Friday, September 19, 2008

Silence is American

If you check out my sidebar there is an American flag in red, black and green. I stole that image from The Truth, a regular reader and blogger, because I found it really powerful.

See, when it comes down to it, I identify as a black man before I identify as an American. Lots of folks consider that blasphemous and proof that black people are all screwed up in the head. Whatever.

Anyway, according to this article Josh Howard of the Dallas Mavericks might share some of my views. At a celebrity softball game, Howard made a tongue-in-cheek comment about how he doesn't sing the national anthem because he's black. I say tongue-in-cheek because clearly the matter in which he delivered the message was joking, but I'm guessing he has put some real thought into why he feels that way.

Howard is a guy who counts graduating from Wake Forest as one of his greatest achievements because so few black men graduate from college. He's offered some on-point comments about the world in the past, and he seems fairly aware of political stuff.

Unfortunately, Howard also has admitted to smoking marijuana during the off-season and been caught drag racing. So, when his comments hit the mainstream media, well let's just say Josh Howard isn't exactly popular in the Big D right now.

I've had multiple arguments over the past few days about Howard's remarks and read several takes on what happened and what it means. Of course people have attacked Howard as an ungrateful pothead for what he said, but if that hadn't happened we wouldn't live in America.

See, Americans pride themselves on the right to free speech. Most Americans erroneously believe that the First Amendment grants them the right to say whatever they want. It doesn't, but that's the definition most people use when they talk about free speech. Unfortunately, those same people prefer to extend the right to free speech to people who say things they agree with.

This isn't a white thing or a black thing, this is an everybody thing. However, white people have set most of the parameters of what is and is not acceptable in America, so it's typically white people who are telling folks what they can say.

Now, some folks are rightfully upset with what Howard said. It's not surprising. If you see the national anthem as a symbol of everything that is great and wonderful with America, I can see how his comments might offend you. However, if you see the national anthem as a song sung about a mythical time when everybody was treated fairly and justly regardless of race, gender or religion, I can see why you might not be a fan of it.

And, to be honest, I have no problem with there being a controversy surrounding Howard's comments. He made a controversial, albeit justifiable, statement and if he is surprised that it generated outrage, then he really should have kept those thoughts away from a video camera. Anybody who knows anything about American history would have known that the vast majority of this country's population would have a problem with the statement.

Nope, my beef is that people have responded to Josh's comments by questioning whether he has the right to be disgusted with this country because of it's ITS past and present actions, particularly those towards black people. Apparently, once Josh Howard became a millionaire through basketball he lost the right to complain about racism or discrimination.

Ain't that a bitch?

I'm sure some of y'all can relate to this. I don't think any millionaires read the blog, (judging by my t-shirt sales I'm positive they don't) but I would wager that all of us have had a white person tell us that our lives are too good for us to complain about racism. Apparently, the trade-off for sucess as a black person is the ability to point out injustice.

Helluva bargain.

Well, I've taken to asking white people directly where exactly the threshold is for complaining about racism. I want them to explain how much money I can make, and what type of neighborhood I can live in. What jobs force me to give up my racism trumpet?

I've found that when I put things in those terms it makes folks uncomfortable. It forces them to think about what they're saying. See, I've been black my whole life. No matter what success I've attained, and it's only been meager success, I've had to get to where I am today while being black.

That means I've been harassed by the police, I've been followed in stores, I've called a nigger, I've been discriminated against and I've been scorned. More importantly, even if I haven't had every racist experience, people I know and care about have had them for me.

So, I find it incredibly arrogant that white people think that once a black person "arrives" he/she should just shut up and smile. I find it appalling that the pricetag for my success is my ability TO speak out about injustice.

Now some might argue that those who tell me to shut up are only exercising their right to free speech. And guess what, they are right. But, that doesn't make Americans' willingness to suppress and attack viewpoints that don't follow societal norms any less disturbing. When we attempt to drown out viewpoints that differ from our own, or even try to silence those voices, we are trodding on dangerous ground.

We cannot arrogantly assume that those who think like us are always correct. We cannot demand conformity as a down payment for being a "real American."

We just cannot.

(Update: Josh Howard's employer received a ton of emails about the incident. Click here if you would like read what people thought. Gird your loins though.)


Torrance Stephens - All-Mi-T said...

i get whatv he is trying to say
anywho have good weekend jones

Darth Whitey said...

I didn't like what he said (surprise!) but I'm not going to set a threshold for you. All I can say is please have the courtesy to recognize how far we've come, in spite of how far we have to go, while you make such remarks, just as an olive branch to white folks so we don't feel like you hate our guts or something and think we're out to get you. We (will) have a black president for goodness sake, give us a little credit! :) I'm not saying you have no reason for grievance, not at all, but it'd be nice if you disarmed us a bit with some sugar first :)

Like in meetings at work I always start my criticisms of stuff by saying what I liked about it and how I appreciate the work and thought that went into it, before I launch my thoughts about what's wrong with it. Knowwutimsayin?

Regarding free speech in general, I agree. The thing is though, I think free speech means you can say what you want and it won't land you in jail. It doesn't mean there aren't consequences though. Like if I go around maligning my employer I will be fired, as I should be, and I can't claim my free speech rights were violated (or at least I shouldn't be allowed to.)

My more liberal friends piss me off when they bitch and whine about people on the right airing their asinine views about blacks, gays, and jews or what not, they want these people silenced by the law. Nuts, while people on the left can whine about Israel and conspiracies and stuff and get protection. Double standard.

Have you really been called a ngg? Are you serious? That's astonishing to me. Sorry to hear that, my American brother!

Big Man said...


I have been called a nigger several times.

And, I understand that sugar is a good way to get people to listen. However, sometimes I might not feel like doing that, and it's ridiculous that people think that if you don't hit them with kindness first, they should just ignore the message.

Also, I've found that many of the people who want credit for progress don't give other poeple credit for their progress.

Rob said...

Over on the Tidesports forum, the usual collection of outraged Americans were spitting venom about this, and someone decided to challenge a "representative of the Black community" to defend what Howard said. This was my response:

Apparently the "Black community" needs to respond. I am not the Black community, if there is such a homogenous entity, but it seems I'm the closest thing to it on this board.

1. Josh Howard doesn't speak for all black people any more than he speaks for all Americans. In fact, he doesn't speak for all anything; he did what he did because he (third person singular) chose to do so.

2. I just walked outside, looked around, and I am now convinced that this is the United States of America, where the very first of our Constitutional Bill of Rights is "freedom of speech." It says nothing about anyone else having to like or agree with what is being said.

3. If you're waiting on the aforementioned "Black community" to express its collective outrage, take a seat...could be a while. You see, while you're foaming at the mouth because some multi-millionaire basketball player is clowning around for YouTube, we're concerned with the bailout of AIG, the collapse of Lehman Brothers, rising unemployment, the most important presidential election in any of our lifetimes, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, $4.00+ gas prices, disenfranchisement efforts in Michigan and Ohio, capital losses, ARMs, failing schools and school systems losing accreditation, coastal devastation, and a host of other problems facing these United States of America.

So you just keep on being distraught and disconcerted by Josh Howard's antics-- let me know how that works out for you, okay?

Big Man said...

make sure you let me know what happened after that Rob.

the uppity negro said...

The outrage, from me, and many others in the black community (rob) is that we're villified for speaking.

Al Sharpton had an intro into his program that had him saying "If you say something against Jews, it's a hate crime; against gays, hate crime; against women, hate crime; against blacks, free speech." I mean, damn, let the man speak and be free to speak.

No one can deny one's experience, I don't want to deny the white privileged experience anymore than I want a white privileged experience to deny my black male experience for the sake of "making something racial" which is still frickin' coded language for saying "you're really not submitting to westernized and Euro-centric thought as to how it should be done."

I mean it's all in the Morning-News' slant. They say he "disrespected" the national anthem as opposed to just saying "refuses to stand for National Anthem." And since we're already there, the national anthem is set to a friggin' drinking game tune from Ye Olde country. Secondly the stanza most jingoistic fools of this country know sings about the effin' flag. I mean, if we want some lyrics that inspire patriotism let's sing the fourth verse for crying out loud.

When white folk are a member of the 2% of black males that graduated from Chicago Public Schools that go on to finish a bachelor's degree, then I'ma do what all the other white folk are telling Josh Howard:


Darth Whitey said...

Big Man, would you mind detailing the incidents where you were assaulted by said racial slur? I don't mean any disrespect or to cause you hurt by asking you to recount or anything, and am certainly not questioning it or anything, I'm just morbidly curious because I have never seen such a thing except in movie adaptations of books such as "To Kill a Mockingbird."

I have never been called honkey or cracker but I would laugh if I were, it'd be funny, though don't worry I'm not comparing being called a ngg to honkey, one is a pebble the other a mountain. I have French roots and have been called frog and that makes me laugh too.

Oh, check this out though, you might get a kick out of this: my first roommate in college (first year you know, completely random, I didn't know anybody there)-- he was from East St Louis (this is in Illinois) and he used to call _me_ the n word from time to time heh (he was black.) Like "hold up ngg!" and stuff like that, and in fact his whole posse did too. I was actually kind of frightened of them to tell you the truth. But not because they were black, more their menacing and negative demeanor. They had the worst attitude you could imagine. Here you had these half dozen guys, all on full ride scholarships, and they just sat around drinking 40oz Budweisers and cognac, listening to Tupac and smoking weed. All were kicked out after the first year, very sad. I was very careful around them though, and I even got my roommate (who was nice to me when his friends weren't around) to come to a "keg party" with me one night (with one of his other friends) which he kept calling a "white party" haha. Ah, those wild and crazy days. Oh, and heh, they were at "war" with the "Chicago nggs" for some reason, all the "East Saint" folks had it in for the Chicago folks for some reason, they got into fights and everything, with injuries requiring stitches! Don't worry, my view of black people wasn't affected by this experience in the least because as a kid I watched the Cosby Show and stuff, plus on campus there were a lot of black upperclassmen who were not thugish or nuthin', I just got "lucky" with my roommate draw :) I did move the first chance I got of course, at the end of the semester. Fortunately I did a lot of drinking and all the other things first semester freshmen do so it went by fairly quickly :)

Anyway. Sorry to ramble :)

Big Man said...

Darth, that was an entertaining story....Maybe one day I'll talk about my experiences on the blog.

BETCATS said...

good sh!t allenp, this is your boy BETCATS from SLAM.

Rob said...

Big Man,
The discussion didn't last long. The guy who started the thread tried to attack me for "being a typical liberal tard and giving a pass," but a couple of other posters called him out before I got a chance to respond. They pointed out that I didn't "give a pass," but pointed out the absurdity of the "patriotism defense" when the country is faced with so many real problems. In general, that particular poster doesn't respond to me much, because I've embarassed him on more than one occasion.

By the way, if you ever want to really see what mentality Obama is up against, visit, then forums, then pick the one called Election 2008.

Raving Black Lunatic