the tale of words
Posted: January 24, 2000
The boy came to the man. And he said to the man, "Tell me a story."
And the man told him this:
What, in fact, happened was that as I walked down the street today, two teenaged boys walked past me. Nothing special.
Except that as one passed, he said, quite clearly and unmistakeably, "Word up, nigger."
They weren't speaking until they got within talking range of me. It's not as though there was some other conversation this could have been part of. There wasn't anyone else in my immediate area; there was nobody else it could have been addressed to.
I've no idea what they wanted. Did they want to pick a fight? They were both younger and more fit, and there were two of them. They would certainly have won. Did they want to provoke me into saying something? I can't imagine what they would have gotten from that. Did they want to provoke some visible reaction? I ignored them. I wouldn't give them that satisfaction. Did they just want to get under my skin?
That they got.
You know, the thing is, I'd have let that go. Yes, they got to me, but not that badly.
And then I got home, and fired up the email. Among things in the inbox was the latest Salon announcements for their weekend issue; it arrived yesterday, but I must have overlooked it. And one of their articles was Rocker is no Racist: How knee-jerk sportswriters and Stalinist moral bureaucrats an immature loudmouth.". All things being equal, I should have left it alone. All things being equal, there was no way I could have, this day.
To be sure, mostly this whole Rocker thing has been one vast amusement to me. After all, he's merely said out loud what much of the country thinks, but has better sense than to ever say. I will concede, without difficulty, that he's an immature loudmouth--only an immature loudmouth would say things like that in front of the press, or in front of anyone at all. I will even concede that in his conscious mind, Rocker really doesn't believe those things that he said.
And yet ... and yet ... and yet ... he did say them. Somewhere in his unconscious mind, he must have dredged these things up from somewhere. He may not have known that he believed them, that such concepts lurked somewhere. And, finally, maybe he really doesn't believe them, at any level. Maybe they were just the most shocking things he could think of to say, that it was the best way to attack a city that had shown every sign that it hated him and he hated it back equally. To be honest, I don't really care.
To be sure, Peter Collier, the author of this article, is clearly an archconservative git; he's coauthored books with David Horowitz, after all. The part of the article that's actually about Rocker himself is really quite negligible. It's when Collier turns his rapier wit to the "race industry" that turns race into America's "suppurating wound" that he becomes interesting ... though perhaps not in ways he'd intended.
It would have been more interesting had Collier actually linked to or cited whatever writers he was talking about. The specific article he links to in his article says only, "Without question, the most deplorable story from the sports world this year is the one still developing in North Carolina." I'm not sure what sort of understanding this is supposed to show; it's the only statement of opinion in the entire section. As it is, his statement stands as an unsubstantiated allegation, and a particularly scurrilous one.
Indeed it is. Unfortunately, both Rocker and Collier pick up on the wrong standard. Rocker, perhaps, can be excused; he's being pilloried for, ultimately, a far lesser sin. For Collier, there's no excuse other than that he's twisting events to match his thesis.
Indeed. What about them? I should think that all of them could benefit from a good course with the shrink.
However, Collier is mistaken to think that this has much to do with race. Mostly, it has to do with the fact that they're all multi-millionaire athletes, whose corporate masters are quite aware that people will come to the park to watch the freak show. You don't put the attractions out of the game. In Alomar's case, you certainly don't put the attraction out of the game during the playoffs, robbing your team of a chance to win. Consider: If Mark McGuire had spit in an umpire's face during the first home run duel with Sammy Sosa, how long do you think he'd have been out of baseball? If Keith van Horn had actually gone after his coach, do you really think that the penalties would have been less, that they'd have wanted him to stay in the NBA after he'd tried to kill his coach?
To be sure, Sprewell is something of a different case; it's not every day that an athlete tries to kill someone on his team. However, I don't know that race did or didn't play a role in how things turned out. The NBA owners certainly did everything they could to get him out of the game, and that didn't have anything to do with his race. The players union did everything they could to protect him, and that probably had nothing to do with his race--in fact, I would wager that it probably divided the union rather badly, although I've no evidence for it. The courts that reinstated him were almost certainly not indifferent to his race, because the court system generally is not, but in the end, contract law took precedence. Sprewell continues to play because all of these things came together in his favor, independent of race. (What I do not understand, and have never understood, is why his coach never pressed assault charges. I suspect everything would have fallen out rather differently had that happened.)
What I do know is that had this happened out in the real world--away from the lights and cameras, away from the overblown world of professional sport--had Sprewell attacked his boss during work, gone away for an hour to cool off, then come back and attacked him again, he would not be enjoying his freedom at this time. At the very least, he would have been tried, and almost certainly convicted, of aggravated assault, and possibly attempted murder. (The court system being what it is, the lawyers would probably have traded the attempted murder for a plea bargain on the assault, but that's neither here nor there.)
Of course the Rocker case is a "thin reed" for all that. At its core, it's just one terribly stupid person with a big mouth, after all. And the idea that only those with power can be prejudiced is idiotic; it's merely that those with power are in a unique position to act on their prejudices on a wide scale. But if reality isn't constructed by those with power, who is it constructed by? People without power aren't in much of a position to build anything.
A quote from earlier in the article. I must admit, I would like to know what papers he's been reading--or, more specifically hasn't been reading. The effects of Title IX have been covered extensively in many papers, especially those in cities with colleges that have had to make major adjustments. And the plain fact is, it's not the fault of the "feminists" or anyone else that the amount of money in college sports is finite. Colleges cannot and will not simply throw money; they haven't got the money to throw.
This is, in a different formulation, the sort of argument that is always made against any affirmative action program. The men suffer when the women benefit. The whites suffer when the minorities benefit. In an ideal world, yes, it would be wonderful if we could achieve balance without anyone suffering.
In case it escaped someone's notice, this is not an ideal world.
And I must confess, although the idea that an individual loses out because of such a program bothers me, the idea that groups lose out.... well.
Let me put it this way.
I understand that it hurts to lose out to someone because of factors you don't control. I understand that it can be infuriating to have something as simple as gender or race determine who gets a job or a program.
Welcome to the club.
No, it's not fair. The world isn't fair. It never has been, it never will be.
No, it's not really "just", but then, justice doesn't really exist.
For those who complain about losing out to minorities, I say: Come back and talk to me about this in another three hundred or so years. Maybe by then, it'll all have balanced out.
For those who complain about losing out to women, I say: come back and talk to the women in about ten thousand years. Maybe by then, that will have all balanced out, as well.
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