Monday, May 23, 2016

Ex-NBA Player Denied Seat On Train. Racism or Size-ism?!?

Despite electing a black POTUS in 2008, most people with half a brain would tell you we're hardly "postracial". I'm not sure this country ever will be. If it seems like race relations have only gotten worse in America since 2008, you're not alone. Race seems perhaps at the forefront of the collective American consciousness more than any at any point in my (admittedly short) lifetime. My theories are many, but I think the biggest reason is that the media's figured out how to commoditize race for it's benefit. From the Obama election, to the Beer Summit, to the Tea Parties, the slow boil began and culminated with the Trayvon Martin trial. That was the point when media outlets drew clear lines of bias that they're able to monetize each subsequent race-related story through.

Liberal media outlets side with minority victims (perhaps to a fault), while Conservative outlets without fail (with. out. fail.) are already going to side with the white guy (double bonus if he's got a gun!). These are the rules. People on one side are gonna be slandered as having white guilt, those on the other are called racists. And when everyone's a racist, nobody's a racist and everyone's a winner and the ratings (or page views, take your pick) pile right on up. None of these diametrically opposed viewpoints actually addresses why people are inclined to still be racist in 2016, or discuss how the harmful vestiges of slavery, Jim Crow and Lowry's Seasoning Salt (#StayWoke) actually contribute to the helpless situations people in certain communities have to deal with daily manifest themselves, but whatever. Post that racial hot take and watch the numbers pile up.

I couldn't help but think about how much this "run a race story, any race story" phenomenon has become so commonplace in American media when I saw this story in today's Post.
Etan Thomas, a former NBA player who is also a poet, author and activist, was involved in what he said was an ugly racial incident while he was looking for a seat on a crowded train recently.

A white woman on the train took issue with having Thomas, a 6-foot-10 center who spent most of his career with the Washington Wizards and played college ball at Syracuse, sit next to her, though Thomas said she had no problem with a white man who made the same request moments later. Thomas told the story on Facebook:

“I ask this lady if I could sit next to her (very politely and I soften my voice as to not frighten her) and she says someone is sitting here,” he wrote. “So I go to the next seat. Now, less than 2 mins later a man (who happens to be white) asks if he can sit there and she says why sure let me move my stuff.”

Thomas, 38, decided to confront the woman.

“I ask ummmmm did you just not want ME to sit next to you? Were you scared? Not comfortable with a Black Man sitting next to you? And she says lol smh don’t pull the race card stuff with me I dated a Black guy in college.”

At that point, the man sitting next to the woman offered to get up, but Thomas had other ideas. He was taking a photo of her alongside the extremely uncomfortable-looking white man.

“I said no need I’mma just take this pic and make a Facebook post about it. So then she says did you just take a pic of me? Well I’m going to tell the conductor that you’re over here illegally taking pics of ppl without their consent.
I had the pleasure of meeting Thomas a couple of times when he played for the Wizards. He's a thoughtful, incredibly well spoken guy whose intellect separates him from the stereotypical dumb jock NBA player.[1] On the other hand, as someone who's had the pleasure of meeting Thomas a couple of times I can tell you that the man is absolutely gigantic. I mean, seriously, he literally looks like a giant. The dude's feet are the size of cinder blocks. He looks like a cartoon sized version of a real person.

If he was asking to sit in the open seat on my Acela to Penn Station I'd comply because I'd love to hear him tell some off the record stories about the Wizards, and also because he's big enough to kick my ass if I said no. But mostly the former. That said, would he be one uncomfortable assed trip with a 6-10 265 pound man sitting next to me? Prolly? Is it entirely possible that the unnamed white woman in this story is a Heat fan and/or just didn't want to endure the discomfort of sitting next to a man-giant for the next 4 hours? Possibly. We'll never know because she hasn't spoken about this incident (yet).[2]

I don't discount that the woman might have been racist and simply not wanted to sit next to a black man because [insert random inexcusable excuse here]. I've has plenty such incidents of microaggressions where I've been denied a seat at a bar (!), or a preferred table at lunch, or a seat on a train by someone who didn't look like me, only to see someone else who also didn't look like me get that privilege moments later. Hell, I had a woman clutch her purse when she sat next to me on a plane and that was just a few months ago. This is the daily racism that some people just don't get. When this sorta shit happens over the course of 30-40 some years on a semi-regular basis it makes you paranoid, bitter, and yeah, it almost conditions you to expect sh*t to pop off and might even cloud your consciousness to the point that you see things that aren't even there. Having people explicitly tell you that there's no way in the world you coulda possibly seen what you might have possibly seen just makes it even worse.

That's what racism looks like in 2016. And yeah, you're right to call people on their sh*t as Thomas did. You could argue whether or not putting this woman's face online was the right move (I wouldn't have done it personally) but you still need to call people out. Challenge them.

That's the only way things get better.

Question: Was Etan Thomas imagining racism here, or does this sorta thing happen everyday?

[1] I'll just conveniently ignore the fact that Thomas, a very educated man who's written books and poetry is writing on a 4th grade level here. What's that all about, homie?

[2] The ole' "I banged a black guy in college, I can't possibly be racist!" line is the new "Some of my best friends are black". Very classy, ma'am.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

When Did R&B Music Become So Foul-Mouthed?!?

[Editor's Note: Yeah, the blog's back. In a limited capacity, but back nonetheless.]

As a guy now firmly entrenched in his (early) 40's with a wife, 3 kids, a day job and a mortage, I find myself frequently revisiting my youth via the magic of Spotify. While I'm perfectly content listening to what passes for "hip hop" nowadays, I've got the illest 80's and 90's R&B playlists. Sorry, I just can't listen to today's R&B, and I'm not even sure if the genre, on which a rapper is featured more than the singer, even properly qualifies as R&B anymore.

Diet Drake ripoffs like Bryson Tiller and Tory Lanez are what pass for R&B today. Sure, there's still plenty of old man R&B being made that plays on the "grown and sexy" stations in most urban markets, but who wants to hear Keith Washington and Will Downing? Not even me, and I own albums those guys made. So yeah, I just stick with the older stuff, because the newer stuff sucks.

Case in point is many R&B artist's (new?) tendency to talk sh*t and curse. Not that this is anything new. As you purists will surely tell me, R&B singers like Millie Jackson and Clarence Carter have trafficked in low brow, crude content since the 60's. The difference is, those songs, and those artists were always seen as a novelty of sorts. A comical sideshow, not the norm.

Now, you can't listen to a song without being serenaded by curse words and called a "nigga". I just pulled up a random playlist on Spotify and played the first 10 or so songs. Rihanna ("Needed Me"), Tiller ("Exchange"), Tinashe ("Ride Of Your Life"), Chris Brown ("Back To Sleep"), Lanez ("Say It"), and Eric Bellinger ("Valet") all had the same recurring themes of sex, cheating, revenge and retaliation with enough curse words to make Samuel Jackson blush. If a generation of black kids are being raised on this sorta sh*t, what chance do we have to flourish as a people?


By comparison, a random song from my 90's playlist, Monifah's "I Miss You", sounds like a relic of another era. Which is sorta is. And I like that. A lot.

You youngsters can keep that ratchet sh*t. I'll stick with my oldies.

Question: Do I have any valid points about how awful today's R&B music is, or do I just sound like the suburban soccer dad I've morphed into?