Sunday, December 27, 2009

and they say "these are our heroes"...

"Let's hear it, one for the coons on UPN 9 and WB
Who 'Yes Massa' on TV, what ever happened to Wheezy?
The Red Fox's? Never got Emmy's but were real to me
Let's hear it, two for the spooks who do cartwheels
'Cause they said they played they parts well
Now they claim caviar, hate that oxtail
Lambda Sigma Phi badge on lapel
Whitey always tell him, "Ooh, he speak so well"
Are you the one we look to, the decent Negro?
The acceptable Negro -- hell nah
But they say, "These are our heroes"...

Since 1998, Tiger Woods has taken over the role of the world’s most popular and widely-recognized recognized athlete, amassing earnings of more than $1Billion USD since turning professional in 1996. However, while Mr. Woods may enjoy worldwide name recognition, he has always maintained a detached relationship with the general public, rarely allowing his thoughts or opinions to deviate from the corporate image carved out for him by agents and handlers. After Tiger Woods won the Masters Tournament, in 1996, the 21-year-old golf phenom was touted as the Great Black Hope, the putter-wielding equivalent of Martin Luther King Jr. Pundits waxed poetic about the cosmic social significance of Woods' feat. Coinciding with the 50th anniversary celebrations of Jackie Robinson's breaking of baseball's color line, Woods' coronation as the Black Prince of the Country Club gave America a chance to engage in its favorite ritual, the recitation of warm racial platitudes. While blacks celebrated the triumph of one of their own in a lily-white sport, whites wiped away tears and congratulated themselves on their remarkable progress.

And then Tiger Woods said he wasn't actually "black" at all -- he was "Cablinasian", a term of self-definition he completely made up. Woods made his remarks on "Oprah," when asked if it bothered him to be called an African-American. "It does," he said. "Growing up, I came up with this name: I'm a 'Cablinasian.'" As in Caucasian-black-Indian-Asian. Woods has a Black/Native American/White father and a Thai/Chinese mother. "I'm just who I am," Woods told Oprah Winfrey, "whoever you see in front of you." Woods' remarks infuriated many African Americans including Colin Powell who, responding to Woods' comments stated that "In America, which I love from the depths of my heart and soul, when you look like me, you're black".

Yes, Tiger Woods is a brand name. Woods is certainly the world's greatest golfer and arguably the world's greatest athlete, the head of Tiger Inc., a celebrity without parallel with the money that comes with that. Only lately has the negative fallout from his secret infidelity begun to hit home: lost corporate sponsors, a stunning golf career on hold, and most of all, a marriage and family in jeopardy. His media image is inflated beyond his real self. Commercially, he has become less than he really is.

A cardboard representative on primetime television ads always dressed in Nike sportswear, holding a bottle of Gatorade and shaving with a Gillette razor. These are banal activities. Tiger took every bit of the money his image delivered. And not to sound too cliché: but with great rewards come great responsibility. That's the deal. You can't have one without the other. You can't have your image beamed relentlessly into everyone's living room, magazine, airport lounge and then expect people not to be intrigued with your life. But more troubling than the mere reality of existing in the public domain solely as a corporate characature is the lack of any relevant opinion or political stance in anything relevant in any sociopolitical realm. And Tiger Woods is certainly not the only athlete not to take a marked social stance on important global issues. When presented with the opportunity during the 2008 Beijing Olympics to comment upon China-Sudan relations, in which China supplies the Sudanese government with money and weapons ans China, in turn, imports Sudanese oil, Lebron James chose to remain silent.

Sure, big-name athletes always have endorsed products since Babe Ruth and Mickey Mantle. Wheaties boxes have features athletes for decades. But in his groundbreaking shoe deal with Nike, Michael Jordan became the first true athletic corporate figure.

In 1980s, when asked about his thoughts on the Senatorial race in his home state of North Carolina that featured a black democratic mayor from Charlotte named Harvey Gantt, whom was an acquiantance, Jordan offered: “Republicans buy sneakers, too”. To stand for nothing in society, to function as a blank slate, a mere tabula rusa for corporate interests, has severe consequences when the behavior of athletes runs counter to their Madison Avenue image. Little is known about the thoughts, views and opinions of an individual like Tiger Woods so it is hard to be sympathetic to an individual who has maintained such as inhumanely distant façade during his professional career. His very public fall from grace has been the only semblance of non-scripted behavior in his entire public life.

Woods’ exile may last three months or it may last three years. But one thing is certain: Unlike the 24-hour wall-to-wall sleaze that’s dominated the airwaves since the initial revelations of Woods’ infidelity, this is actual news. After 14 years of being protected by the press, the Tiger has become carrion. And now, the greatest golfer in history is walking away. Unwillingly or unable to relate to his fans or the general public en masse, while shilling product after product in hopes of getting this very same public to buy merchandise, Tiger Woods has elicited less sympathy, while simultaneously being abandoned by some of his corporate sponsors and the media.

The jury is out on whether Tiger’s retreat makes him more sympathetic. But years from now when we look back at this saga, I hope we remember that Woods didn’t choose to leave golf until his sponsors left him. Woods announced his departure on Dec. 11. He hadn’t been on a prime time commercial since Nov. 29, three days after the accident, according to the Nielson Company. The “global consulting company” Accenture dropped him from the homepage of their Web site. AT&T told him not to call. Gillette similarly has severed ties. Nearly every part of Tiger Woods Inc. sized up his moment of desperate need and, instead of offering solidarity and support, ran for cover, except for Nike whose Nike Golf sales and Tiger Woods branded apparel are almost entirely dependent on him.
Tiger’s partnership with the habitual toxic waste dumpers Chevron and the financial criminals in Dubai deserves far more scrutiny from the sports press than it’s received (none). Then there was the Philippines. As detailed in the documentary “The Golf War,” the Filipino government, in conjunction with the military and developers, attempted in the late '90s to remove thousands of peasants from their land, known as Hacienda Looc, to build a golf course. They resisted and three movement leaders ended up dead. Where was Woods? He was brought in by the government to play in an exhibition match and sell golf (though not explicitly the course), all for an undisclosed fee. The government called it “The Day of the Tiger”.

“The Golf War” filmmakers show clips of Woods saying to kids, “I want all of you to learn and grow from this experience. Invariably you’re gonna learn life, gonna learn about life because golf is a microcosm of life.” "I reach out each and every day with my foundation," Woods said. "We don't focus on golf, because that's not the sole purpose of life. Life is not about hitting a high draw and a high fade. It's about being a better person each and every day and helping others. That's what life is all about. Is golf a part of people's lives? Yes, it's part of my life. But it's not the end of all things in my life."

He can be politically correct all he wants. But we're talking about golf, which he can directly influence. And the fact remains, there's fewer people of color playing golf at the highest level than when he started. Duke University anthropologist Orin Starn notes that "People have talked about this idea of Barack Obama as the so-called 'Magic Negro,' as a sort of black man who's expected to fix everything and to make everybody feel good about themselves with a magic wand to eliminate and make disappear the problems of racism, and poverty and conflict in America...And I think there's been this idea that Tiger should somehow be a kind of 'Magic Negro' for the PGA Tour, and that he should lift up his wand and somehow make golf into a more diverse and inclusive sport. I don't think this should be on him, at least exclusively". It's a shame that the person who can do the most to bridge the gap says, 'I made it. Now you make it,'" Payton says. "Instead he could say, 'Well this is what my daddy taught me. These are the drills. There are people that can be motivated to be Tiger Woods with a little help and encouragement from him. The people you idolize and emulate can have the greatest influence on what you're doing.

My father has taught me few things in life, partly due to his absence and partly due to his incoherence at times when speaking but I remember telling me "if you stand for nothing, you will fall for anything". I also remember hearing this in a song as well, probably Khujo from Goodie Mob, or maybe my mom said it, who knows. Point being, that a man with seemingly great amounts of influence, all the money in the world, and social power has chosen to not stand for anything. Nothing. Not even the wrong things. Let me take that back- all people know of Mr. Woods is that he can hit a golf ball, has two kids and a wife and cheats on her. That's it. And for that, I do not pity his fall from grace. There is something shallow in people who remain silent to remain beholdent to corporate partnerships while already possessing all the money in the world.

Of course, the well-off want to maintain the status quo because, quite frankly, the status quo is working for them. But then stay the hell off of the tv's and magazines hawking products no one needs like some sort of prostitute. MJ or Tiger Woods doesn't give a damn that excessive drinking of gatorade can cause damage to kidneys or that their products continue to be made in sweatshops. But I can deal with that, I fly on planes made by companies such as Boeing and Airbus that manufacture weapons that kill people half a world away. We are all guilty of buying and associating with products and brands have questionable ties in a global economy (Mercedes-Benz and Nazis, American/English multinational banks and the Slave Trade). But in a global society that is rapidly becoming divided upon class lines (whether a disproportionate number of higher class people also have a disproportionately similar skin tone and ethnic heritage) these global figures have the means to empower children who look similar to them even though their experiences and cultues may be different. So while Tiger has neglected the underprivledged youth that may revere him, his corporate sponsors who have crafted and molded his Tiger persona have abandoned him. Every corporate icon thinks their moment in the spotlight will last forever.

I am a marketer by education, my whole training was to create an image associated with a brand or product, out of nothing if need be. Marketing is high-class prostitution, go out there make me money and I will pay you a percentage what you bring in to the company. They can create new Tigers out of the most timid sheep. Black stripes on mocha-colored skin that often resembled Nike swooshes and shareholder stock options. Although shaped by Madison Avenue wolves since a youth, the wolfpack is now predictably abandoning its own (weakened) progeny. It is wolves' nature, what else could you expect? How is the public supposed to embrace a 'Cablinasian' that has fallen from grace? I don't know. He has handlers and agents and image consultants. There's real life to worry about, Nigerians and airlines, a country that is too indebted to provide people with health care but apparently can spare the loose change to launch campaigns in Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, and Pakistan simultaneously. Plus, am more of a Pelé soccer fan anyway.

Friday, December 18, 2009

peau noire, masques blancs...

“Out of the blackest part of my soul, across the zebra striping of my mind, surges this desire to be suddenly white. I wish to be acknowledged not as black but as white" ~Frantz Fanon

Dedicado a Sammy Sosa:

From the leaders of early slave revolts on to W.E.B. Dubois, Carter G. Woodson, Malcolm X and Frantz Fanon, we have been passionately informed that the most devastating impact of the White man has been psychological. In their writings and speeches, they consistently cautioned us that,

“The key to the White man’s power and the major strategy used by him to remain dominant in the global power struggle of the modern world, has been in his uncanny ability to influence other people’s minds (cultures), and how they live and relate to one another”.

I am constantly reminded by interacting with different and travelling that the upper-class in Haiti teach their child French, not Kreyol, Puerto Rican elites send their children to Madrid or New York, not San Juan or Ponce, with it's distinctive tone and pronunciation of Spanish. Artists like Yinka Sinobare, of Nigerian descent, whose work critiques Victorian era British decadence and imperial policy, yet proudly an accept awards such as Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE) and display it prominently after their name.

The intellectual assaults or the psychic violence aimed at controlling Black minds has surprisingly been well documented from at least 1829 when David Walker's "Appeal to the Colored Citizens of the World" was first published in Boston. In the book "The Psychology of Blacks: An African Centered Perspective", authors Parham, White and Ajamu state that “The most daunting challenge that we face as African American people is not White supremacy ideology but a need for collective mental liberation". This is not to say that lives are not enriched by the collective cross-cultural exchange that has occurred in our era of Globalization.

However, when only one culture, when only one system of governance, language, "way of life", and customs are championed as the ultimate hegemonic prototype, you defeat the very diversity that is made possible by such as fluid, global exchange of ideas and thoughts. When you have predominantly one race, culture, or background in the seats of power, where one dialect or manner of dress is afforded a superior social power, the result is a denial of individuals outside of this power paradigm disavowing their own culture, their own history, their own phenotypical realities, to sometime dramatic effect.

Nigger, Coon, Jigaboo, Buck, Darkie, Pickaninny, Jezebel, Mammy, Aunt Jemima, Sambo, Buckwheat, and Uncle Tom are all powerful examples of negative racial stereotypes imposed on the psyche of African descended people from the outside. No other American group has suffered as many racial epithets as have Blacks generally. Whether in America, Brasil, or even Iraqi (yes, Iraq, there is an African-Iraqi population, read more about it, here) So who or what can honestly heal our deeply inflicted psychological scars? Who can really pay “reparations” on the Souls of Black Folk? Now, individuals like Sammy Sosa and the late Michael Jackson can do whatever they want to themselves. Companies like Vichy of Switzerland and Nivea of Germany can sell their Whitening products with advertisements such as the one below, toting the benefits of "whiteness" but unfortunately the schisms created by the systematic "lessing of" the beauty of the "other" leads to tragic consequences.

This problem is also prevalent in Latin America. For example, Brazil has the largest black population outside of the African continent at 90 million, which amounts to roughly half of its people. Yet, despite their conspicuous presence in society, black Brazilians face discrimination, poverty, and lower education and health standards than whites. According to a "racial atlas" created by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Federal University of Minas Gerais, 65 percent of the poor and 70 percent of the extremely poor in Brazil are of African descent.

In the Dominican Republic, Sammy Sosa's country of origin, people are overwhelmingly black: 90 percent have African ancestry, according to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). Yet only 11 percent identify themselves as black. And as UN experts found, there is "a profound and entrenched problem of racism and discrimination against such groups as Haitians, Dominicans of Haitian descent, and more generally against blacks within Dominican society". Such problems surfaced in the early 20th century, when Rafael Leónidas Trujillo took over as dictator in the Dominican Republic and, despite his grandmother being Haitian, systematically killed, it is estimated over 20,000 Haitians in the Dominican Republic. He is also known to have bleached his skin (and wear platform shoes-but that is neither here nor there).

A strong anti-Haitian sentiment is rooted in the country's history. Haiti is a former colonizer of the Dominican Republic, as was Spain. Yet, Dominicans only celebrate their independence from Haiti. The government has engaged in mass deportations of Haitians and at present citizenship is denied to Dominican-born children of so-called "illegal" Haitian immigrants. But a large reason for this hatred of Haitians is a denial of Dominicans' own African origin. Simply put, sometimes it is difficult to stare at oneself in the mirror. For years, under the Hispanidad movement, the government of the Dominican Republic emphasized the nation's white, Spanish and Catholic heritage, and conveniently left out the black part.

The Dominican Republic is a nation whose hairdressers are known for their hair-straightening prowess and most Dominican women get their hair straightened. Although dark folks are the overwhelming majority, black skin, wide noses and 'pelo malo' (bad hair) do not fit the standard of beauty. So, hair relaxers and skin whiteners are in, and people will call themselves a number of things, such as Indian, burned Indian, Moreno and cinnamon - anything but negro (the Spanish word), or black. This is what years of submerging your culture will do. It is only through a combination of strategic humility and strategic pursuit of self-interest in a determined effort to raise black people’s development — individually and collectively — that our millennium-old image problem will be addressed. It means recognising that we are in a hole (literally and perceptually) and then using any means necessary to climb out.

So what, some would argue. Sammy Sosa wants to whiten his skin and some folks want a tan. The problem with using tanning as a counter-argument to whitening is that it is a false dichotomy. If one was to assume that skin whitening and bleaching are merely exercises in cosmetics he or she would be spot-on. But skin whitening is mainly about power, as even its defenders citing "age-old traditions" explicitly concede; by this I mean the relative power of white skin in a world still dominated economically, politically and culturally by European and American frameworks of assumption of what constitutes progress, success and beauty. Even though both artificial and natural skin-tanning are growing in popularity in Asia and elsewhere (while studying in Japan, there is a youth culture called 'ganguro', which literally means 'black skin' and hyper tanning salons but black race is exoticized in Japan in a very distinct manner, more akin to France and the 1920s with Josephine Baker than to the American system, in Japan the cultural differences between the Chinese and Japanese is a more apt comparison.

In his 1903 literary masterpiece, The Souls of Black Folk, Dr. W.E.B. Du Bois made his case for the idea of a dual or “double consciousness” existing with the collective psyche of Africans in America. This false consciousness that Dr. Dubois wrote about really speaks to the confusion and ambivalence that Black folks experience every day in America as they search and struggle for their own meaningful sense of historical and cultural identity. Indeed the latter struggle and the problem of “The Color Line” are still with us in America more than a century later though no means only a localized phenomenon. Certainly, the U.S. is not immune from this color-coded mentality.

African-Americans historically internalized racism by pitting light-skinned blacks against dark-skinned ones, and using paper bag tests for admission to exclusive clubs. Black newspapers and magazines in the 1920s through the 1960s often featured advertisements for skin bleaching creams. Typically, with promises of "lighter, brighter skin," these ads blatantly associated white skin with beauty and success, and depicted dark skin as ugly. Meanwhile, people of color in America still fight against the Madison Avenue standard of beauty, which usually takes the form of a malnourished white blond fashion model with slight facial features.

The once dark-complexioned, undeniably African-looking Sosa now looks more like Ricky Ricardo from "I Love Lucy". As the late Nigerian activist and musician Fela Kuti would have said, it appears that Sosa is guilty of having a "colonial mentality". Throughout the African diaspora, black people internalized the racism they experienced under slavery and colonial rule. Bad habits are hard to break, and there is still self-hatred among black and colored people today. Sammy Sosa and others must realize that try as you might, you cannot bleach out your history.