Sunday, February 04, 2007

The Right or the Capacity to Speak? (Is He Black or Not?)

"The Racial Politics of Speaking Well" (The NYT Week in Review) breaks it down, some more. And we should connect this to the conversation about whether Barack Obama's experience is Black enough. This is complex racialization: when he is marked by White America as African-American, the distinction between him and other Black people is also palpable. Check out the article in Time. Is he the exception that proves the rule? (Which rule?) Is he able to represent the Black community, if he is "exceptional" in so many ways, and "embodies" a notion of difference that restablishes the racial hierarchy? This is to say that he is racialized, most assuredly, as not white, but in its historical fasion the political machine deploys race, simultaneously, to claim him as not-Black, like the rest of us. Sinister, how "accidental" mis-speech reinforces the invisible hand of institutional racism and unleashes the spectre of race just in time to distract members of the voting public from examining whether this candidate can speak for the disenfranchised and amplify the concerns of traditionally marginal groups, including Black people. Does he speak too well?

*Meanwhile, Colts or Bears? Two Black Coaches in the Superbowl!*

I know that anyone reading this right now is probably not making guacamole and preparing for the big game, but I received the message posted below (with minor edits for clarity only) from the organization Color of Change, which expresses that Black leadership in football signals something historically significant, and reflective of a concerted, political struggle of which we should take note.

Dear Sombra Morena,

When I was growing up, football was dominated by Black players, but we weren't allowed to be quarterbacks. And we certainly couldn't be the coach.

I don't even care much about football, but I can't wait to watch the game this afternoon. Today, America celebrates a first—: two Black coaches in the Super Bowl. It may seem like an accident, or the inevitable result of time's passage, but it's not. Like most civil rights gains, it's the result of active struggle.

In 2002, attorneys Cyrus Mehri and Johnnie Cochran Jr. decided that Blacks had been shut out of coaching long enough. They released a report entitled "Black Coaches in the National Football League: Superior Performances, Inferior Opportunities" that called out the NFL's "dismal record of minority hiring." Two facts stood out in the report: 1) while Blacks comprised 70% of NFL players, only 6% of coaches and 28% percent of assistant coaches were Black; and 2) while only six of 400 NFL head coaches hired since 1929 were Black, they significantly outperformed their white counterparts in wins and playoff appearances. Mehri and Cochran threatened a lawsuit, and the NFL agreed to change.

Later that year the NFL adopted the "Rooney Rule," requiring teams to interview at least one non-white candidate for any open coaching position. In 2004, two of the seven vacancies were filled by Black coaches. The Rooney rule did what happy accidents and the passage of time could not—make a dent in race-based discrimination in the NFL.

Today, we've got two black coaches in the Superbowl (and a Black Presidential candidate in the wings), but these are small steps towards a much greater goal of equality and racial justice. Most Black people still have second-class access to quality health care, jobs and education; an increasing number of Black men go to prison instead of college; and Katrina made clear that protecting the lives of Black folks, especially if they are poor, is of little importance to those in power.

Van and I started ColorOfChange because we know that change doesn't happen without a fight, and because we have faith—and great hope—that all of us, together, can keep pushing forward to make major change for Blacks in America.

Today, let's celebrate these two amazing brothers, —Lovie Smith of the Chicago Bears and Tony Dungy of the Indianapolis Colts—, and pay tribute to those who helped them get to the top of the game. And then tomorrow, let's continue the work of raising our collective voices, applying pressure, and fighting for greater justice for us all.

Thank you for being a part of this work,

-- James Rucker
Executive Director,
February 4th, 2007

And if you can get with that, perhaps you would also be interested to see that Spike Lee is working to increase the numbers of Black sports journalists by initiating a new program at Morehouse College (HBCU).

And if you're wondering where I stand on the intersection of violent sports and race, perhaps you would be interested in this NYT analysis of violence in the Super Bowl adverts, assessed as a reflecting the toll of war. And maybe I don't need to point out that when we look at the most celebrated "opportunities" for young people of color, (violent, competitive) sports and (always wrong) war figure pretty prominently.

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