Teachable Quarters

High school sports are an important part of the teen experience, teaching young people character, sportsmanship, cooperation and…racism?  If you’ve been frequenting the high school sports scene, you may have noticed that  racism has been added to the after school curriculum.

tweet mahopac

Take , for instance, the hostility leveled at players during and after a game in Mahopac,  New York.  Fists flew in the stands following taunts of the visiting team, including the N word.  When Mount Vernon, New York players took the game 43-40, the racial slurs from Mahopac players  continued in the Twitterverse.


Mahopac is not alone.  At a high school girls’ basketball game in Bedford, Indiana, Lawrence North High School players were greeted by Bedford North Lawrence High players wearing gorilla suits and safari gear.   Adults in this school dismissed criticism, saying costumes were worn throughout the season., giving students a quick lesson in doubling down rather than open up to listen.


Or take the case of the Phillipsburg boy’s wrestling team.  The boys posted this picture after beating their rivals from Paulsboro High School.  The picture, featuring two of the wrestlers wearing pointed hoods, drew criticism, followed by a team apology.

What is interesting isn’t the frequency–though that is worth noticing in what too many think is a post racial world–but what follows these events.  Out come tempered apologies as if their actions came as a surprise to the perpetrators themselves.


Young people in the process of learning to become adults make mistakes.  That “not knowing any better”, “not noticing “, and “not meaning anything” continue to be accepted as apologies for racist behavior seems to be a mistake the adults are making.   Besides, such statements strike me as insincere:  racist words and images are used precisely because of the power they wield.   Saying you don’t notice is at best an indicator of your ignorance of others’ and at worst a lie.


As America continues its inevitable march to being a majority minority country–meaning the majority of American’s will belong to a group we now consider minorities–educational institutions need to do what they can to foster greater understanding of race and culture.  Since you cannot understand what you don’t notice, people need to learn to see cultural difference with respect instead of fear or loathing.  Being aware of images and symbols of race is not hypersensitivity, it is cultural literacy, a key skill for every educated individual living in a multicultural country.  Schools seem like a perfect place to start.

Mistrial: Justice Denied

The jury is back in the Michael Dunn case, mistakenly dubbed the “Loud Music Case”.  A mistrial was declared on the main count:  the murder of  Jordan Davis.  Though he was found guilty on the lesser counts, the murder remains unresolved.  Once again, a young black man was killed, and the legal system supported his killer with the murky permissiveness of Stand your Ground.


George Zimmerman’s attorney Mark O’Mara wondered aloud on CNN if “perhaps Stand Your Ground has emboldened Dunn and other people to take the law into their own hands.”  Just six months before, this same attorney defended Zimmerman’s right to hide behind the law as he stalked and killed Trayvon Martin.  O’Mara further stated that he sees racial disparity in the system “all the time.”

How can the man who defend the law say that he knows the system that spawned it is racist? How can the boy listening to his favorite music with his friends be cast as villain by this law before he is even old enough to vote?

How can we say we care about our children in a country where lax gun laws, over-permisive self defense laws and a climate ripe with hate of all stripes results in the death of hundreds of children and thousands of people every year?


On the eve of Jordan Davis’ birthday, make a personal pledge that you will do what you can to stop the killing of young black men.  Get involved in nonprofits working to change gun laws and end Stand Your Ground.  Tell other people to get involved.  Talk to the people in your life about the impact of implicit and explicit racism on all people.  Hug the children in your life and teach them to fight for their rights.  Whatever you do, you can do something right now, this week, this year.

Thug / Life: When Keeping It Wrong Gets Real

Here’s that word again: thug.  You’ll remember that we talked about Seattle Seahawk’s Richard Sherman’s public skewering just a couple of weeks ago.  After a bragtastic post-game interview the twitter verse and TV were positivly abuzz with the word thug.


 There was some debate, some finger pointing and–most coherent of all–Richard Sherman’s own thoughtful analysis that the word thug has come to stand in for the n word as acceptable hate speech against black men.

thug timeline

To his point, a Google search of the word reports a sharp uptick in its use  in the last two decades.  Before you blame all that on hip hop, I’m pretty sure Fox news analysts who called Richard Sherman a thug aren’t bumping TuPac on the ride home.


This week the word thug is on trial–literally–in the case of Florida v. Michael Dunn.  Dunn is charged with shooting into a car of 4 teens, killing 17 year-old Jordan Davis.  He is defending himself with an affirmative defense, claiming he shot the teen in self-defense under Florida’s  abominable controversial Stand Your Ground law.


Rhonda Rouer testified in a Florida courtroom on Saturday in the trial of her fiancé.  Rouer testified that when she and Dunn pulled into the convenience store parking lot next to the victims’ Durango, he said to her, “I hate that thug music,” in reference to the music the teens were playing.  Lest you think this was an isolated “thug” and nothing should be made of it, consider this quote from Dunn himself:

The jail is full of blacks and they all act like thugs…. This may sound a bit radical, but if more people would arm themselves and kill these fucking idiots when they’re threatening you, eventually they may take the hint and change their behavior.

Dunn wrote those words from a jail cell where he sat charged with second-degree murder for killing a young boy whom he referred to as a thug just seconds before shooting him.

Sit with that irony for a second.

Words create the world around us.  Words are the material that we use to build societies.  Words like good, bad, man, woman, us and them set the boundaries of our culture, and help us decide what is worth doing and what isn’t, who deserves our compassion and who doesn’t.  Words matter.

Thug.  Trap.  Hood.  Gangsta.  Brute.  Beast.  Nigger.  These words are a chain tying men of African decent to centuries of oppression.  These words are used not in ignorance but presicely because they come packed with meaning, hate in four letters, a reminder of the persistence of racial prejudice and a time when such words were weapons wielded by lynch mobs.


Now the words are on the stand.  They come out of Rhonda’s mouth and in four letters point an accusing finger at the only the threat in the parking lot that night:  Dunn’s own racism.  Before Dunn had any interaction with the four young boys in the truck next to him, he had called them thugs– the last word in a coded chain of hate words going back to this country’s worst hours.  In other times, a man might have chosen a rope, or a whip, but Dunn chose a gun, and decided  who would live and who would die.

121126064123_Michael Dunn in court

He was a grown man with a deadly weapon.  According to Dunn’s own testimony the boys turned down their music when he asked, but when he heard swearing a few moments later he stated “I wasn’t asking for any more favors.”  He decided the punishment for noise was death, then claimed stand your ground justified his actions.

Jordan-DavisIt’s 2014, not 1814, so we free people of all races have to make sure our imperfect union does what it can to realize the dream of all men and women being created equal and where we have the right to life, liberty and loud music if we choose.  Just like those men before him, we must hold Michael Dunn accountable for the racism and violence he visited on his victims.   Let’s pray the jury makes that gun toting thug aware of the weight of words with a simple “guilty.”

Zimmerman vs DMX: Why You Need to Stop Watching

It’s official:  racist murderer acquitted vigilante George Zimmerman will be stepping into the ring to fight rapper DMX in a “celebrity” fight.  Adding insult to outrage, the announcement comes on what would have been the 19th birthday of Trayvon Martin, the child Zimmerman shot and killed February 26, 2012.


Despite the primal draw of vengeance, I’d be wrong to not point out what the problem is with this upcoming event and the conversation sure to surround it.

The Glorification of George Zimmerman


Since his acquittal for killing Trayvone Martin, Zimmerman has had a hard time staying out of the spotlight.  Most recently he sold–and is being sued over– a painting copied from an AP journalist’s photo.  Coupled with his upcoming fight, we can guess he needs the cash, though he denies he will keep any prize money earned in the fight.   More seriously he was involved in several incidents resulting in law enforcement intervention, including threatening his girlfriend and his father with a weapon in separate incidents.  Plainly stated, this is a man who has killed one person, and has threatened to kill several others.  He has multiple less serious interactions with law enforcement including domestic violence, threats and assault–if you can call those allegations less serious.  This is a troubled and violent person strongly attached to weapons that make him feel powerful.  In no way should we as a culture elevate this man’s visibility or credibility by labeling him a celebrity.

Acquitted vigilante killer Bernard Goetz
Acquitted vigilante killer Bernard Goetz

But the problem is that we are the kind of culture that has elevated the visibility of the violent and deranged.  Serial killers,  vigilantes and those acquitted in the courts but not in the court of public opinion all have found fame and attention.  Zimmerman joins others like O.J. Simpson, New York vigilante Bernard Goetz and Casey Anthony  who disgust us even as we keep watching.  That Zimmerman keeps sucking up air time is an uncomfortable reminder of the undesirable state of our celebrity culture.

Racist Dialogue


The murder of Trayvon Martin  and the acquittal of his killer is yet another wound opened in the long battle for racial justice and equity in America.  Even as a parade of stand-your-ground and police brutality cases cross the news ticker, loud chatter in other circles is lined up on the side against racial understanding, complaining of reverse racism and black domination.  Have no doubt that the men in the ring are fighting proxy in the bigger battle between staunch racists and the people of color who stand, still unjustly, as the target of their hate.

Fighters James Jeffries and Jack Johnson
Fighters James Jeffries and Jack Johnson

Like the Great White Hope’s fight with  master fighter Jack Johnson, boxing often pits pugilists of different races against each other, symbolically  fighting the race war that heats up today’s dialogue on social networks and in too many living rooms and streets across America.   Despite a steady insistence by the lawyers that the Zimmerman case wasn’t about race, the court of public opinion recognized no such fantasy.  The divisions split open during Zimmerman’s trial have festered in the meantime.  Allowing another public fight, and the guarantee of the nastiest of exchanges between races over its outcome is sure to aggravate an already hostile racial climate at a time when we need more unity, not less.

The Opponent


When fight promoter Damon Feldman opened up his inbox for people interested in going toe to toe with Zimmerman, he got over 10,000 applications.  Earlier in the week, rapper The Game came out and announced that he would fight Zimmerman.  Despite saying he would fight anyone, Zimmerman punked out declined Game’s offer and instead called out Kanye West, then settled on DMX.  While DMX has showed he’s a tough dog, his battles with the law, drugs and himself have left him less than ring-ready.  Instead of the glorious avenger, DMX is cast by the promoters as another black male here to bolster George Zimmerman’s damaged ego.  The tale of the tape shows the fight will allow Zimmerman to continue his m.o. of trying to stack the deck.  Typical.

match up of potential opponents
match up of potential opponents

The serious and sad heart of this story beat in the chest of Trayvon Martin.  Too often in our popular culture what matters most, what we need to heal, untangle or unite is trampled by spectacle.  Maybe like you, I would also love to see some kind of justice, no matter how base.  But before you click that pay per view order button, let’s both remember that there is no justice at the end of fists full of dollars.  Each of us has to choose to feed the beast of frenzy or find other ways to find the justice we seek.

UPDATE:  The Zimmerman DMX fight has been cancelled.  All the outrage matters–keep thinking and talking about issues like these, and of course reading smntks!

Do You Have To Be Right To Not be Treated Wrong?

Richard Sherman is $7875.00 away from putting this week’s scream-obsessed circus behind him.  The Seattle Seahawks’ cornerback has taken the week to turn an outpouring of criticism over a live on-camera interview into an opportunity to school us in stereotypes.  Now he just needs to pay his league fine and go on to play in the league’s biggest event where he will have the chance to respond on the field.  In case you missed it, at the conclusion of the Seahawks Forty-niners playoff game, Erin Andrews stopped Sherman for a little post-game chit chat.

Sherman delivered an earsplitting takedown of his rival on the field.  Within hours the Twitterverse lit up with criticism of Sherman’s “outburst”, and TV followed suit with a days worth of attention devoted to Sherman’s interview that used the word thug 625 times, according to Deadspin.  It didn’t take long for Sherman, not known for being quiet, to shoot back with some commentary of his own.

 Instead of delivering a dose of profanity, Sherman wrangled the criticism and elevated the conversation.  While he brushed off any implication that the criticism may destroy him, he did point out that he was bothered by the use of the word thug as a code word for the infamous n-word.  He correctly reminded us that in American parlance, when they call him a thug, they don’t mean that he is lurking around with brass knuckles, but that he is one in a long line of totally expected black brutes.

Is he right?  Sure.  You don’t need a word that starts with N to ring the bell of racism against black men.  What other choices do you have?  Try thug, brute, street, gangster, threat, hood, ape, pimp, dropout and a host of other names that trace a line decade by decade back through American history.  These words come and go like fashion, but the pattern of racism persists.


Richard Sherman, Ivy League graduate has proved that he is not these things.  He’s chosen to use this moment to draw our attention to the use of code words in common conversation to link black men who are public figures to long standing racist historical misrepresentations.  Sooo excellent.  This time it turns out that Sherman was the wrong dude to mess with.


But here’s the thing.  You shouldn’t have to be the right person to not be treated the wrong way.  Whether you are a Stanford graduate or just a guy on the grind, no man deserves to be defined by stereotypes.