Feel free to consider this an open letter to all of you who are wringing your hands in angst over the comments made a few days ago by New York Times columnist Phil Mushnick. If you are one of such people, I have two succinct, yet crucial messages for you:
- Get ready for a hefty dose of reality that will likely make you uncomfortable.
- Shut your mouths and get over yourselves.
Yes, you read that correctly. I’m a middle-aged, educated, black man, and I’m tired of listening to the crap that spouts from the mouths of people who have spent the better part of the last forty years claiming to be so tolerant and concerned about the plight of blacks in America, yet during that time never bothered to learn anything about us.
I’ve been getting a belly full of this nonsense over the past few days, and now I’ve hit my “enough” line. It is time to look at this situation for the really ugly truth it exposes.
Let’s start with the comments themselves, then I will explain how the “this is the worst thing ever” reaction is so much self-congratulatory bullshit.
Remember the context of Mushnick’s comments are about why rapper and general miscreant Jay-Z exists as a part-owner of the New Jersey (soon to be Brooklyn) Nets. This is important to note as relocation of this franchise is being done largely to change the culture and perception of the franchise; rather than calling the swamplands of New Jersey home, the Nets are looking to become decidely more “urban” by moving to Brooklyn, and we all know for what “urban” is a “code word.”
“As long as the Nets are allowing Jay-Z to call their marketing shots—what a shock that he chose black and white as the new team colors to stress, as the Nets explained, their new “urban” home—why not have him apply the full Jay-Z treatment? Why be the Brooklyn Nets when they can be the New York Niggers? The cheerleaders could be the Brooklyn Bitches or Hoes. Team logo? A 9 mm with hollow-tip shell casings strewn beneath. Wanna be Jay-Z hip? Then go all the way!”
First of all, let’s ask a question. Why is there such a need to instantly discredit such a statement simply because it contains some offensive language? I am suspicious of any argument that instantly seeks to discredit a statement by labeling it “offensive” without ever even looking at it’s merits, usually because this is a tactic used by those whose underlying beliefs are built on false assumptions. Not all statements which criticize a person who happens to be black are “racist,” and while you don’t have to like the word “nigger,” it’s presence doesn’t in and of itself negate the veracity of the statement.
Now let’s ask a second question. Why is Jay-Z a part-owner of this team? He’s not part of the ownership group because he has a background in the ownership and management of professional sports franchises. He’s not part of the ownership group because they need his money; Jay-Z’s entire net worth is barely “ashtray/toll booth” change compared to majority owner and multi-billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov. He’s not even part of the ownership group because he’s a retired sports legend (a lá Magic Johnson) who is there to be the “face” of the franchise.
This is crucial to the discussion because while he may not be a sports figure, Jay-Z is clearly intended to be the new face of the Nets. He was instrumental in the franchise’s move to Brooklyn, and in concert with that impending move, the Nets are giving themselves a makeover. New uniforms have been unveiled and there’s clearly an effort underway to create a new culture. The Nets are using Jay-Z to help create that new culture and fanbase.
On the plus side, for the first time in years, people actually care about the Nets. There’s a buzz surrounding a franchise which has long been a “little brother” in the New York sports market. While they have yet to play a single game in Brooklyn, it has been said there is a “certain excitable cool” around the Nets that was never there during their days in New Jersey.
On the minus side, Jay-Z represents so many negative stereotypes that there’s simply no way comments like Mushnick’s weren’t coming. I’ll admit that he uses a means which is decidely over the top to make his point, but his point is nevertheless valid. Like it or not, there’s a negative swirl around the “hip-hop culture;” the very same culture Jay-Z is building around the Nets.
Like Jay-Z, it celebrates the very same violence, racism, and sexism which routinely gets other people kicked off the island. Jay-Z’s entire career is not only based on these negatives, he’s spent major portions of it pandering to those same prurient interests. Mushnick is getting raked over the coals for using words like “niggers” and “bitches and hoes,” yet Jay-Z is celebrated for making a career out of them. Not only does the hypocrisy drip from such a double-standard, it makes the crying about the use of such terms ring exceptionally hollow.
The obvious problem is the fact that the same people who bemoan the destructive power of such words are the same people who have created the nonsense that it is who says the words that matters, as if intent did not matter in the least; a complete inverse of the reality. Words in and of themselves have no power to harm, but it is when they are spoken with the intent to incite they become problematic. There may very well be poor taste in Mushnick’s use of these offensive terms, but there’s no inciting.
There’s also no demeaning in Mushnick’s words. There’s only one person in the world any of us can say for sure might be offended by something. If you want to be offended by the words “nigger,” ”bitch,” or “ho,” then be my guest. But don’t ever presume to know what is offensive to anybody other than yourself, let alone an entire class of people, especially since it is entirely possible those words are hiding that which is truly offensive. Unlike Jay-Z, Mushnick isn’t demeaning anybody, and he certainly isn’t harming anybody; his “crime” is he is pointing out the very same hypocrisy that I am.
Face it, it isn’t the words that are offensive, it is the pandering to stereotypes which is the real problem here. If you don’t believe, that, try the following example. Let’s say for the sake of argument I am a multi-billionaire who wishes to buy a professional football team. I move the team to Los Angeles, which just so happens to a) not have a team and b) is a city with a large black population. Let’s also say I decide to use the same hypocrisy to generate a culture; since I’m a black man it is perfectly acceptable to pander to stereotypes in the same manner as Jay-Z, but with a different means.
Instead of using the “gangsta hip-hop” culture, let’s say I go back to “old-school” stereotypes. I change the name of the team to the Los Angeles Sambos. The logo on the sides of the helmets is a picture of Al Jolson in complete black-face, I dress up all the cheerleaders as “Aunt Jemima,” I call the stadium “the Plantation,” the vendors sell only fried chicken, corn bread, and malt liquor (grape drink if you are underage), and for a promotion for the first home game, every fan in attendance gets a football painted like a watermelon.
Now, while you are recoiling in horror at that, be sure that any comments you send me about being a “race-baiting piece of shit” include an explanation of why what Jay-Z does is any better. And before you attempt that justification, consider another (and crucial) difference between Mushnick’s and Jay-Z’s use of offensive language.
There’s also no glorification in Mushnick’s words. Nobody read his article and said to themselves “Man, I really want to be a racist.” But Jay-Z makes a living out of glorifying negatives. The abridgements to free speech that don’t cover yelling “fire” in a crowded theater don’t apply to the arts; I’m not sure I want to live in a country where they do. However, the 1st amendment only exists between individuals and the government; there’s no law against using the word “nigger.” Nor should there be; not for any word as censorship is the first step toward tyranny.
If that weren’t enough for you, let’s also not forget that it is Jay-Z, not Mushnick, who has the history of going beyond words; to going toward real harm. Remember a few paragraphs back when I alluded to the fact that offensive language in a statement may hide a even more offensive concept? This is exactly what I mean. The thing that is truly revolting in this whole story is the fact the Nets believe for some reason the only way to reach a young, urban audience is to sink to the level of a violent convict like Jay-Z; another facet of the aforementioned hypocrisy is that he was allowed to plead what should have been an attempted murder charge down to a misdemeanor with only three years probation. A spoken word never left anybody bleeding from a stab wound; Jay-Z cannot say the same.
So, let’s get to the bottom line. It isn’t the words that are offensive, it is the hypocrisy attached to them which is the real problem. As a society, we can’t continue to allow such a cultural divide which allows a select class of people to behave in a different manner while being held to a different standard, then act shocked and get offended when that same divide allows the perputation of offensive behavior and stereotypes.