End of the Owners: Black Resistance

Jackie Robinson. Muhammad Ali. Colin Kaepernick. Now, athletes have often been some of the most socially outspoken members of society. With the advent of social platforms like Twitter and Instagram, athletes have been able to interact more in the public sphere, weighing in on global topics to ever-expanding audiences. Some athletes choose to use this expanded platform as a means to push political agendas, call for social change, and protest social injustices. 

Some athletes have used their followings to combat the scrutiny they faced as a result of their status. Athletes like LeBron James and Draymond Green have used their platforms to voice their dissatisfaction with both their industry and society. But as their examples show, it is a difficult and complicated position, as many realize the nature of the organizations aim to rob them of own voices and political agency. 

During a lecture on Carter G Woodson, Prof. Hines explained that his contributions and advocacy for the Black community served as an example of both Black activism and the difficulties of navigating white-dominated fields. Through his work, she suggests that one can rethink the act of radicalism. In making this assertion, Hines aimed to demonstrate that conventional opinion has it that radicalism can only be expressed through either act of violent demonstrations and social disobedience. But, when using Woodson‘s legacy as an example, when you can see that radicalism can also be found in the advancement of other dimensions like healthcare, black advocacy, and self-expression.

Woodson‘s career also serves as evidence of the battle Black public figures have with public scrutiny and their own personal moral and political values. Speaking specifically on Woodson’s work, The Case of the Negro, Professor Hines explains that the text challenged conventional racism and eurocentrism present in academia at the time. Because of his opinions which he felt he could not release because it would alienate him in his field. Paul by doing such a thing what’s an actively strategically embraces objectivity and uses this ongoing relationship with academia as a way to continue his meaningful work, though there are components he had to silence.

This internal conflict that Woodson identifies in his career is one that confronts many black public figures today. Over time, this same dilemma still complicates the experience for especially Black athletes, who have a different time trying to embrace a larger white-dominated field.

Draymond Green, forward for the Golden State Warriors has been very vocal about his disdain for the power dynamic at play in the world of professional sports. In an appearance on HBO’s The Shop, He specifically problematized the language fundamentally used in the sport, seeking to bring an end to the use of the term “owner”. As he said, “Very rarely do we take the time to rethink something and say, ‘Maybe that’s not the way,'” Green said. “Just because someone was taught that 100 years ago doesn’t make that the right thing today. And so, when you look at the word ‘owner,’ it really dates back to slavery. The word ‘owner,’ ‘master’—it dates back to slavery… we just took the words and we continued to put it to use.”

In response to Green’s comments, some of the top executives in the league offered criticism, believing his opinions to be incorrect. Mark Cuban, head of the Dallas Mavericks, in a statement to ESPN said “For him to try to turn it into something it’s not is wrong,” “He owes the NBA an apology. I think he does, because to try to create some connotation that owning equity in a company that you busted your ass for is the equivalent of ownership in terms of people, that’s just wrong. That’s just wrong in every which way.”

By weighing in on this topic, Cuban communicates what appears to be a standard for the conduct of the league- one in which the biggest profiteers are the same individuals whose voices are valued over others. His statement attempts to invisibilize the issue Green highlighted, dismissing any validation his claim about the history of this nation.

Lebron James, in an interview with Cari Champion for the show Uninterrupted, spoke about his growth and the challenges that come with being a black public figure in America. Addressing the current political climate and the presidency, James said “the number-one job in America, the appointed person, is someone who doesn’t understand the people. And really don’t give a (expletive) about the people.” 

As a result of this statement, James became the target of media attacks. Laura Ingraham spoke on James’s comments on her Fox News program The Ingraham Angle, calling them “barely intelligible” and “ungrammatical”. She continued with her “It’s always unwise to seek political advice from someone who gets paid $100 million a year to bounce a ball,” she said. “Keep the political comments to yourselves. … Shut up and dribble.”

In the consideration of the racial backdrop and history of the US, backlash like this has constantly been used against Black athletes. Telling Lebron and other athletes likewise to refrain from sharing their political views actively attempts to constrain their social value and relevance to a sport. By mocking his intelligence, Ingraham attempted to make use of existing stereotypes about Black men in particular. Subsequently, she also trivializes his status as a Black athlete. The presence of this troubling relationship forces one to consider whether there is any merit in these athletes taking part in such an industry, one which appears to be deaf to their concerns and their realities. 

Beyond the pushback that these two athletes received lies a long-standing American tradition of anti-Black racism. Their encounters with these issues demonstrate how this racism has permeated multiple levels of society and has continued to set the precedent for how Black athletes are heard, viewed, and treated. If Black athletes are to continue to make a push for their freedom of thought, then they must inadvertently combat the narratives which seek to silence their voices. 

Works Cited

MacMahon, Tim. “Mark Cuban to Draymond Green: We Own Equity, Not People.” ESPN, ESPN Internet Ventures, 4 Nov. 2017, www.espn.com/nba/story/_/id/21277983/mark-cuban-says-warriors-draymond-green-owes-apology-remark-team-owners.

“Rolling With The Champion.” UNINTERRUPTED, www.uninterrupted.com/original/4sc6zY2DFYQCgg66oCeeeM/rolling-with-the-champion.

Kanye: Loud or ‘Quiet’?

Last week, Kanye West released his ninth studio album, Jesus is King, to mixed reception. Because of West’s political affiliation and social commentary of late, there have been many who felt it necessary to withdraw their support of his artistry and platform. This sentiment has been echoed throughout his industry and in popular culture, as many of his associates and former collaborators have come out expressing their belief that West’s actions warrant him being ‘canceled’. 

But where Hip-Hop and popular media chastised and exiled Kanye, a new community of conservative figureheads has embraced him. As a result, West has grown to become one of the most polarizing figures in rap culture, as his comments have continually fed a racially charged dialogue on politics, artistry, and expression. Most notably, however, West has become known for his expressed support for President Donald Trump, going as far as to promote his campaign while on tour and even wearing ‘Make America Great Again’ apparel. 

In the latest iteration of several acts in alignment with the Trump administration, West was praised for his album by none other than the president’s son, Donald Trump Jr. Taking to Twitter on October 28th, Trump Jr. wrote: “Kanye West is cracking the culture code. @kanyewest’s new album #JesusIsKing is the epitome of fearless creativity and “dangerous, unapproved” ideas. Leftists always try to silence those who are speaking truth. They’re waging a war on our family and culture. Kanye is a pioneer. ”

For much of his audience, West’s latest political action and statements have proven to be limit-testing. After all, Kanye West’s accomplishments and influence on his genre have made him one of the most important Black artists of his generation. But by aligning himself with an openly racist, hateful administration not only does he tarnish this legacy, but he also, as some will argue, appears to contradict himself. After all, how did an artist who once embodied the resistance and power of Black culture, possibly be aligned with an administration and ideology like Trump’s? 

To Kanye West, however, these criticisms of his character are invalid, as he believes they are the result of racial expectations projected upon him. Recently, Kanye expressed these very same sentiments at one of his live performances. As he begins, “they try to tell me because of my color who I’m supposed to pick as the president,” West said in videos that attendees recorded at the service. “You’re black, so you can’t like Trump,” he said, imitating his critics. Then, West declared: “I ain’t never made a decision only based on my color. That’s a form of slavery. Mental slavery.”

At this moment, West appears to be problematizing the societal expectations for Black people, going as far as to call them a form of ‘mental slavery’. For him, the widespread narrative which attempts to dictate political and ideological alignment for Black people is far too restrictive, and perhaps even obscures other aspects of his identity. In West’s opinion, the expectation that he, as a Black person, must dislike Trump is evidence of the pressures of this narrative of blackness. In his eyes, West is resisting being put at odds with the president involuntarily, and therefore accomplishes an expression that serves more than the public expectations for his character. It is similarly the problem of public expectations which Kevin Quashie problematizes in his book, The Sovereignty of Quiet

The Sovereignty of Quiet by Kevin Quashie is an exploration of dominant narratives of black culture and existence. In an analysis of these narratives, Quashie demonstrates that blackness is too often equated with public expressiveness and resistance, stating “black culture has been characterized largely by its responses to racial dominance, so much so that resistance becomes its defining feature and expectation” (Quashie 11). His claim, however, is that these common definitions of blackness are too limiting, and he goes on further to speak on how these definitions can impact artists. 

In the text , Quashie argues that the ability to view blackness in a state of quietness requires an attentive reexamination of how we read and understand Black culture. He supposes that because of the encompassing effect resistance has on narratives of blackness, there are aspects of personal expressions of blackness that are excluded. As he writes in his novel, “this argument for quiet aims to give up resistance as a framework in search of what is lost in its all-encompassing reach” (Quashie 5).

To understand why Blackness is often equated with resistance, he explains that social values and definitions of blackness have set such a precedent. And the solution, which he suggests is ‘quiet’, appears to defy these values, rather focusing on the aspects of emotional interiority and expression necessary for full human expression. Describing the interior nature of quiet, Quashie states that “interiority is a quality of being inward, a ‘metaphor’ for ‘life and creativity beyond the public face of stereotype and limited imagination’ (Quashie, 12). 

In a similar sense for West, his choice, though controversial, offers access to his interiority, allowing him to affirm his self-perception. As he goes on to explain in an interview with Jimmy Kimmel, West says

“[the hat] represented overcoming fear and doing what you felt, no matter what anyone said, in saying, you can’t bully me. liberals can’t bully me, news can’t bully me, the hip-hop community, they can’t bully me. at that point, if I’m afraid to be me, I’m no longer ye. that’s what makes Ye”.

For West, being invested in his political expression was a way for him to affirm his own life away from political stereotypes and expectations. 

In light of Quaashie’s argument for quiet, could Kanye’s latest actions then be read as a re-reading of Blackness? If viewed in terms of their analytical approach and perspective, then there is some connection. Identifying as Black and being expected to be a Democrat can be considered a stereotype, and if West is any example, the kind which does have social repercussions when not adhered to. As Quaashie suggests black expression is too often limited to resistance, West can be seen as offering political expression as an example of this limitation. Because Black people have historically had to agitate for more rights, their political association has been granted to the party which best served that platform, the Democrats. As the party became iconized as the party of the first black president, it also grew able to draw consistent support from a greater percentage of Black Americans. But this history and condition, as Kanye argues, is not only unfair but insufficient in influencing his political alignment. 

So does Quashie’s argument in this book lend West’s positionality legitimacy? By way of his public image and standing, West affirms the same conclusions Quashie argues in his text; Blackness only exists in the public consciousness as resistance, and it seems that this public conception is what Kanye West fails to see beyond. Because he shows a refusal to be constricted by race, West reveals his ultimately narrow perception of race. 

When West speaks about the racial expectations for Black people, he fails to recognize that his view is arguably similarly reductive- he simply is being contrarian, with the hopes of gaining some deeper sense of freedom through doing everything socially unacceptable. 

Because of this reductionist view, West solely defines race as this place to be constricted, not informed. He likes to believe that there is a way to separate himself from his Blackness, or at the very least, not be in constant sensitivity of it. But there is no such way, and as long as he continues to ignore the racism and intolerance of the Trump administration, he will just be making a self-destructive decision in associating with them. 

Works Cited

Jr., Donald Trump. “Kanye West Is Cracking the Culture Code.@Kanyewest’s New Album #JesusIsKing Is the Epitome of Fearless Creativity and ‘Dangerous, Unapproved’ Ideas.Leftists Always Try to Silence Those Who Are Speaking Truth. They’re Waging a War on Our Family and Culture.Kanye Is a Pioneer Pic.twitter.com/EmPgLqgGZJ.” Twitter, Twitter, 29 Oct. 2019, twitter.com/DonaldJTrumpJr/status/1188982758359601157.

Live, Jimmy Kimmel. “Jimmy Kimmel’s Full Interview with Kanye West.” YouTube, YouTube, 10 Aug. 2018, www.youtube.com/watch?v=PmZjaYdS3fA.

Quashie, Kevin Everod. The Sovereignty of Quiet: beyond Resistance in Black Culture. Rutgers University Press, 2012.

Schwarz, Hunter. “Kanye West At Sunday Service Salt Lake City Talked about the Republican Party of Lincoln Freeing the Slaves and How He Supports Trump: ‘I Ain’t Never Made a Decision Only Based on My Color. That’s a Form of Slavery, Mental Slavery.” Pic.twitter.com/0Cwom01ipF.” Twitter, Twitter, 5 Oct. 2019, twitter.com/hunterschwarz/status/1180587512709836801?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw%7Ctwcamp%5Etweetembed%7Ctwterm%5E1180587512709836801&ref_url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.huffpost.com%2Fentry%2Fkanye-west-voting-skin-color-mental-slavery_n_5d991670e4b099389800bfaa.

Code-switching & Black Performativity

In 2009, video surfaced of President Barack Obama at a restaurant in a black neighborhood in Chicago. When asked if he needed any change for his chili dog, he proceeded to tell the cashier, ‘Naw, we straight!’- a stark contrast from the formality in tone and language he presented as he addressed the crowd of 1.8 million at his second Presidential inauguration.  But this moment was not an anomaly, as for the rest of his political career, there exist multiple moments in which the President is seen to modify his expressions to establish greater connection with his audience, whether it be a group of Black teens in Chicago or white middle-aged voters in Idaho

In today’s world, this act employed by Obama and many like him would be described as ‘code-switching’. As defined by Dictionary.com, code switching is the “the modifying of one’s behavior, appearance, etc.to adapt to different sociocultural norms.” Codeswitching, as a practice, can be especially prevalent in communities and individuals with multiple racial or cultural identities. As seen earlier, Obama’s experience as a Black man from Chicago gives him space to understand that ‘code’, shown in his comfortability addressing the cashier in African-American vernacular, but social cues provide him the intuition to switch his mannerisms and language when addressing members of another community. Codeswitching, in this instance, is being used to connect 

Codeswitching, in this sense, carries close relation to cultural assimilation as a practice. Being that it occurs when an individual changes their accent, language, or behavior, the argument can then be extended that there is an implicit ‘side’ or ‘aspect’ of an individual’s identity or expression that is either suppressed or ignored in exchange for another’s emergence. 

For Black individuals, the act of codeswitching can stand as more than a simple navigational tool,  especially when in interaction with spaces of whiteness. Code switching takes multiple forms in this nature, functioning one way as a tool to foster safe interactions between sociocultural lines. Take for example- a foreign exchange student who learns English & American idioms of expression in order to communicate with his or her peers. 

But in another sense, code switching can also be seen as an equally dangerous act, as one which requires an individual to self-police their expression and language in order to avoid disrupting the social norms of their environment. As an example, picture a Black man during a police stop, who switches to using more deferential nouns such as “Sir” when referring to an officer.

In its simplest form, Codeswitching consists of  understanding social, cultural, and language and adapting to better relate. Relevant indicators in this case would include geographic location, formality of setting, and closeness to the subject. But for individuals of Black identity interacting with whiteness, racial perception also holds great decisive power in the process of Code-switching. Therefore how should, if it all, Black individuals consolidate code switching into their larger understanding of Black performativty?

Offering insight on the concept of Black performativity, author E. Patrick Johnson writes in Black Performance Studies: Genealogies, Politics, Futures, that “performance, as a mode of representation, emphasizes that, ‘it is only through the way in which we represent and imagine ourselves that we come to know how we are constituted and who we are’ (Hall, 1992, p. 30).” Granted that Black performance is centered on representation, code switching as a practice can be problematized, as it assumes a normative state of change, meaning that individuals who code-switch are accustomed to re imagining themselves as according to the social space they occupy.

Later in the same article, author E.Patrick Johnson cites feminist thinker and author bell hooks as suggesting that “there are two modes of black performance—one ritualistic as a part of culture building and one manipulative out of necessity for survival in a oppressive world (1995, p. 210).” If Black performance is then thought to consist of one of these modes, where does the act of ‘codeswitching’ fall? Is it, then, a culture building practice or manipulation necessary for survival?

In Performing “Truth”: Black Speech Acts, author Antonio Brown delves into the complexities of the expressions of Black vernacular and other ‘codes’ by African-Americans in their society. While defending the concept of code switching into ‘Black speak’, Brown writes “ For those individuals whose daily demands require a reliance on ‘mainstream,’ standardized speech acts, the purposeful invocation of Black Speak can be a powerful statement about identity, community, connectedness to the counter/alternative culture, and the oration as well as the perception of a ‘truth.’” From his perspective, interacting with White normative culture which places conventional English as the standard is the ‘mainstream’ for many Black individuals, and the assertion of Black speak as a kind of truth paints code switching, in this way, as a source of freedom. 

“Code Switching” in Sociocultural Linguistics, Colorado Research in Linguistics: Vol. 19 by Chad Nilep argues that “dominant groups rely on norms of language choice to maintain symbolic domination, while subordinate groups may use code switching to resist or redefine the value of symbolic resources in the linguistic marketplace.” This direct correlation over code switching and dominance provides the clear distinction over how code switching can differ depending on one’s social position and acceptance. In this train of thought, code switching can than be seen as a necessary manipulation, as it works to resist ongoing racial and cultural domination by empowered classes.

So how should Black individuals problematize code-switching, if at all? In an ideal world, the act of code-switching does not intend to carry bias, but rather serves as a tool for expression and identity. Butt when put into the context of racist societies, it can then function as a tool of this racism. Are Blacks provided more freedoms because of codeswitching- or are they just being given more boxes to fit ‘Blackness’ in?

Works Cited

Brown, Antonio. Performing “Truth”: Black Speech Acts. The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002.

Johnson, E Patrick. Black Performance Studies: Genealogies, Politics, Futures. SAGE Publications, 2005.

Nilep, Chad. “Code Switching” in Sociocultural Linguistics, Colorado Research in Linguistics: . Vol. 19, University of Colorado Boulder, 2006.