Saturday, April 12, 2008


Caught WHITE MEN CAN’T JUMP recently on TV with my ten-year-old. We had to cut away during some scenes, but it was mostly just broad comedy with broad stereotypes being held up for ridicule, or to make some broader point about racism and ethnicity and stereotypes.

But as good as everyone was in it (Woody Harrelson, Wesley Snipes, Rosie Perez, Tyra Ferrell, et. al.) and as well intentioned as the humor seemed to be, it was totally outdated. I remember how funny it was when it first came out, and it still has its moments, but mostly it just seems like a movie that couldn’t be made anymore, because the stereotypes it’s based on we’re finally outgrowing.

And what a good thing.

Obama is on to something, whether he wins or not. Jokes about the basketball prowess of African-Americans may have been radically honest even ten years ago, but today, with the internationalization of basketball—as well as more visibility for so many super successful African-Americans in a broad spectrum of endeavors—they seem lame and beside the point. As do most of the other stereotypes in and out of this movie that have been fodder for entertainment and politics and niche causes etc. for too long.

The boundaries are shifting, the definitions becoming more difficult to pin down, or pin on to the specific. Like Obama. Or Hilary, for that matter. She’s more conservative than most liberals, more dependent on her relationship with her man than the label “feminist” used to imply. She’s ebullient one moment and stiffly withdrawn the next, critical and almost seemingly bitter, then joyful and seemingly grateful, even humble, then defiant, even arrogant.

Obama is even less definitive of some stereotypical man, or African-American, or even mixed-race American, for which the stereotype has yet to be satirized as successfully as Woody Harrelson’s white-man-without-a-clue (he could so play Bush junior in the story of the president without a clue).

Not that the stereotypes still don’t apply in some instances, some experiences, some expressions of an individual’s humanity. But the broader outlines of a more globalized concept of individuality, no matter how consumerized, is prevalent today in a way that cannot be denied, nor stopped.

That’s part of what Obama appeals to in his supporters, the way I see it. And the more those old stereotypes are broken down the better. It doesn’t change the fact that there are still too many “black” American men in prison (and still too many “Americans” in prison in this country period).

It doesn’t change the fact that a way too high percentage of “black Americans” are unemployed, or underemployed, or suffering from the kind of poverty that a country this wealthy and advanced should have wiped out generations ago (especially since less wealthy countries have managed to do it). Or that a lesser percentage of “white Americans” but a higher actual number still suffer from poverty as well (e.g. as I’ve pointed out before, we’re so far down the list in health care compared to other industrialized countries, we’re behind Latvia in infant mortality rates, etc.).

It just means any art that is based on skewering “reality,” or on honesty that’s so blunt it’s shocking and/or humorous, can’t rely on what seemed brutally honest only ten years ago, even five for that matter. For my taste, those kind of racial clichés were already out of date decades ago when I was writing letters to the editors of The Los Angeles Times and The New York Times every time someone wrote about “young black boys” having “no role models” other than “the pimps and drug dealers and gansta rappers” etc.

I wrote many a letter about how insulting it is to those—“black” and “white”—who risked their lives, and in some cases lost them, for the cause of ending the kinds of legal and extralegal segregation and oppression and inequality that still permeated society when I was coming up. To ignore the fact that there was an African-American Supreme Court justice before there was an Italian or woman, and the other ethnicities and categories that have yet to have a Supreme Court judge from their ranks, or to ignore the other obvious successes across the worlds of politics and business and sports and entertainment, etc. was to insult, as I said, all those who risked their lives in the fight to make that all possible.

If a young “black” man doesn’t have any “black” role models other than the various forms of “gangsta” culture, then that just means he hasn’t watched a TV show (even the ones that feature “rap” show more of the world than that narrow view) let alone been exposed to anything outside the world of that contrived image.

It ain’t true, despite the gangs and prison corralling of young black men. What’s true is that government policies of this administration, and previous ones to some extent, have created the corporate friendly atmosphere that has allowed the prison system to develop in ways that feed that system’s privatization and necessary need for more “clients,” and the “war on drugs” is happy to funnel bodies into that system.

And yes, it’s racist in that a much higher percentage of young black men get much longer sentences for drug offences than do most whites. (I just heard of a case yesterday of a white male I know being caught with a lot of cocaine in separate baggies after totaling his car, the way I heard it. He is getting a break because it is his first offense. Most “black” men would end up with decades of prison time for such an offense.) And within the system itself, there is a further fueling of racism by the lack of programs and serious effort to actually do some rehabilitation and education, and of enough guards and other personnel, so that prisoners need the protection of ethnically and racially segregated groups to survive. Etc.

And yes that carries over into the whole “gangsta” image and projection into the culture in general, and unfortunately too often into the standards of even well educated young black men (and women to a lesser extent) from financially-secure family backgrounds (as it often does for young white men, though usually with less harsh outcomes).

Nonetheless, we are rapidly becoming the multi-cultural society some have been claiming we already were. And Obama represents that inevitability more than the other candidates, and with a style, as well as substance, to his politics that prove, to my mind, he is the right person for these times.

Not all “black” men can jump, and some white men have proven they certainly can jump, as some women of all shades have also proven. What Hilary and Barack have both done with their very viable candidacies for the office of president is prove it’s a new world, and welcome to it.


JIm said...

The Democrat party has a tacit agreement with the Black Community, that has been in effect for 40 years. In exchange for your vote the party will promote the idea of victimhood, entitlement and preference. Thus, a single parent can survive without a traditional family structure. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan warned of this evil in 1965. The path for immigrant Irish, Italians, Jews etc. to prosperity has been through strong family structures and through education. The welfare philosophy helped destroy the family structure of the inner city poor blacks and the teachers union helped destroy the education of the public school system. Albert Shanker the school union president in a moment of candor when testifing before congress, said the union would work for students when they get to vote in the union(paraphrased).The party and the unions are against allowing parents free choice as to educate their children because it would take power from the union and the party. In Washington DC it is estimated that the total cost per student including legacy costs for teacher is $25000. That is more than enough to cover the costs of attending schools like the one that Chelsea Clinton attended and the private school that Obama's attend in Chicago.Post Martin Luther King Black leaders, like Jackson, Sharpton, Wright, Rangel etc, have fed the destructive passions of anger and victomhood. The inner city black condition will not improve until they rediscover the power of the family and education. The Democrat party works against both.
PS Mike, you were one of those white men who could not jump.
PS.Freedon of the press - Military Funerals
The US press is one of the freeist in the world. Only Briton surpases because they have weaker libel laws and a politically weaker attorney class. Access to funerals have been blocked but press complaints have been loud.

Lally said...

I don't remember having any problem jumping. Maybe with my jump shot, but for a white boy, I could get pretty high off the ground as I remember it Jim. As for the rest of your comments, pretty predictable mix of fact and fiction to dump on the Democratic Party, without which there wouldn't have been a G. I. Bill for WWII and Cold War vets, which is what brought higher education to the descendants of Irish, italian, etc. immigrants (like me) so they could move beyond the blue collar jobs of their forbearers, but even if they had blue collar jobs they could still afford to own their own home, with an often stay-at-home mom, and pay for their kids' college educations, thanks to strong unions that Republican administrations starting especially with Regan have done everything they can to weaken.

JIm said...

Mike, You evade the question with the blather. Pls explain how the welfare system with collective responsibility and funding rather than individual/family responsibility and funding strengthened the family. Pls explain how the teachers union and trial lawyers, who are major funders of the Democrat party, further education in the inner city. Would it not be better if the money followed the student and parents made decisions about where the student went to school. Would it not be better if a student's rights, were checked at the door, accept in the case of "extreme abuse" not the normal stuff that was meted out at OLS by Sr. Gemma or at St.Benedicts by the Duke.

JIm said...

Sorry if I hurt your feeling about the jumping. Actually the only white guy that I remember,who could really jump, was Pete O'Connor. I remember wishing I could jump like him, much less play basketball like he could.

JIm said...

Drug glorification in the black culture,the "War on Drugs" and bi-partisan stupidity.

You are probably right that blacks do not receive equal justice in drug cases. Whether it is a light sentence or a heavy sentence they still end up in jail for an offense(drug use) that should not warrant imprisonment. The "War on Drugs" is and has been an abject failure. It would be better to legalise it, tax it, and use the proceeds to rehabilitate those who choose to be rehabilitated.

Lally said...

Your last comment makes you sound more libertarian than rightwing Republican, so maybe there's hope for you yet. But as for your basketball remarks, I don't get offended that easy Jim. I wasn't that great at team sports, because I didn't like the jock attitude and perspective once it became organized. I loved sandlot (or asphalt parking lot) pick up games of football and baseball and basketball and stick ball with neighborhood friends who were into it for the fun and not the competitiveness. But the oragnized school team sports left me feeling like the wrong guy in the wrong place. But I do remember Pete O'Cpnner being a terrirfic athlete, and a terrific guy. Still seemed like a great guy last time I spoke to him.

JIm said...

I remember the time you talked me to trying out for football. I lasted 1/2 a day. I used my old stand by excuse, asthma. You were not the greatest football player, but you stuck with it and got a letter. As I remember you were the "Rudy" of St. Benedicts. Unfortunately you grew up into a left wing socialist nut, but your football efforts in high school were, I believe, some of your finest hours.