Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Gentlemanly Advice: What Should Young Black Men Like Marcus Smart Do When Called a 'Nigger' by White Men Like Jeff Orr?

Brittney Cooper has a sharp bit of writing on the Marcus Smart-Jeff Orr racial slur incident over at Salon.

She attracts a good many trolls who use her essays as a soap box for their bigotry. They are predictable in their talking points. The screeds are no less annoying while also being instructive about the lazy quotidian nature of colorblind racism in the post civil rights era.

I particularly enjoyed this passage from Cooper's piece:
In this regard, then, I’m actually intrigued by Jeff Orr’s rush to apologize and to clarify that he didn’t use a slur to refer to Marcus Smart. White folks, too, want their humanity conceded, even after they have actively disrespected someone else. And a credible argument for racism is the one thing that has the potential to erode that. At base level they recognize that racism is dehumanizing, and that if they are racist they are human in all the worst ways. Unfortunately, this has not led to a change in behavior, so much as a stalwart campaign to get racist behaviors branded as anything but. Still, what should be clear to us is that we all desire recognition as human beings and not monsters. The problem is that only one group has the power to force their desires on the rest of us. 
Marcus Smart’s dignity was assaulted when Jeff Orr called him the N-word, and a “piece of crap.” Really, in this context, they are the same thing. A white man reducing a black man who is going about his work to mere waste performs the same kind of labor that the N-word does, whether it was used or not.
The responses to Cooper's sharp argument about how white privilege still enables overt white racism--while black and brown victims are always suspect and made to apologize for their being accosted and imposed upon--followed a predictable script.

The comments in response to Cooper's essay feature common white racist deflections. Predictably, how calling attention to the extreme likelihood that Smart was called a racial slur by Orr is in fact an example of "reverse racism" against white people.

The latter point is absurd; white racism is demonstrated once more to be a type of mental pathology and distorted thinking.

To my eyes, perhaps it is linked fate, shared experience, or just common sense, but Marcus Smart was clearly called something profoundly offensive by Jeff Orr. The latter's mouth uttered something more than "a piece of crap". Just as a woman knows when she was called a "bitch", a black man or woman knows when they were called a "nigger".

In all, this episode of public hate speech by a white man against a young black man on national television leads us to a basic question: how should Marcus Smart have reacted? More generally, what should parents and other mentors teach young people of color, black folks in particular, regarding how best to respond to racial hate speech when it is directed to them by white people?

Should black youth be taught, along with the obligatory "how not to get killed by cops when being racially profiled for 'driving while black' moment", Booker T. Washington's life mantra that: “I will permit no man to narrow and degrade my soul by making me hate him”?

Or should black youth read the The Gentlemen's Book of Etiquette for guidance on how to manage racial invective and other insults?

Alternatively, should young black men like Marcus Smart be given a copy of the American iconoclast and genius Richard Wright's The Ethics of Living Jim Crow, and told to meditate on his observations about how to survive the humiliations of white supremacy (which so many African-Americans still navigate today, albeit in an altered and "colorblind" fashion)?
One night, just as I was about to go home, I met one of the Negro maids. She lived in my direction, and we fell in to walk part of the way home together. As we passed the white nightwatchman, he slapped the maid on her buttock. I turned around amazed. The watchman looked at me with a long, hard, fixed under stare. Suddenly he pulled his gun, and asked:
"Nigger, don't yuh like it?"
I hesitated.
"I asked yuh don't yuh like it?" he asked again, stepping forward.
"Yes, sir," I mumbled.
"Talk like it, them"
"Oh, yes, sir!" I said with as much heartiness as I could muster.
Outside, I walked ahead of the girl, ashamed to face her. She caught up with me and said:
"Don't be a fool; yuh couldn't help it!"
This watchman boasted of having killed two Negroes in self defense.
Yet, in spite of all this, the life of the hotel ran with an amazing smoothness. It would have been impossible for a stranger to detect anything. The maids, the hall-boys, and the bell-boys were all smiles. 
They had to be.
If you are not white in America you will need to learn how to navigate white hate speech.

I was first called a "nigger" in elementary school. Many years later, I was called a "nigger" to my face by my direct supervisor.

I made sure that my elementary school hate monger suffered vicious blows at my hand.

As an adult, I fantasized about stripping my bigoted boss down to his underwear and punishing him with my belt--the blows delivered with the heavy buckle--and then laughing while he cried. Of course, I did not do such a thing. Adulthood often requires swallowing one's insults and pain as we pursue other solutions.

These are the war stories of those black and brown folks born in post civil rights America. We are not in the midst of the high intensity conflict experienced by our parents and grandparents who survived Jim and Jane Crow. The battle still goes on; the dangers remain real...albeit transformed and different in many ways.

The case of Marcus Smart, and the instinctive defense of Jeff Orr's racial slur by some in the white public, is an example of how white supremacy works in a colorblind age. The experiences of black and brown folks with white racism are made suspect--even when empirical reality demonstrates that white racism is not an anachronism or an outlier. As such, the reasonable assumption should be that white racism is operative until proven otherwise. The opposite is taken as a given because the benefit of the doubt should always be given to white folks when charges of racism are involved.

The assumption of white benevolence, and how white supremacy is an outlier fiction, anachronism, and fantasy by people of color, leads to grotesque conclusions on the part of those who view life through the white racial frame.

For the White Gaze, Trayvon Martin should have naturally submitted to George Zimmerman; the former has no right to "stand his ground".

Jonathan Ferrell was in a car accident and seeking help from the police. Of course, he was a "giant negro" and the police, armed with guns and all variety of other weapons, were "logically" afraid and within their rights to shoot an unarmed man dead 10 times.

Renisha McBride was knocking on a stranger's door for help after she suffered a car accident one late evening. For McBride, it is given that she was a burglar. What reasonable person would not shoot her in the head with a shotgun for the "crime" of seeking help?

Jordan Davis and his friends were listening to music in their car. They offended Michael Dunn. He was upset because they were not sufficiently deferent to his complaints. Thus, Dunn shot Jordan dead because he had to "stand his ground".

Looking back on my childhood, I am not sure if I would tell my children to beat without mercy a white person who called them a "nigger". My parents taught me that lesson. I remain gratified for their wisdom.

But, given the zero-tolerance policies of public schools, and the documented racism and classism against young black and brown youth by school teachers and administrators, I would not want my children's futures to be ruined because of my, perhaps dated, advice.

They may have acted honorably in the moment, however, such actions could doom their futures.

Yet, I remain troubled by a public norm for the survival of young black youth that tells them to submit to white racism and white hate speech because resisting acts of verbal and premeditated violence by whatever means reasonably necessary will see them punished unfairly.

In a perfect world, white bigots such as Jeff Orr would be fed their teeth by young men like Marcus Smart.

We live in this world. It is unfair and unjust. Consequently, Smart has to apologize. Orr is a victim.

I do not know what to do in terms of making sure that young black and brown youth like Marcus Smart do not sacrifice their futures by doing what is the right and honorable thing in the short-term, but which may hurt them in the years to come.

 Navigating the colorline has never been easy. What to do? What advice to give them?

32 comments:

mbfromnm said...

The very fact that you and all black men have to think about how to handle this situation proves the existence of white privilege. In 66 years, I have never heard a fellow white man talk about how we have to prepare ourselves for such a situation. It is never on our radar screen.

mbfromnm said...

I just read through Ms. Cooper's article and some of the reactions from whites. The reactions are in line with what I see any time a black person talks about white behavior. From the constancy of the reactions every time a black person addresses white behavior, this appears to be the ultimate form of being uppity. I think it is a trip wire for all the white animosity toward blacks. "Not only do we have to live with you, but now you have the temerity of talking about us and our behavior. Well, that will not be tolerated."

Our privilege is such that we are not exposed to the "different other" sharing their view of what we look like to them. Just about every time I have seen a black person describe the behavior of a white person, most of the whites in the group immediately take it as an indictment of each of us. It is so seldom in my experience that a white person can differentiate between the behavior or some whites versus their own behavior. If race no longer exists, how is it that we identify so strongly as a group whenever the behavior of one of us is called into question?

Myshkin the Idiot said...

you're right about that.. white men act like they would be upset if they were ever called a cracker, honky or whitey, but the likelihood that would ever happen to their face, nada.

KissedByTheSun said...

"But, all black people call each other nigger. So why should they get upset if a white person says it?"


That line of "logic" is most likely what is being used to defend this injustice and sadly it doesn't surprise me. The idea that all black people of all ages, genders, political, religious, and cultural backgrounds call each other, or are comfortable being called nigger, is racist.
But let's just assume this was true for argument sake. Does a person or people heaping abuse on themselves justify receiving abuse from others? Can a disturbed boy who cuts into his own right arm with a knife cry foul if a stranger grabs him and cuts into the left. Can a prostitute who was sexually abused by her father complain if her father wants to continue the sex, seeing that she lets strange men molest her the same way he used to?
Any decent person would say yes, yes they do have a right to complain and seek justice. There is no justification for the mistreatment of others, even if those others mistreat themselves. In reality however we know this isn't what's practiced. At least not with Black people.

Myshkin the Idiot said...

I can't imagine the pain and humiliation someone would feel at those words and similar acts of racial hostility like that. The first black Italian parliament member had a banana thrown at her while walking down a sidewalk. A black Italian soccer player tweeted "If you throw a banana at me in the street I will be in jail because I will kill you."


My advice, be the better man and make something of it. You don't have to Booker T Washington it and say, "O I love you, white racists" its okay to despise white racists, they are POS. But you never know how your reaction will be handled by the perpetrator or the white mob. Take the Florida case of Walton Henry Butler: Butler had been using racial slurs directed at the black children in the apartment complex he shared with them. One of the fathers confronted Butler about it and was shot. He died days or weeks later.


I want to share a story of my feeling of humiliation once when I was in public and my stepdad said something just despicable, but I won't. I will share a couple of the times I have been called a slur even though I am white.


My last name is Latino, despite intermarriage with white people through several generations, the last name is still there and it's a tag for other white people to look at me funny when they learn it.
In my senior high school year a classmate much larger than me was picking on me, I don't even know why. I didn't like him, he was always kind of an ass. He called me a 'ch*nk.' I looked him in the eye, told him if he wanted to call me a slur he should call me a 'sp*c' then I told him to go f*ck himself. I was hot and I thought he might try to beat me up for talking to him like that and he would have kicked my ass, but I couldn't help myself.


Another time I started working as a dishwasher at a restaurant with people I was friends with. I was really thankful to start working there, I was trying to start cooking there so I could quit my other job where I worked with a bunch of frat boys who were a pain in the ass to be around. My friend said, "Hey, your last name, is that like Hispanic?" I said, yeah, it's Mexican. He turned to our other friend and said, "Hey Scott, we got a sp*c!" My jaw dropped. He could tell I was offended and I asked him, "would you say that to a black person?" He said, "well, you're white and you're not really Mexican, so you shouldn't be offended." I told him it's a slur, why wouldn't I be offended. He apologized for it... but damn.

DanF said...

Truth is, I don't even think most white males would be upset. It's difficult to take offense when someone is verifying your place in the dominant hierarchy ... They might feign offense, but take it? Probably not. Would I? If I'm honest with myself, probably not. I'd want to find out what I said or did to invite the invective, but beyond the relationship with that one person, it doesn't affect me materially. Such is the mindset of never having to confront this head on.


Last time I was abused for being white was in the seventh grade when a group of Hispanic kids who fancied themselves as a tough gang had their "leader" punch me in the face and called me a white mother fucker. No reason - I was a nerdy kid walking home from school and was easy prey. But even then I knew the balance of power was on my side if I decided to do anything about it, and really, I had pity for the kid who did it. I knew his life options were probably limited by the path he was going down. I didn't take it personal as it wasn't. It didn't stop me from going back to school and doing all the things I loved to do. Sure i thought about it a great deal at the time, but it was a one-off. I went back to Star Wars, TRS-80s, skateboards, slot cars and my friends. Plenty of balm and space to heal.

DanF said...

In Smart's case, probably the best option would have been to look at one of the people around Orr and say, "Did you hear what he called me? What do you think about that? What about you, or you? Do you think THAT was OK? No? So what are YOU going to do about it?" Under the theory that closet racists don't want to be associated with racists so publicly. Again - easy to say when you're mind isn't focused on the task at hand and that puts a lot of pressure on Smart. He's essentially a kid who's been playing a tough, physical game and I should expect him to be the master of the one-liners?

Myshkin the Idiot said...

I've encountered a number of white people who say they're deeply offended by the word cracker or honky, especially in the wake of Rachael Jeantel's testimony in the Zimmerman trial. These same people will defend Paula Dean & family or any other person 'accused of' saying n*****r. They're willing to endlessly litigate whether a person 1) said the slur, 2) intended it in a racist manner (hint: if you're saying n*****r, you're racist) and 3) ultimately is a racist person. They will challenge you for a pile of documented proof all the while decrying racism from people of color they have never met.

DanF said...

Oh - I agree they will make public protestations, but I don't think they are offended in their heart-o-hearts. They just LOVE to be the victim.

kscoyote said...

When confronting this situation, an assessment should be made, as with any action or inaction that may be fraught with some sort of loss. The assessment should cover what's at stake, who has the power, what's the desired result, and what leverage do you have, and what's the worth of action or inaction.

What one chooses to do is therefore strategic, rather than digital.

In the case of Smart - his power rests with his teammates. Although the coach SHOULD be taking care of his players, shielding them from abuse - Clearly, he is not interested in doing so.

Strategically, the players have all the power in the game, and they can simply stop playing. No one makes money when that happens, and what is tolerated by the coaches and referees will quickly change, if they have no one to coach.

If one player refuses to play, he may lose his scholarship. If they all refuse to play, things will change fairly quickly.

One would hope that the players from the other team would follow suit. But that may be too much to hope for.

Myshkin the Idiot said...

If I was white is trending on twitter (it started because Shaun White didn't win any medals in the halfpipe)

https://twitter.com/search?q=%23IfIWasWhite&src=hash

racist twitter is following suit with the hashtag If I were black....

Now, if I was white some of them can be offensive or dumb, very mildly, though. If I were black is like crazy racist shitty.

https://twitter.com/search?q=%23IfIWereBlack&src=hash

chauncey devega said...

Collective action as a solution. I like that. Funny thing how that was more common in sports across the colorline during the civil rights movement. Now? we have million dollar slaves who are apolitical.

chauncey devega said...

Orr seems like a piece of human debris. Yet, he gets the benefit of the doubt from too many white folks. I never understood that since of identification and group think. Just like Zimmerman--who any self-respective conservative should have excommunicated.

Gat Turner said...

What should young black men like Marcus Smart do? Welll according to hollywood (the Butler, 42) he shoul djust grin and bear it. You know sticks and stones. Then he might live to be 55 or 60 before he dies of an ulcer or brain aneurysm, from the years of pride swallowing & forgiving your enemies.

chauncey devega said...

We put our foot in their butts, we get in trouble. I wonder about the fighting words clause in the law. Does that still apply or is it antiquated?

chauncey devega said...

I love those examples. Smart stuff. Going in the mental Rolodex.

chauncey devega said...

Smart comment. There is a tension between hyper individuality and whiteness along with a sense of group identification where racism is a stimuli for bad behavior and rallying the troops.


We are all innocent individuals and why don't those black people stop talking about all this race stuff. Then whiteness deploys its troops and offers up the most selfish and deranged mirror of the above logic/projection. Whiteness is power and victimology.


Funny actually.

chauncey devega said...

Privilege is all of that stuff we don't have to think about. Nice arrangement.

chauncey devega said...

All those thousands of white men lynched while being called cracker. So tragic.

chauncey devega said...

Getting real there w. how racism and the stress it causes is killing black men and women.

Myshkin the Idiot said...

funny how white America is terrified of celebrating Nat Turner or even Malcolm X, but they have no problem allowing monuments to KKK leaders, slaveholders and Indian killers.

Black Sci_Fi said...

When racism meets money, money wins. And, It always will.
If Marcus Smart had stood (his ground) in the crowd for about 30 seconds looking at Orr with clear and unyielding indignation, returned to the bench and called a timeout, huddled with his coach and his team, told them what happened and the entire team along with the coaching staff walked out of the building mid-game....
I have faith that something amazing would have happened.
I'll leave it up to your individual imaginations to fill in and appropriate ending...But, I'll give you a few choices...
1) The coach would have never let the team leave the game. End of story
2) The NCAA would post clear rules for fan conduct at all of its venues.
3) The NCAA would "quietly" sanction Smart's team and fine the college for lost revenue and insist that the college remove Smart, and any other protesters, from the team.
4) The NCAA would file a civil rights violation case against Orr and demand a public apology.
5) The POTUS..."Mr. Basketball"...would proclaim "If I had a son........", and instruct AG Holder to punish Mr Orr to the fullest extent of the law.
or................WHAT..??

Buddy H. said...

From "The Onion" website:

LUBBOCK, TX—Following his three-game suspension for a controversial courtside altercation with a spectator last weekend, millions of Americans confirmed Wednesday that it would have been kind of fun to watch Oklahoma State guard Marcus Smart beat the absolute shit out of the Texas Tech fan who provoked him. “Obviously any violence at a sporting event is completely and utterly unacceptable regardless of circumstance, but, I don’t know, part of me would have liked to watch Marcus Smart take that fat, loud-mouthed asshole by his Texas Tech polo shirt and pummel the ever-living fuck out of him,” said 36-year-old McLean, VA resident Alan Mitscher, adding that seeing a middle-aged man who maliciously heckles teenaged college basketball players get his ass kicked on national television would have been “pretty damn satisfying, actually.” “To see the look on that smug sack of shit’s face right when he realizes the 19-year-old kid he’s been verbally abusing is about to knock his fucking teeth out and leave him in a bloody heap on the side of the court—man, that would have been amazing.” Citizens from across the nation also told sources that there’s no way in hell the fan in question only called Smart “a piece of crap.”

kokanee said...

Navigating the colorline has never been easy. What to do? What advice to give them?

Marcus, if you hit him, spit on him, dump the gatorade bucket on him or hose him down!!, it's a simple assault which is the equivalent of a misdemeanor.

You could try and goad him into assaulting you with some colorful language: "Come on you toothless illiterate white trash piece of shit." (I could get a lot more colorful but this is a respectable website.)

Alternatively, you could embarrass the guy all to tell and make a big scene. Very loudly: This guy just called me a N—. Stand up, take a bow and let everyone see you. You're on national T.V. Everyone, this white man just called me a N—. Sir, why are you here watching these N—s playing basketball?

I think what Marcus did was fully appropriate for school kids in the schoolyard. You have to stand up to bullies. As adults there are consequences for such actions.

P. S. The comment section has been overrun by white dudes. What gives?

Learning Is Eternal said...

Every time I hear/read of an injustice towards persons that resemble me I can't help but take it personally, deeply. I have been beaten by cops for walking while black to school. The stories from my parents, grandparents being hosed, dogs sicced on them, etc. Yeah, sounds like I described the one clip they show from 60's riots in Detroit or LA.

I always knew what time it was in reference to these situations early on and besides those neighborhood cops, I wasn't the victim/injured party when a white individual felt superior in directing hate speech toward me. Well aware of the consequences, my understanding went out the window whereas my anger had tunnel vision.

I can't tell my kids to turn the other cheek (never understood that logic) but I hope my teachings (not my example in some instances ) encourage decisions that bring them home intact.
My people/family never gave me the game on how to navigate through a system of white supremacy. I know it's a hard sell to not dislocate a clavicle or jaw bone when I'm being disrespected because of a condition I or no human being can control.

With people depending on you and your livelihood @stake makes it more difficult.

Imagine the child who gets chastised by parents for fighting @school because "they called me names" now seeing that same parent out of a job because "they called daddy names."

Pride & raw emotion can only get you so far.

My advice to Mr. Smart is to prevail. See the end game through.

I just watched Life of A King w/Cuba Gooding & his character is right. "This chess board represents your life. Think before you move or it can be taken away."

It's 3-D chess @all times, correct?

skilletblonde said...

I'm not much of a sports fan, but didn't we just go through this with Richard Sherman? Didn't he have to apologize for the horrible deed of looking like he was sassing a white women -thus- scaring white people everywhere?

Don't quote me, but I think it was that artist Michael Ray Charles that said the NBA and NFL were like glorified plantations. His paintings of the NBA certainly reflected that. Nevertheless, the owners of the teams are white. The Managers are white. The coaches are white. I would wager that the managers probably recommend agents, publicists, lawyers, stylists, realtors, car dealers, and jewelers. All of them are white of course. And all of that wealth those black athletes generate for those white owners, managers, coaches, etc., etc., a nice slice most likely goes to the Republican Party -or as I like to call it, The New White Citizens Council.

If you are looking for the modern day Mohammed Ali, I haven't seen him. Have you? The modern day Bill Russell, where is he? What Marcus should have done, is what Bill Russell did when a Kentucky restaurant denied him service. He refused to play in a Celtics exhibition game. When Orr insulted Marcus, he should have walked off the court, and his black teammates should have followed. In Ali and Russell's case, fame nor fortune stood in the way of personal dignity. They were willing to forfeit it all for principles.


On the matter of Jordan Davis and other unjust deaths, African Americans, in every decade of our lives, have endured a litany of our people illegally murdered in America. It begins as early as childhood. There is always someone, somewhere, getting a phone call or visit informing them of a peculiar death. They continue to get away with it, first because we let them, and secondly, they have been very successful in creating a racist characterization of the black psyche. That being, if you are physically black, you are pathologically guilty.

Therefore, the problem that 17 year-old Jordan, 17 year-old Trayvon, 19 year-old Renisha, and 24 year-old Jonathan's black skin rendered them guilty. It's as simple as that! As Gary Younge of the Nation says, "the rest is gravy." But I disagree with our black British, brother. The rest is not gravy, it's performance art. That's exactly what you see the police and prosecution doing when they pretend to give a damn. You must remember that the police, and especially the prosecution, have made careers from locking up black people- not defending them. Just look at Chris "Big Chicken" Christie ( as someone here on WARN called him). However, I call him The Hogfather. And I'll bet The Hogfather locked up a lot of black people.

Miles_Ellison said...

It's equally funny how white America lionizes KKK leaders, slaveholders, and Indian killers without ever actually admitting that they are KKK leaders, slaveholders, and Indian killers.

Black Romulan said...

This problem seems to me not unlike that of respectability politics where no matter how good black men can behave it is never good enough to avoid unwarranted harsh scrutiny and violence. If there is no level of benign respectability one can affect to "pass" then why not come as you are? The problem is not in what we do, but how they perceive us.

In the end, these days, I think its more useful overall for black males in sport to be more like Richard Sherman in the face of such ignorance than a Jackie Robinson (and certainly not (if you can help it) a Ron Artest).

Black Romulan said...

The "fighting words" doctrine you mention was established in Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire, 315 U.S. 568 (1942).

Justice Murphy's opinion for the unanimous Court implied that there was a two-level theory of the First Amendment: one level which protects communications that have "social value" and one level of unprotected speech that are "clearly outweighed by the social interest in order and morality."

Further, Justice Scalia (of all people) wrote in the majority opinion for R.A.V. v. City of St. Paul, 505 U.S. 377 (1992) that some areas of speech "can, consistently with the First Amendment, be regulated because of its constitutionally proscribable content" which would include "fighting words" that insult, or provoke violence, "on the basis of race, color, creed, religion or gender."
Its seems from a brief overview of Court precedent that it favors the speaker in most First Amendment concerns, but does make a narrow distinction for "fighting words" hate speech whose apparent intent is to provoke or precede violence, such as in the case of cross burnings.
The question here is can one prove Orr did use the slur, and was his intent with the slur was to provoke Smart into violence.

Miles_Ellison said...

It would have been very interesting to see what would have happened if Smart had told all of the other black players about what the obnoxious fan said and they ALL left the court in protest.

It would have been even more interesting if all of the other black players in college basketball refused to play in solidarity until white privilege, and racial hostility were honestly addressed. It would have made for some interesting talk show banter. White people have more of a problem with the accusation of racism than they have with its actual practice.

kokanee said...

Dear Learning is Eternal,

It's a sick and cruel world out there. When will it ever end? Happy Valentine's Day. I love you. Love really is the answer.

Kokanee

Brian said...

One of the things that doesn't get address much, and that you allude to, is the idea that black folks don't know the word nigger and the context it's been uttered toward them immediately. Not from as just an auditory capacity, but as a linguistic trope. No black person makes up hearing "nigger" pejoratively. If you've ever been called the name before, you won't ever mistake it. That Smart is hypersensitive, or mistook a five-word statement for a one word epithet is ridiculour