Beyond Beyoncé

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After being lampooned by Jessica Williams on the Daily Show, Bill Varney responded by reiterating the very question that made him a late night laughingstock:

“Why do we have to bring race into everything in America, including the halftime show of the Super Bowl?”

While Bill is perplexed as to why race is brought “into everything in America,” I am incredulous as to why America refuses to acknowledge that everything is about race.

The Super Bowl is a perfect example.

The NFL is run by a cadre of rich white men. Its sole purpose is to give team owners, rich white men all, a forum in which their overwhelmingly black teams can compete. (NFL players are 68% black, as compared to the US population which is 13% black.) “Owners” also “draft” and “trade” their players.

Oddly, despite the fact that roughly 7-in-10 players are black, quarterbacks — the ones who “shout” the “orders” at the rest of the team — are virtually 100% white, and there has never been a black Super Bowl MVP.

As we witnessed at Super Bowl 50, Cam Newton is a welcome exception to the white quarterback club. He was courted with scholarships as a high school athlete, won the Heisman Trophy as a college athlete, and took the Panthers to the Super Bowl after winning Offensive Player of the Year in 2015.

But for all of those hard-earned accolades and coveted awards, if you were to transport Cam Newton and Bill Varney into midtown Manhattan right this second, who do you think would have more difficulty getting a cab at dusk? Who would be more likely to be pulled over if he was driving? Who would be more likely to get stop and frisked outside a bodega?

Who would be more likely to be mistaken as a worker at Nobu, a valet (or worse) outside the Grand Hyatt, a homeless man while waiting to cross the street?

Statistically speaking, who is more likely to have close friends in prison, to be the product of a single-parent home and an underfunded public school, to be shot by an officer of the law?

Beyoncé didn’t “bring race into” the Super Bowl; she gave a performance that illustrated the obvious. And what better venue to do so than the Super Bowl, the most watched television event of the year (the brain damage to which players — but not owners — are subject not withstanding).

Let us hope that we can use “Formation” as the beginning of a dialog that challenges the status quo of racial disparity rather than write it off as (to quote Rudy Giuliani) “a bunch of people bouncing.”
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More bullet points for the list (updated).

Add these to yesterday’s list:

For the times are they a-changin’? (or “Why I’m not impressed.”)

Then: (1974)

Now:

  • Eric Garner (killed Thursday, July 17, 2014 – 43 years old)
  • Michael Brown (killed Saturday, (August 9, 2014 – 18 years old)
  • Walter Scott (killed Saturday, April 4, 2015 – 50 years old)
  • Freddie Gray (killed Tuesday April 12, 2015 – 25 years old)
  • Freddie Gray’s Death Ruled a Homicide (today)

Yet:

So: For the times are they a-changin’?

NOTE: A more exhaustive list of unarmed Black men killed by police can be found here.

The Paradox that is America

A close friend of mine for whom I have a great deal of respect astutely questioned my premise of a divided nation citing several relevant historical data points. (“Are labor protections worse today than in 1890? … As a nation, we’re certainly less divided than in 1862.”) Nothing is more divisive to a nation than a civil war; certainly we are less divided than in 1862. But can social progress coexist with social division?

Civil wars are a ludicrously absurd method for resolving ideological disputes: ideas are judged not on merit but rather on might ending with the suppression of ideas rather than resolution. I do not find it surprising that based on the 48 values questions Pew has been using for the past 25 years, the partisan gap has doubled. Nor do I find it surprising that a growing number of voters do not identify with either party, and support LGBTQ civil rights.

That said, perhaps we can agree that America is a country of paradoxes; a nation both politically divided, and capable of social evolution; a nation with a legal system that can both clear Officer Darion Wilson of any wrongdoing whatsoever in the killing of Michael Brown, and find “widespread civil rights abuses by the Ferguson Police Department.