How to Make Not-Racist Fashion (And Why You Should)

The latest trend in fashion seems to be apologizing for your overtly racist design that you just didn’t notice was racist af.  Sporting the trend this week is Burberry who sent this hoodie with a noose attached down the runway at London Fashion Week.

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Hot on the heels of the Virginia Governer’s moonwalking defense of the blackface pictures in his yearbook, Gucci showcased their blackface sweater just in time to contribute to one of shittiest Black History Months in recent memory.  Prada was an early adopter, releasing their blackface space monkey keychain last year.  They are also first to move to address the controversy that embroiled them, recently moving to create a diversity council to address internal issues of racism in the brand headed by the always justice minded Ava duVernay.  Let’s hope the trend of a turn around catches on too.

What is it with these fashion brands–major design houses that have stood for decades, filtering the zeitgeist of a hundred year through their fabric?  Shouldn’t they, the arbiters of the resonant images at any given moment, be most attuned to the long-standing tropes of anti-black racism?  Are their claims of ignorance and innocence to be taken at face value? When racism is top of mind, showing up everywhere in news, entertainment and even fashion with active discussions of cultural appropriation, that’s hard to believe.  Times are changing and it’s time fashion catches up.

18- to 29-year-olds are least likely among whites to see blackface as acceptable

My mother used to say that ignorance of the law is no defense.  Perhaps if this was 1619 when humans were trafficked to Jamestown, terrified to discover they were property in this strange land, then we might believe that the ideas and symbols that mark white supremacy had yet to take hold.   If it was 1719, before lynching became the terrorist weapon of choice in slavery and then during Jim Crow we could claim that the noose was a tool disconnected from ideas of race, and a sweatshirt had yet to mean anything; Maybe if this was 1819, when the Transatlantic slave trade had been outlawed, with European and American abolitionists pushing back against the continued expansion of colonial powers, and the rise of America’s the minstrel shows still a few years away  we could believe they were unfamiliar with the significance of red lips in black skin.  But it’s 2019.

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It’s 2019, seven years after Trayvon Martin was killed in cold blood by George Zimmerman and a jury of adults blamed a boy in a hoodie instead of a man with a gun.  There was lots of public debate about the lowly hoodie as gateway clothing to criminality: Geraldo Rivera said Trayvon Martin’s hoodie was as much responsible for his death as George Zimmerman. one of a hundred talking heads debating whether a hoodie was probable cause for execution in urban areas.  Spoiler alert we decided it was.  Just two years after Trayvon Martin was killed, 21-year old Ricardo Sans was shot for wearing a hoodie and ‘looking suspicious.” Trayvon Martins hoodie stands as a powerful symbol of the complex and problematic demonization of black people in America.  It’s hard to deny the contemporary power of the hoodie or the ubiquity of its representation in relation to race.

It’s six years after the start of the Black Lives Matter movement when black people took to the streets to demand justice and then took to the voting booth, electing hundreds of people of color to local, state and federal office, passing laws to protect the rights of black people and to curtail extrajudicial police killing.

It’s been five years since the fashion world acknowledged the shifting landscape of race.  As early as 2014 the conflict over racial violence was showing up on runways. Pieces like this protest sign inspired Chanel bag, or Pyer Moss’s in your face runway show were all over the Spring shows. Other brands incorporated the signs of BLM resistance into their work, inspiring trends, slogans on shirts, and whole collections and emerging fashion movements that appropriate ever-evolving black style.

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It’s been four years since the start of #Oscars so White,  a soul-cry calling for more- and more accurate representation of people of color in the entertainment industry.  It’s been four years of some of the best movies and TV shows made for and by black people, from Get Out to Moonlight. In the last year alone we’ve been treated to Black Panther and Wrinkle In Time, Blackklansman,  Widows and on the small screen Queen Sugar, Atlanta, Blackish, Insecure, Dear White People, The Chi, and a dozen other shows. Black artists filmmakers and writers are reshaping the image of Blackness in a glorious renaissance.  There is plenty to inspire designers far removed from the boring tropes of the past four hundred years.

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It is a year after the Equal Justice Institute opened The Legacy Museum and the National Memorial to Peace and Justice, commemorating America’s history lynching.  There have been no less than 175,000 news articles about lynching in the last year alone, not including articles about three different actual lynchings of black people perpetrated in 2018.

Its been long enough for major brands to get staff, training, and resources to make sure they understand how to navigate the shifting culture their artistry seeks to affect and reflect.

While brands are quick to apologize, and some like Prada are putting resources to moving their understanding forward, brands watch from the sideline don’t have to take these hits.  Companies of all sizes and industries need to do their work to find the intersections between their work and an increasingly diverse world. For content creators that means familiarizing yourself and your team with racist tropes.  The good news is that this information is not hidden for those that seek it.  Cultural critics (like me!) been writing and teaching about racist images for many years.  Informing yourself is one part history, one part media literacy and one part acting like a frigging human.  If you are ready to go beyond googling “racism”, here are some tips for keeping your fashion house on the right side of racial justice.

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Get that it matters. The time has come to stop using racist imagery. It’s not clear from what we know that all of these fashion accidents are truly accidents.  The most generous read assumes that people just didn’t know, and frankly, in this day and age that is pretty hard to swallow.  For the designers who try to subtly slip less-than-political-correct imagery into their content, a warning: the cost for cheeky racism is steep.  After the row over H & M’s King of the jungle shirt, the company stock dropped 62% in one quarter. Boycotts are common and effective in the age of social media, not to mention the canceling power of Black Twitter is best avoided if you want your brand to flourish.  If someone on your content team thinks a subtle nod to racist tropes is edgy and will help drive traffic, its time to either drop a dime to management or dump your stock options before the boycotts start.

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Know your history. Racist stereotypes develop in cultural context, reflecting the ideas and values of their place and time.  Understanding where racist stereotypes come from and how those stereotypes supported the oppression of marginalized people can help you better understand why it’s totally not cool to use imagery like blackface or nooses in your fashion.  Stereotypes are not constructed from real common characteristics of a group of people so much as they are made of the mainstream’s beliefs about a group, a collage of assumptions and projections, not facts, that help to support the narrative that those in power want to thrive.  Blackface is a set of visual codes–black skin, red lips, wide eyes–and each part of that code was designed to communicate the marginalization and dehumanization of black people.

Understand how stereotypes function. Stereotypes are shorthand codes that communicate not only identity but also ideology.  You cannot separate the negative ideology that is the flesh beneath the stereotype’s skin. Stereotypes teach us what people deserve, and racist stereotypes effectively communicate that racial hierarchies reflect natural truths, ensuring their enduring power to define and oppress minorities. The ignorance and animalism encoded in blackface cannot be separated out from those codes.  Even if in the course of artistic examination an artist is inclined to use these images to challenge the conventions of the code, the audience is unlikely to be able to receive the code in this new way without being primed or prepared in advance to see something other than what they have always seen.   A powerful example of the enduring nature of stereotypes happened with a Swedish artist commissioned to make a provocative piece of art for a show about provocative art created a work he called Ni***r Cake, an interactive blackface cake to draw attention to female genital mutilation in recent African immigrant populations in Sweden.  At the reception, the sobering and difficult recasting of blackface was lost on the laughing Cultural minister and guests in the image below that went viral, resulting in widespread criticism of the artist and the firing of the cultural minister.  Individual design decisions are not enough to reshape the powerful coded communication of stereotypes.

Hire diverse teams. A lack of diversity in the room can lead to bad decisions, as we have seen over and over again.  Each of us has our own filter and our own blind spots.  Having a diverse team ensures a wider perspective, allowing your team a broader filter for capturing problematic content.    Hiring diverse creative talent is one way to ensure that the right ideas get through and the wrong ones get caught early on.  Diverse teams mean more than having an intern pipeline, it means diversity up and down the org chart. Hiring diverse teams at all layers of an organization creates a stronger network of fail-safes, and empowers members of your team to speak up.  This is a must–you cannot accurately and authentically represent a population without having that perspective represented in a strong way in your team and throughout your process.  And if you don’t want to reflect and connect with racially diverse populations you are shutting out a growing 40% of the American population who identifies as a minority.

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Diversity is not inclusion (and you need both).  Diversity is the mix in the room and inclusion is getting everybody active in achieving and maintaining a healthy equitable culture. You cannot hire your way to an inclusive organization without providing the training and resources to make sure all of your employees are responsible for maintaining inclusivity.  Put plainly–the white people in your company need to be as responsible for creating an inclusive environment as the employees of color.   Organizations often hire people of different races thinking their mere presence will change the ideas and thinking of other people in the room, and usually without any extra compensation for the task.  This is a set up for people of color brought into culturally ignorant organizations and prevents employees less comfortable with race from growing the skills they will need to stay relevant in an increasingly diverse environment. Instead, organizations need to provide training, coaching, and resources to support teams in doing their part to make sure every member of your organization represents your values around inclusion.

The truth is culture is complex, more so now than at any point in the last 50 years. The stakes are higher for brands who have to work hard to connect in our cluttered media environment, and the costs are steep for companies that refuse to acknowledge consumers’ increasing desire for culturally competent companies.  But the days of disregarding people of color, claiming ignorance and laughing at white supremacy’s lame jokes are gone. I hereby declare the moment for mea culpas over.  No more oh-so-sorry apologies for overt racism a simple google search could have averted.  Fashion brands, do you work to wake up or bear the righteous wrath of the Twitter police and the pain of the boycotts that follow.

The Divided States of Play

Man, we love our guns–and why shouldn’t we?  We have a right to love our guns up like new puppies.  Guns are everywhere in our culture, and since we want our kids to grow up with the full American experience, we love guns for kids.  We even love kids with guns!  Unless they’re black…then, no gun for you.

This week, 13-year-old Tyre King was shot and killed by police in Columbus, Ohio after police chased him following a report of an armed robbery.  Cornered in an alley, police report King leveled a pistol at them, prompting them to shoot him dead [though another boy arrested in the case contradicts the police story].  Turns out, the pistol was a replica BB gun, no more dangerous to the cops than an easy bake oven.

But toy guns have proven to be dangerous to toy-gun-toting black boys.  Tamir Rice was committing no crime when Chicago police rolled up on him and killed him in a matter of seconds, even though dispatch had passed on that the gun Rice head may not be real.  John Crawford didn’t even have a chance to pay for the toy gun that got him killed: police shot him in Dayton Ohio while he was still shopping in Wal-mart with the toy after a fellow shopper called 911.  The pattern was so disturbing that California Governor Jerry Brown pushed legislation to address such fatalities following the shooting of 13-year-old Andy Lopez.  The law aimed at manufacturers to halt the sale of toy guns unless the entire exterior was white of a color–but in a world of pink pistols(yes that’s a real Hello Kitty gun) and 3D printed guns this measure is likely to face future problems.

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If a toy could be just cause for police to kill your child, then why have these toys at all? Outside city streets where cops are engaged in urban warfare is a whole world where kids with guns are good clean fun. According to an article in the Injury Prevention Journal, 3.2 million BB and pellet guns are sold in the US each year. BB guns are available for purchase without a licence or age restriction in most states. They may well show up at a Christmas party or wrapped in birthday finery in a home you care about.  In this parallel place of play, children pine for tons of guns.  Adults concern over supplying these toys revolves primarily around the danger of putting someone’s eye out, as famously captured by the movie A Christmas Story.

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I had the great pleasure of spending some family time up in the lovely White Mountains of New Hampshire.  We had campfires and barbeques, went to the lake and of course the local attractions–Zeb’s Candy store and the army navy store.  As long as I can remember, from the mountains to the Cape, a trip the Army Navy store was always on my brother’s agenda.  Now with three kids of his own, they too can’t wait to get there.   This year they wanted their favorite Aunt to come too.

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So off we went to the war store.  Now, I love me a good post-apocalyptic smack down series, but in real life, I’m a lover, not a fighter. I’m not naive to the ways of the world, but I also believe that nearly all problems can be solved nonviolently.  I was struck first that this is America–we glorify war, death, and violence even as we play cop to those worldwide who would use violence for their own ends.  Here at home, we have stores full of fake guns, then use those same fake guns to justify the death of young black and brown boys. Our heroes are all drenched in blood and stores like this are their preschools.  Let’s shop!

Does your baby coo for law and order?  How about this fabulous onesie, complete with a fake truncheon.  Don’t worry about outgrowing those  blues–you can just size up to the full toy kit so they can keep toddling at their local protests.  PS Get Parent of the Year for wearing the matching full body riot suit!

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Game of Thrones play more your style?  Strap on these knuckle knives for a fun time.  I’m sure these sharpened brass knifeckles are super safe and not for violence of any kind.  The same goes for this wall of swords and battle axes.  Strictly decorative.  For people who want to decorate their home with lethal weapons.  It’s a look.

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Ahh, the heart of the fun–the Airsoft BB gun wall.  Here is a shot of the long guns of fun–just a part of the 30-foot wall covered with toy guns, all looking completely real except for a small (removable for the resourceful) orange tip.   Not only do they look real, they are also real expensive$150 to $250+.  These are no five dollar cap gun–they look like the real deal and they shoot little plastic balls that don’t worry are no problem for the environment.

Truncheons and knifeckles and guns, oh my, what a toy store!  In case you have trouble reading the room, you can read a few books to help you have even more fun doing things like surviving a societal meltdown or building bombs with butane lighters.

So if the Army Navy store, which that day was doing brisk business full of sunburned vacationers out looking for a souvenir of summer family time, is considered a family friendly activity, full of games and toys to bring your family together, then why do young boys keep getting shot by the police for playing with these toys?

Why are guns and weapons good clean fun for my white nieces and nephews, but deadly play for my students of color? What could possibly be the difference between the patrons of the gun aisle and Tamir Rice, or John Crawford?

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Play is the work of children, Piaget said.  Play is how they learn about the way the world works, what the limits are and what their place within it is.  Some children in our country are privileged to play with weapons and wield violence with no consequences.  Parents stand by proudly as children learn to shoot with no sense of the fear parents of color face preparing their boys to face a culture too often cocked and loaded. Some children get killed for playing the same games their white counterparts play with impunity. Some children think a toy gun will look like a toy to cops, thinking it will keep them safe from lethal trouble at least. They don’t realize that in their small black hand cops will see only a deadly weapon with a criminal attached.

If a child is a child, and a toy is a toy, then we are left with race-again-as the factor determining who lives and plays versus who dies at the hands of the state.  It’s time for common-sense gun legislation to extend to the guns we buy for kids:  it’s common sense to keep all our kids safe.

 

 

 

 

Five Sips of Lemonade

The power of the best artists lay not only in their ability to show you the now but their skill and imagination to show us what’s next. There can be no doubt that Lemonade shows us a more sophisticated and woke Beyonce.

Two weeks ago Beyonce released her visual album Lemonade like a Kraken, instantly flooding the interwebs with thinkpieces dissecting everything from the symbolism of Nigerian facepaint to the marriage of her parents.  She was even able to crowd Trump out of the headlines for a few hours, and make MSNBC question if they ousted Melissa Harris-Perry too soon.

By the following Monday Lemonade was spiking downloads at Jay-Z flagging music service Tidal.  A day later, traditional release of the album propelled it to the top of the charts.  After sipping this instant classic for a few weeks, it seems unimaginable that we ever lived without it.

The visual album is an hour-long piece that is more visual poem than music video.  If you haven’t seen it, it’s worth the time–beautiful, lyrical and rich in every way.  It is a full meal, not meant to be captured in a few screen shots, that walks us through the stages of a relationship in crisis from intuition through anger, apathy to hope.

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What has made the video such a breakout piece is the powerful pro-black woman story.  Rarely are black women represented in complex ways that allow their full humanity to show through.

Following the monster release comes a wave of products, tours and gossip magazine covers. Now we’re left with the fallout, the dregs of the hype, the parodies.  This is the perfect time to look at Lemonade not for the hype of what it was to be, but to see what it really was.  Pop culture is a dish best served cold.

Beyonce has been a star since she was a child,and her discography as a solo artist has helped her achieve megastardom.  She is a talented singer and dancer.  Her albums celebrated independent women, then she  became Sasha fierce, fell drunk in love, sipped watermelon, and  turned into Mrs. Carter in that order.  Until recently she was not particularly woke, so even though Lemonade is powerful, and recent times have changed many of us, it’s worth a careful critique of Lemonade before we make Beyonce the head of the black feminist movement.

  1. Lemonade is for Black women

Mainstream media is made for mainstream audiences–and in America, that means white audiences.  When we see diverse faces in media, that doesn’t mean that the story comes from diverse voices.  Even ABC’s multicultural programming is inclusive of white audiences–think the president in Scandal or the whitewashing of Eddie Huang’s Fresh Off the Boat.

Lemonade creates a space for black women that is about, for and starring black women with tons of diversity throughout the extensive credits for the album.  The representation in the video celebrates black women in all their diversity, from the mothers of slain boys to the new breed of pop culture superheroes like Amandla Stenberg.  Seeing a range of women like this beautifully and powerfully represented definitely gives me life.

That doesn’t mean that it is ONLY for black women.  It may be created for black women but anyone can consume it. Like Vogue, or America for white people.  If you want to comment on it, just make sure you check our own privilege (this may be time-consuming if you haven’t thought of it before, Piers Morgan), do your research (I’m looking at you, Fox), prepare for clapback and absolutely avoid telling black women what they should or should not do and stick just to your point of view on the video.

2. It takes a village to make lemonade

The visual album to Lemonade is a powerful and beautiful piece of work crafted by a team of young artist and creatives.  remember, even Michelangelo didn’t paint that whole ceiling alone.  While Queen Bey reigns as the artist, like lots of famous artists, she farms out the massive work here.   On the visual album, Kahlil Joseph is listed as co-director with a classroom’s worth of amazing directors and cinematographers taking on parts of the visual album.

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In addition to the music of lemonade, poet Warsan Shire is heavily featured in the visual album.  I must admit the most moving words of Lemonade for me belonged to the poet. Her language is powerful and spare, leaving no words to hide behind.  Here’s hoping we hear much more from this young lion.

Let’s not forget the fashion that made the video a feast for the eyes.

From the streets to the spirits to the days of the old south Lemonade proves the power of Bey and associates to slay…..as long as you don’t want to wear pants, not a lot of pants..just a few, but not really about pants.

Lemonade’s look is a world of black girl magic with nary a press and curl in sight.  While many of Bey signature looks are from high-end designers like the Roberto Cavalli Dress, the whole is interspersed with street wear and plenty of African wax prints to render the style  her own.  Be careful of spreads that promise you the look for less–

Not sure any of these will really give you the look of a $4000 gown.  While Bey’s original look is beautiful, like all things associated with Lemonade, this look takes long cash.

3. Lemonade isn’t cheap

As amazing as Lemonade is as art, when we I to check the price tag, I notice committing to Lemonade fully is going to cost you.  Lemonade premiered on HBO with solid ratings–though notably behind Dragonball Z.  Initially, the album could only be downloaded via Tidal.  Guess she wasn’t too mad at Jay to throw a bone to the company the couple took a hit on last year.   The album sold nearly 654,000 copies the first week and all 12 tracks made the charts, breaking Taylor Swift’s record.  Seems like breaking up is good business for Bey.

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The Queen is also launching a 40 city tour with tickets priced like used cars that’s selling out and adding shows.  Before the tour gets hot she’s already grossed 100 mil. Can’t make the show?  She had updated merch on her website that is sure to sell out just like her athleisure line.  All in all, this stands to be one of her most lucrative year in years.  Maybe she should be thanking Becky with the good hair. Hmm, is there a Lemonade weave line potentially?

Bey assured us in Formation that the best revenge is getting your paper and she sure seems hell bent on massive revenge.  Seems like her fans are willing to pay to make it right. Even Jay-Z  will get a cut with his credits and a boost to Tidal.  Who said cheaters never win?

4. Lemonade is problematic (great, but problematic; chill please, Beyhive)

I watched the video, and I listened to the album and surprise : they are not the same.  The visual album is rich with the words and work of a whole host of people and seems to tell a big story about being a black woman in this world.  The musical album, by contrast, seems a more intimate and personal story.  Stripped of Warsan Shire’s poetry, and the powerful visuals that call  up our ancestors from West Africa and the south, the album is the personal story of a woman scorned.   Fox News criticized Beyonce for being angry and militant in her new work but [with the exception of Formation which stands as its own piece separate from the narrative and I think is not part of the visual album. It seems much newer than other work, just tacked on at the end] the album is apolitical. Nowhere in the album are any words that directly address the storms being weathered by Black America nor the women shepherding us through it.

Instead, Lemonade is full of emotions, the pain of love lost, and the fight to get it back. These emotions are deeply relatable for anyone cheated on, not just black women. That’s important because a large part of the buying Beyhive is not young black women fighting for justice. The album speaks to her wider fan base. If you have a broken heart, this will help you for sure. If you are down for fighting patriachal oppression and systemic racism…umm…the vibe is there but the ablum lacks any substative take on today, unlike to Pimp a Butterfly or Talib Kweli’s collective Indy 500. What has been roundly hailed as an ode to black female empowerment seems to contain very little liberation.

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In Lemonade, Beyonce tells a story where she discovers him cheating (Pray You Catch Me), tells him he done her wrong (Hold Up and Don’t Hurt Yourself), and goes out without him (Sorry).  But then the storm has passed and the rest of the album is devoted to the work of getting back with Jay.  All of the righteous anger turns into acquiescence, and acceptance.  If even Beyonce puts up with doggish behavior, then what chance do any of us have to be women free from disrespect? Here is the first time in the piece that we see Jay Z, just a hand to cover her mouth, much it seems to her pleasure.

For sure relationships are complicated, and marriages even more so, but young women intent on overturning harmful structures could use a roadmap that includes some truth with the reconciliation.  They are looking for new options, not a romantic return to gender roles.  Detrmined to have their cake and eat it too, why not use the fantasy of music to show how liberated women get themselvs–and their men, if they choose –free.  Romance? Cool, but could you put some respeck on it?

5. Lemonade is supposed to have a bite

Beyonce opens up a can of whoop-ass fueled with the pain of black women only to sweeten it with love songs and finish with sweet love all night long.  How is this supposed to gel with the powerful women fighting for freedom that she shows in the film?  Should Zendaya look to forgive people that said she smelled like a dirty hippie?  Should Mike Brown’s mother’s “torturer become her remedy”?  That certainly wouldn’t look like the freedom Beyonce sings about.

Like most stories about revolution these days, the revolution always seems to have a simple happy ending.  Nice as that may be to end an album, it does little to help us envision a world where we’re truly free.  If we tear down the culture, we have to build something else in its place.  If the new something is the same as the old something, then the revolution failed.  As exciting as it is to see black women represented in different and complex ways unless we have new endings, its all bullshit.

Black female empowerment isn’t a music video or a gap ad, but a real shift that is going to take a baseball bat to existing structures without a neat end to the love drought just two songs away.

The power of the best artists lay not only in their ability to show you the now but their skill and imagination to show us what’s next. There can be no doubt that Lemonade shows us a more sophisticated and woke Beyonce.  Her careful read of her audience and the culture give us an exciting companion to other protest works like To Pimp a Butterfly or Indie 500.  Here’s hoping that she keeps developing as an artist and blazes us a trail to better endings full of Freedom instead of swag.

 

Is This the New Black?

Guinness is  redefining the way we see Africans with it’s new Made of  Black Campaign.  They’ve enlisted artist from across the continent to contribute to this extended campaign.  Take a look and let us know what you think–is this a new black? Check it out and hit up the comments!

 

GOOOAAAL: Respect!!!!

World Cup play has been nothing less than thrilling, with enough drama to fill  Bravo’s TV summer line up.  There’s been overly dramatic falls and equally dramatic play, not to mention a little zombie bite between friends.

130422103717-suarez-bite-ivanovic-story-topWhat is also on display, as it has been so often in sports this year, is gross racism.   And I mean gross not just in the quality, but in the straight-no-chaser approach to ugly racial epitaphs, racist costumes, and hate language.

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Some German fans decided their love for team Germany was best expressed by dressing up in black face.  And to make sure they spread their fan feces beyond the stadium, fans uploaded pictures to Instagram, lighting up social media.article-2665775-1EFFF93000000578-788_634x397

FIFA took note of the racist behavior and vowed an investigation into the behavior.  Of course, race has played a gross recurring role in football.  In just the past year alone we’ve seen fans fight it out and even players taunted on the field.  Is it because football fans are racists, or at least more racist than most people?

no_to_racismFootball, like out own American sports, is more than a game, and the ability to paint our faces and pledge our fealty to the world is an old tradition still much desired even in our modern world.  Sport is an opportunity to rise beyond the day-to-day existence  to strive for a moment of glory and greatness–the hero’s summit at the top of his field has millions chanting his name, etched forever into the record books.

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Sport is also a chance to pledge our allegiance to our tribe, to show off our country’s colors, and to win in competion the right to say our people are the best people.

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Hmm, all that competitive spirit, tradition, nationalism and a little beer–or a lot of beer and capirainnias.  What could go wring?

well there’s this

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mideast-egypt-soccer-riot-390x285and then of course there’s this

1386611588000-RSI-SOCCER-BRAZIL-CHAMPIONSHIP-1To be sure on the other side of the coin, sport also brings us together, yes in pitched battle, but one where the biggest victims are ego’s and pride.

But what do these gross displays tell us about race in this moment in time?  When we look for cultural messages, we have to consider the context–where is the message coming from and what is the culture there?  This question is simplified, as a colleague asked me, “Well isn’t it different because it’s Germany?’

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She’s not alone.  Tweets and not a few twits have used the same argument in dismissing the recurrent use of black face and other racialized imagery in sports and other public events.

The general idea is that since black face–as we know it today– originated in the American south, that it is only symbolically powerful when referring to African Americans, but outside of America, black face isn’t really offensive.  That’s like saying since Hip Hop was created as an expression of African Americans, there can be no hip hop anywhere but in America, despite the fact that people around the world have been exposed to it.  Black face has been exported as has American ideology–and now media–around the world.  Let’s be clear:  black face is offensive, even between Germans and Ghanians.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel posing Black faced magoi for traditional three Kings Day.  Yeah, black face is a thing in Germany
German Chancellor Angela Merkel posing Black-faced magi for traditional three Kings Day. Yeah, black face is a thing in Germany

Black face in it’s American Minstrel mutation is one symbolic representation of brown-skinned people that was part of a much larger, more complex colonial narrative–a story that colonizers told to justify the oppression of colonized people.  Cultural narratives like this are grand and sweeping, showing up in the culture of the time, in literature, art, even science.  The story shows up in entertainment in one mutation as black face.  But that was not the only negative depiction of “others” during colonialism, which operated on all continents.

bri_india02_4074To believe that the message contained in black face –the inhuman and uncivilized dark nature of the  other–was contained in a few short centuries in America alone is to ignore the power and pervasive control of colonialism in all corners of the globe.

conquistadorJust as black face in America today is an echo of the same old racist story born in American slavery, so does the racism on display at the world cup ring the bell of colonialism, and the lingering ideas of racial superiority, poison seeds planted by years of political, social and economic imperialism.

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The games show us that racial conflict persists in our post racial world–even beyond America.  Just as racism in America intensifies as the American population changes, so too with racism around the world.  While America for sure has it’s own unique flavor of racism,  changing demographics and increased mobility are bringing groups of people into new relationships.  To really be a global village that won’t tear itself apart, we’ve got to be vigilant about dismissing the stories of the past so that we are careful they don’t become the stories of our future.

 

A Nation of Cubans?

Mark Cuban, outspoken Mavericks owner,  has waded into the shark-infested water that is the Donald Sterling situation with comments he made recently at Inc Magazine’s GrowCo conference this week in Nashville.  Take a quick listen to his comments below:

Cue the media firestorm!  Owner makes racist remarks!  Less than a day later, Cuban has tweeted out a 5 part tweetpology:

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Despite justifiable sensitivity to the still open wound of the Zimmerman case,  I want to put a pause on the mob calling for Cuban’s head.

In our 140-character universe, we have a hard time listening long enough to recognize nuance and complexity.   Listen as the Today hosts brush over Cuban calling out prejudiced behavior as explicitly racist, instead opting to say that the threat response is natural.

Feeling threatened and afraid is natural.  When feelings of fear are tied to all  people of that race that’s racist.  All the people of one particular race cannot be painted with the same brush.  The Today hosts and many in the twitterverse point out that we use stereotypical information to assess threats a process of stereotypes.  Listen to that again–we judge people based on stereotypes.  This is bias behavior.  Just because we all do it, that doesn’t mean that it is right, or that it’s who we ought to be as a society.

We do it, now what? Since we don’t make up and manage stereotypes, if we want to avoid connecting these stereotypes to our own personally held ideas about race, then we have to be aware of when that is happening.  We need to call out ourselves–and other–in the moment.

Cuban is right–most people do hold some prejudices.  But Cuban is also right that we must call it what it is–bigotry,  prejudice, and racism.  We’ve got to begin by owning it and being aware of the thoughts and actions we take on a daily basis.

While you cheer the end to the labored Donald Sterling case as he transfers ownership to his wife to sell off, take a good look at yourself. You probalby don’t operate at Sterling’s extremes, but do you think you are bias free?  And which of your biases are tied to society’s stigmas of race, class and gender?

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We are all multifaceted humans living complex lives. Can you be honest with yourself when you judge people on what you see instead of who they are?  I challenge you to call yourself out when you stereotype people with race, gender and class stereotypes. I challenge you to be aware of bigoted ideas that float into your head–whether you want them there or not.  Own them, look at them, and challenge  yourself to think differently.

We can’t change what we won’t see.  Start looking and let me know how it goes!

 

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