It’s time to take a moment or a few to begin a period of reassessment for us folk of the darker U.S. persuasion; that would be us, the original American “exotic other” – us black folk. Peeps of the alleged polar opposite, though this isn’t about you, it always is, so feel free to chime in.
See, there’s this problem we’re having.
One side there’s a faction of us, manifested in the world of sports, who began piping up after The Palace Revolution. You really found your voice on the “dark streets” of Las Vegas during the most recent NBA All-Star weekend. After the USA Today sports section front with 39 black faces out of 41 NFL villains backed by allegations of Abu-Ghraib-type treatment of dogs by Michael Vick, you finally feel free to bloom.
On the other side there are voices reminding us of our history here in this country. These folk try to conjure visions of a black people where “street cred” actually means something. Street cred, the currency of black cool; the way we have always fought oppression, the way we always will; They want the other side to be real to maintain that street cred like it’s some sort of Am Ex for black people.
Both sides are “personed” (that’s manned and “womened”) by older folk too old for the beginning of hip-hop culture.
They were the 12-14-year olds taking already pro-Dr. Martin Luther King and pro-Malcolm X sides. Today, they are in their late 40s to mid-50s and they are waging a very public black elite battle for pole position-sole position as the monolithic “voice of black America.”
In the middle of this mess are those of us who grew up Nintendo to PS3. We grew up with Apple as a computer as much as it is a fruit to eat. We grew up at the middle-end of Public Enemy and the nascent rise of “Amerikkk’a Most Wanted” to “The Chronic.” We evolved in the Internet boom where trickle-down meant we could multi-task and get our street hustle and our above-board hustle on simultaneously. Or we could do education, still not play the game, and, to some degree fit into black bohemia – makin’ money off our sorta-kinda revolution talk.
You know that place. It’s the spot where spoke-word poetry became relevant (where’d it go? did you hear it as it got too deep and was pushed to the margins?) and “niggaz” talked about finding a better way through neuro-chemicals like black Timothy Learys talking of crap like amethyst crystals guiding us on our way like they 10-carat hit rock crack diamonds we could trade for immortality – and relevance.
Now we swing to T.I. and cling to Diddy like yachts, encrusted watches and hos in every city are the measures of men; like we live in a hall of mirrors black Disneyworld where Snow Black and Skinderella were both once pole dancers waiting for their Prince Roc-a-Fella; no image is quite right, or quite real.
Problem is, we’re all right to some degree, but we’re also all very wrong. See, the rub is that all three sides swear progress has been made in a country where the Supreme Court just this fiscal and judicial season had the bleepin’ cojones to use the landmark Brown v. Board of Education anti-segregation of schools ruling to segregate schools in Seattle.
Now, if that doesn’t tell everybody exactly where we stand today, nothing will.
See, we have black sportswriters and talking heads – men – who act like Tony Dungy and Lovie Smith was the Dr. King’s vision manifest. And they think Henry Aaron was nothing short of a baseball version of Bill Russell. We have black sportswriters and talking heads – women – who see these same men as their black fathers, strong and enduring in the face of a form of “real” racism. Their sense of the fairy tale is inextricably tied to these men to the point where Dungy, Smith, Aaron and the like are no longer humans with real strengths, but also with real-life fallacies, and very real faults.
Around and around on the ferris wheel we go, led into a blinding sun, eyes open, retinas burned to a crisp; we can’t see if we need to.
All of these writers and talking television heads forget that Ron Artest was being physically assailed by Ben Wallace – the real agent provocateur of The Palace Revolution. They forget that Artest, in a classic anger management, removal tactic lied down on the scorer’s table to extricate himself from a potentially volatile situation, only to be assailed again by scornful, hating white spectators. They forget that during NBA All-Star Weekend they were on the streets, too. They forget that they were part of the overreaching skin color of choice in Casinoville for those days. They forget that those 41 faces, 39 of whom are black constitute part of a paltry 2% of the NFL. They forget that 2% should be a target number for crime in the U.S., and not a number used to say, “The difference between “them” and me is….”
Today we use Michael Vick as the black messiah, harbinger of the fall of “Black Man.” One side of black sportswriters hates Vick with a passion reserved normally only for love. Those writers on the other side and in the middle fail to see that the haters actually advance our cause with “society at large.”
Because of the venom-spewers we can turn to the rest of the country and say, “This is what you too often sound like to us.” But do we do this?
Instead we choose a battleground on which to fight that was already chosen for us – a fighting field called “hip-hop;” that ephemeral thing that only exists as a shadow substitute for a moment in the illilimitably-faceted cycles of a culture and a peoples.
And what do we get for it? More columns and commentaries by “Sleep n’ Eat?” A guest appearance on television by that famous hip-hop sports journalist, “See My ‘X’ Hat?” Meanwhile we absolutely sleep – I’m talking about a dead snore – on a crooked NBA referee and what his presence in our games really means.
See, this cat’s significance can be viewed thusly: while we are fighting over some shit called “hip-hop culture” in sports and society in general, the real thugs, the Mafia, are still doing what they’ve always done in this country; making sure-fire money off the backs of mostly black people – professional basketball players, in this case – with the aid of a predictably weak white governing intermediary.
The “I Have a Dream”-ers and the “We’ve been hoodwinked” people have their pertinent places in history.
To forget them is foolish. However, to live in those skins today is equally foolish. Sports writers in today’s climate who follow those antiquated notions seem to fail to realize that those boxes are nothing but mildewed basement boxes – and they need to be replaced.
And the journalists and television talking heads ones in the middle are often so preoccupied with their fashion dreads and fashion nappy heads and – for some – their glittering barely-semi-precious stones to see that that an “angle” and “exposure” only means that their byline actually reads, “Mantan.”
If you want to know the true nature of thug mentality and you really want to know how important making money off the books is, to a community and to the economy as a whole, and you want to know how the game really works – don’t ask Michael Vick.
Ask the men who Tim Donaghy, in the end, really worked for.
D. K. WILSON is one of the editors of the excellent website on sports, race and politics, The Starting Five.