playing the game, none is more right than the next.

Likewise, maybe there’s no way to “respect the game” other than by playing hard and embracing the styles, cultures and norms of all others who do, even those who “pimp” on triples – as the old pimping proverb goes: game recognize game.

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Sic Transit Gloria (Glory Fades): Why the Marshall Mathers LP 2 Sucked.

Since releasing my year-end list of my favorite albums of 2013, I’ve gotten into two different arguments with friends about separate albums. One friend gave an impassioned plea for me to reconsider Eminem’s Marshall Mathers LP 2, the other vehemently disagreed with my ranking of Yeezus. Today we focus on Eminem and save Yeezy for the near-future.

There are few moments in life, not involving death, disease or bodily injury to yourself or others, that prove to be more traumatizing than those when you realize, “[insert obscenity of choice], I’m old.” There are, of course, the increasing physical limitations of age – such as the (in)ability to eat or drink without consequence, or one’s precipitous decline in athletic prowess – which can trigger this realization as well, but those feel like more natural occurrences insofar that they’re beyond your own control. What I’m talking about are particular social or cultural settings which, more than anything else, just make you feel old.

For example: I went on a date last year with a girl who – it turns out – was twenty years old (I wasn’t aware of this fact at the time). This young woman’s inability to drink, however, wasn’t what made me feel old. What elicited the “Fuck, I’m old,” reaction, was her response to a joke I made about Linda Tripp (the context of this “joke” is no longer clear), which was vaguely similar to that of my dog when I ask her to take out the trash. It’s not that I was necessarily expecting to score a laugh from a quip about a Pentagon staffer who revealed Monica Lewinsky’s secret affair with President Clinton to Kenneth Starr in 1998 (she also didn’t know who he was), it’s that, upon explaining who Linda Tripp was, and when all of this happened (at her request), she noted that she was probably in kindergarten during the Lewinsky scandal.* That shit makes you feel old…and a little weird.

*All of which makes me wonder whether or not this girl understood the Monica Lewinsky reference on Beyonce’s “Partition.”

One more example (not that you asked): I attended a Postal Service concert in Brooklyn this past summer with some friends, mostly for sake of nostalgia. All things considered, it was a pretty decent show when you realize that Give Up was their only album, it was released in 2003, and it contained all of ten tracks. And, for whatever little it’s worth, there seemed to be a good number of twenty-somethings in attendance as well. The majority of the crowd, however, seemed to skew towards high school-levels of young; so young that, while on line for the opportunity to purchase a round of overpriced Sixpoint beers for my friends and I, two teenage girls approached me, wondering if I’d be willing to buy them a pair of even more egregiously marked domestic light beers (I, obviously, declined).

There’s something odd about realizing that you’re likely one of the oldest people, who isn’t a parent, at a concert for a band that hasn’t released a record in ten years. Give Up was probably one of the most important records of my late-teens; the emotions expressed on the album were the sorts that I could relate to at that age, so it was only natural for my younger self to gravitate toward the band and their genre. And, while it would make sense for people my age to attend a Postal Service reunion tour in 2013, I left the show feeling like the creepy older guy at the Twilight premiere. Only I realized that wasn’t the creepy older guy at the Postal Service show, Ben Gibbard was the creepy older guy at the Postal Service show: he’s thirty-seven years old and performing music that fifteen year olds can relate to. (All credit for this goes to the hilarious Hari Kondabolu who has a terrific stand-up bit about attending a Weezer concert at 27.)

After a certain age, many records which may have, at one time, held great significance in our lives, no longer resonate. It’s not that we’ve matured beyond the point of mindless entertainment – after all, the Lonely Island released one of the most enjoyable albums of the year – it’s that the specific themes of anger and sorrow inherent in the types of music most adolescent males listen to aren’t relevant to the lives of adults with real-world responsibilities. Listening, today, to the discographies of groups such as the Postal Service, Death Cab for Cutie, Brand New or even The Smiths serves only as an aural portal to our youths – their lyrics, for as much as we may have once loved their music, have little practical application for anyone over the age of twenty-two (if not younger). 

The same can be said for much Eminem’s catalog, including his most recent release, the “sequel” to his wildly popular Marshall Mathers LP. The Marshall Mathers LP 2 (which shall henceforth be referred to as MMLP2) rehashes many of the same themes as its predecessor – mommy issues (“Brianless”), daddy issues (“Rhyme or Reason”), shitty ex-girlfriends (“So Much Better”), self-deprication and the overall dickishness of Mr. Mathers (“Asshole”) – but with a receding ability to generate forceful verses or signature hooks. Even on a track such as “Rap God,” which is essentially a six minute showcase of Eminem’s technical prowess (including a fifteen second clip with 97 total words), the lyrics are such a barrage of continual homophobic slurs* that it’s impossible to rap along with, even if one were able to keep up with his flow (which, this author can attest to, you probably cannot).

*How many mainstream rappers still casually use “fag” or its derivatives? This seems indefensible. 

If MMLP2 has any highlights, the foremost has to be the ubiquitous, Rihanna-featuring “The Monster,” on which her addictive chorus saves the audience from Eminem’s otherwise weak verses.* “Love Game,” which features Kendrick Lamar (as well as a good deal of sexism) and samples the Mindbenders’ “The Game of Love,” sounds so unlike the two that it actually works.

*If Rihanna wasn’t also one of the biggest pop stars on the planet, she could probably carve out a nice career as the new Nate Dogg. Since about 2008, it’s seems as if a Rihanna hook has been a rite of passage for every hip-hop star in the same way that a Nate Dogg track  was for a ten year period starting in 1994. If, for whatever reason, she decided to give up her solo career, she’d have a pretty great fallback option.

Despite these highlights and Eminem’s masterful technique, it’s slightly discomfiting to listen to any forty-one year old man complain about his broken childhood, let alone one doing so for the umpteenth time in the public spotlight. While Relapse and Recovery  weren’t up to the standards of his early trilogy of albums (The Slim Shady LP, MMLP, and The Eminem Show) for so many different reasons, they at least covered newer material, exposing a side of Eminem’s life that we hadn’t previously seen.

The album’s opener, “Bad Guy,” is a follow-up to MMLP‘s best track, “Stan,” this time told from the point of view of Stan’s younger brother, Matthew – it’s not nearly as strong as the original, but how many sequels can ever live up to their predecessors? Therein lies the problem with The Marshall Mathers LP 2.

As a general rule of thumb, most sequels to previously successful records (or movies) are poor ideas, mostly because they’re usually made out of desperation, much like MMLP2 – the majority of sequels are nothing more than a moneygrab. Aside from Raekwon’s Only Built 4 Cuban Linx…Pt. II, and Dr. Dre’s 2001 (or The Chronic: 2001, its original title)*, it’s difficult to think of any that have achieved nearly the same (let alone better) critical acclaim as their originals. [It should be noted that by “sequels,” I’m referring to albums being released a significant period of time after the original – so Lil Wayne’s Tha Carter 1-3 or Young Jeezy’s Thug Motivation series don’t qualify.]

*Speaking of Dr. Dre, where the hell is he on this record? Eminem and Rick Rubin clearly don’t work well together, but you know who Em works really well with? 

That goal is even more difficult to accomplish given the fact that Eminem’s makes what is essentially emo music for white trash hip-hop fans. It also doesn’t help that most of Em’s pop culture references on MMLP2 are hilariously outdated – instead of being funny, like he was earlier in his career, it feels like he’s making dad jokes. It’s oddly creepy for a man of his age to make bad jokes and sing about how greatly his life would improve if his girlfriend would “drop dead” with the same emotion as a fourteen-year-old signing along to “Sic Transit Gloria.”

Unless the overarching purpose of releasing the Marshall Mathers LP 2 was for Eminem to introduce himself to a new generation of angry middle schoolers, the obvious reality is that no record he releases will ever live up to his earlier work. The material on MMLP2 feels like a desperate attempt at rekindling what had made him successful in the first place; at some point you would expect for Eminem’s music to grow up along with his audience, but, more importantly, with Marshall Mathers himself.

 

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