Why the “Black is the New Brown” Shirt Is Offensive

Black people are not defined by being black. And being Black is not being a color.

Being that less than 1 percent of the population in my neighborhood is African-American, I grew up in a predominantly white neighborhood and am married to a white man, I get a fair number of questions about race and Black culture. I think I own a special perspective on race and culture because I grew up where I did – my sister and I were the only Black kids in our elementary school for a while. My skin is fairly light and I talk like a TV news anchor. So throughout my school years I had to weather the “trying to act white” accusations and the “not black enough” comments – a different perspective.

This week when a friend of a friend made a comment about the fairly offensive “Black is the New Brown” t-shirt that was put up for sale on etsy and subsequently removed after public outcry, I felt compelled to share with him – and you – why so many people the shirt offensive.

It’s not the fact that the shirt was likely created and sold by a white person (if that is even the case). The race of the seller would not change the offensive sentiment behind the product.

This shirt is offensive because rather than acknowledging Charlie Strong for his record, his accomplishments or even by his name, the shirt maker chose to acknowledge only his blackness. And to boot, the venerable Mr. Strong is reduced to a black body and then compared to another man – a white man – who was acknowledged properly (by his name).

Black people are not defined by being black. And being Black is not being a color.

It would have been much more acceptable to have printed “Strong Is The New Brown” on that shirt. Such a slogan would acknowledge that the new Coach Strong is much more than the color of his skin. Calling him by his name accords Mr. Strong the level of respect every law abiding person deserves. Using his name would reflect in the shirt the strength his name represents. Even if the shirt maker is African-American, he or she should have respected Mr. Strong as a whole person – not just a black man.

We should never reduce a man to a color. As Martin Luther King said, we should judge him by the content of his character – as I’m sure the University of Texas did when they offered him a HELL OF A LOT of moolah to take the position.

Post script: Charlie Strong just released a demanding list of expectations to his players. It’s pretty badass. Somebody should make a t-shirt about this!

Enter The Fragile Ego – No Bubble!

Since when did we lose our ability to hold complex discussions without acting like children? No really. It’s near impossible to have a real conversation anymore. When did that happen? There has developed a barrage of rules about when certain topics are forbidden conversation:

  1. Don’t discuss sex or politics at dinner parties.
  2. Don’t discuss politics or religion at the bar.
  3. Don’t discuss diet at the dinner table.
  4. Never discuss personal matters at work.
  5. No sex or race or politics or religion on Facebook, please. (Cat pictures only!)

With all these rules, when can we ever really, seriously talk about anything at all?

It seems one cannot bring up thought provoking topics anymore without someone else becoming offended or throwing around accusations. Dare you state the obvious, and you are just being mean. Dare to infuse racial-sociological context, and you are being a troll. “You’re talking publicly about your disbelief in my god – that’s RELIGIOUS DISCRIMINATION!” “How dare you analyze my personal experiences in a political context you contentious bitch!” We’ve become so afraid of rocking the boat that even calling oneself a feminist has suddenly become controversial.

It’s hard to pin down from whence this fragile egotism originated. Is this a product of the white, fluffy cloud concept of political correctness? Are we so motivated by etiquette that we feel the need to censor face-to-face, written, scholarly and even web speech? Or is this inane treading on the shallow end of conversation pool manifest of a collective need not to pop our own comfortable bubbles of correctness?

The dumbing down rampant in our education system (along with a host of other problems) could be partially to blame. When education funding is razed, the first education programs to disappear with that funding tend to be the courses that facilitate independent scholarly reflection: literature, art, sociology or current events. When people do not get the well rounded education needed to autonomously think outside the box, how can we expect people to approach complex social or political issues in a constructive way?

Where do we land at the end of this tryst with superficiality? The result is a bedazzled populace more concerned with who Miley Cyrus is twerking on than whether extending unemployment benefits is beneficial to our economy. Such is a populace that also avoids discussing the influence of racism on our social-economic institutions, or how the exaltation of female virginity degrades and hurts women.

A culture of avoidance facilitates ignorance. Ignorance breeds isolation. Isolation breeds extremism. And goodness knows we’ve already too much of that. It’s high time to take off the rose glasses, pop the comfy bubble, and commence with the discourse of our lives.

Race, Zimmerman and One Small List

Since the slaying of Trayvon Martin hit the main stream air waves, the conversation about race in America has erupted in a maelstrom of heated commentary, misguided angst and cowardice. So many people are quick to label George Zimmerman a racist murderer, call Martin a deserving street thug, and deny the role race has played in the entire matter. Even seemingly honest conversations about the killing of Trayvon Martin get mired in this toxic cloud of politeness – political correctness.

But a shroud of dishonesty does not change the facts. George Zimmerman suspected Trayvon Marin of nefarious behavior in large part because of the color of his skin. But while Zimmerman is entirely guilty of taking the life of a promising young man, he is not solely to blame for his mistaking a Black teen for a troublemaker. The tendency to suspect Black male teenagers of illegal behavior is deeply engrained in our sociological fabric in the United States. And the fact that Zimmerman is hispanic does not make him immune to this tendency.

So when we are talking about race and the Zimmerman trial, to deny that race had anything to do with Martin’s death or the outcome of the trial is a bankrupt notion. Race played a part in both events.

Some media personalities see fit to stick it to those incensed by Zimmerman’s acquittal (and the Black community at large) by trying to diminish the significance of Martin’s killing. In response to outcry about Trayvon Martin’s death, they ask why no one is getting mad about Black-on-Black crime – which is COMPLETE bullshit. (This non-sequitur question even happened to me at work!) People ARE mad about Black-on-Black crime. We talk about Black-on-Black crime a lot. But before the Trayvon Martin’s death, you didn’t feel the need to make yourself a part of that conversation!

I was impressed by at least one tv aired conversation on race recently thanks to my number 2 tv crush – Don Lemon.

Don’s simple advice: 5 – dress respectfully, 4 – quit using the ‘n’ word, 3 – don’t trash your home, 2 – quit stigmatizing education, 1 – reduce the number of children born out of wedlock. Don Lemon is being honest. And he is right.

[Post-] Racial America My Foot!

With the election of Barrack Obama to the Presidency of the United States, pundits termed a supposed new description for our culture. People are trying to call our current social climate post-racial. People want to believe they have surpassed the violent racism of that past, that they are colorblind. I say it’s all bullshit.

I have even heard politicians say, “We elected a Black President. We don’t need Affirmative Action anymore.” Meanwhile Republican governors want to slash funding for public schools across the country; and leave many students whose parents cannot afford to send their children to expensive private schools to languish in under-funded classrooms. Is it a wonder that the bar at an under-funded, struggling school is lower than at a well-funded private school? I imagine, as an administrator, it’s a bit difficult to build a robust AP program when your still trying to bring your graduation rate up to the national average, and your teen pregnancy rate below it. Where should your priorities lie in such an environment? I would put my money into pregnancy prevention and student retention programs. Oh, wait, did I mention that money was cut? Sure, abolishing affirmative action will guarantee ‘real’ (un)equality.

How can this be “post-racial” America when James Craig Anderson can be beaten, robbed, run over and murdered by kids who attacked the first black man they saw, yelled “white power” while they did it, then bragged about murdering some ni****, only to have community members decry labeling it what it is: a hate crime? Oh, that’s just youthful indiscretion? That’s not hate driven?

You cannot even isolate this ‘post-racial’ description for the political climate! Remember poor Shirley Sherrod? She was forced to resign her position with the USDA after her words during a speech at an NAACP event were taken out of context. Her firing may not have been race driven, but the onset of the whole debacle sure was. (By the way, I hope she wins her defamation suit against Andrew Breitbart. That jerk should pay the price for his thoughtless actions. Shirley sure did!) And since President Obama is colorblind in his cabinet and judicial nominations, Sonia Sotomayor was accused of racism. And what about the beer summit? And a recently published study of the number of strikes called by umpires for same or opposite race pitchers reveals that racial bias is so deep, we don’t even know when we are doing it!

Even so-called ‘millenials’ say race matters. So can we just drop the whole ‘post-racial’ farce already? We’ve got a long way to go, people.

Update: As if on cue, Andrew Breitbart has advocated civil war (i.e. – violent overthrow of the United States of America) because he constantly (rightfully) gets called out on Twitter for his bullshit ultra right wing rhetoric. I really do hope Shirley wins that defamation suit.