Ph.D. Octopus

Politics, media, music, capitalism, scholarship, and ephemera since 2010

Archive for the ‘racism’ Category

Israel Through Its Cab Drivers

with 2 comments

David recently went on a trip to Israel with his father. Here is a brief reflection of his time there. More will follow.

My father and I had arranged for a cab to take us from Rehovot to Tel Aviv. The morning he was scheduled to pick us up, the cab driver called and asked: “Is it ok if I bring my cousin?” Only in Israel.

The cab driver, it turned out, was a Jew of Yemenite origin. His “cousin” was in fact a cousin through marriage, an Ashkenazi Jewish woman and Holocaust survivor from Romania. Yet another example of the blended families that make up the Jewish melting pot that represents the majority of Israeli society.

I’m nor sure what, if anything, cab drivers as a category can tell you about Israeli society. They used to have quite a bit of political clout, and in the 1990s they even had a political party. The drivers themselves, almost universally male, have a weird, somewhat sleazy reputation: years ago I recall a cab driver trying charge me extra for turning on the air conditioning. Whereas in New York it seems the vast majority of cab drivers are foreign born, that doesn’t seem to be the case in Israel, though of course drivers are both Jewish and Arab.

Our first important cab driver, a man we’ll call Shmuel, took us around East Jerusalem and the old city. Though he asked if we wanted to go to the Kotel (Wailing Wall), my father and I had already been on the first eve of our trip, and on every trip before that. Why was this visit to Israel different than every other visit to Israel? This one, we’d be seeing some non-Jewish sites. Still, Shmuel insisted that we at least see something sheh-lanu (of ours). You see, Shmuel was an observant Jew, modern, with a knitted yarmulke on his head. In fact, he pointed out that he was the only Jewish cab driver for his company. The rest were all Arabs. Except the owner of the company. He was Jewish too.

In addition to being a good cab driver, Shmuel was a knowledgeable tour guide, of both Jewish and Arab sites. He spoke Hebrew, English, and some Arabic. He was of Iraqi origin, though his family had come to what was then Palestine over 115 years ago. In another post, I’ll discuss all the places he took us.

A few days later, in Tel Aviv, we took a ride with the most colourful cab driver yet. Let’s call him Yossi. He too was of Iraqi origin, but he was more secular. Some of the first words out of his mouth were criticizing the haredim, the ultra-Orthodox Jews who have such a big influence in Israeli politics and life. “God doesn’t care about their peyes? God cares what’s in your heart!” He exclaimed. I don’t believe in God but I couldn’t really argue.

Then the topic of conversation became even more political, and Yossi provided evidence that secularism was no indication of sanity in Israeli politics. Perhaps foolishly, we asked him about the potential for the Israeli/Palestinian peace talks being organized by John Kerry. Yossi had no hope for the peace talks. He expected the Palestinians to all be expelled to Jordan, and he seemed to have no problem with that outcome.

He also had some not-so-nice things to say about the non-Jewish African foreign workers in Israel. He called them cushim, a derogatory term in Hebrew for Black, and seemed at least implicitly to distinguish them from the Ethiopian Jewish citizens of Israel, who he presumably liked better. He thought the African foreign workers would soon all be deported as well.

But the most interesting part of the conversation emerged when we asked him what languages he spoke besides Hebrew. English, he said, some Arabic, and Thai. Wait, Thai? “Why do you speak Thai?” We asked. “My wife is Thai,” he replied. Not a Thai foreign worker, mind you. Yossi had gone to Thailand, fallen in love, married a Thai woman, and brought her back to Israel. They had three children together. Those half Iraqi-Jewish half-Thai Hebrew-speaking children are Jewish in the eyes of Reform and Reconstructionist rabbis, but probably not most Conservative ones and certainly not the Orthodox. They will one day be Jewish enough to serve in the Israeli army, but not Jewish enough to be buried at the Jewish military cemetery on Mount Herzl were they to be killed in action.

We asked Yossi if his wife, who spoke perfect Hebrew, had converted. They’d been trying, he said, but it was very difficult. Conversion to Judaism in Israel is held under Orthodox supervision, and the rules are very strictly enforced. Meanwhile, the local government in Tel Aviv called on her whenever they needed an interpreter for the community of Thai workers there.

After all that information, my father and I were bewildered. By then, the ride was over. As we left the cab, Yossi offered us a parting gift. He had enjoyed the conversation, and so he gave us something we could enjoy: his self-produced CD of Mizrachi (eastern/oriental) Jewish music. Only in Israel.

Written by David Weinfeld

August 16, 2013 at 17:57

Barack Obama: Jackie Robinson of Black Presidents

with 2 comments

by David

Barack Obama

For the most recent issue of The Atlantic, Ta-Nehisi Coates has penned a superb essay on Barack Obama as Black president. Coates argues that Obama, by not talking about race while sitting as president, has taken an accommodationist stance against white racism. You should read the whole thing, because it really is a spectacular piece of writing. Indeed, it’s an essay that is much better than this blog post in response to it, an essay that so impressed me that I will likely assign it to my “Race and Identity in Judaism” class.

And yet, it’s an essay that I have some problems with, on historical grounds.

As Coates correctly notes, “Obama is not simply America’s first black president–he is the first president who could credibly teach a black-studies class.” In short Barack Obama is an intellectual. America has long been uncomfortable with intellectuals, as can be evidenced by the cult of anti-intellectualism surrounding Sarah Palin and other figures on the far right. I think Black intellectuals make this sector of white America even angrier than than the poor black underclass does, because they want to feel superior to Barack Obama, but they can’t.

Obama’s status as intellectual makes me wary of lumping him in the same accommodationist category as Booker T. Washington, as Coates does. For Washington displayed an anti-intellectualism of his own, as he preached industrial education, economic self-development, and acceptance of segregation for the black community of the South. Washington’s antagonist, W.E.B. Du Bois, argued in favor of integration, in favor of civil rights for African Americans, to be led by a “talented tenth.”

So is Obama an accomodationist in the vein of Booker T. Washington? As president, when he has dealt with race, it has been to engage in the “time-honored tradition of black self-hectoring, railing against the perceived failings of black culture.” Coates is most angry about Obama’s treatment of Shirley Sherrod, who was forced to resign from the US Department of Agriculture after the late Andrew Breitbart aired selective moments of an interview with her to make it appear as if she harbored anti-white sentiments. By failing to stand up for Sherrod, Obama followed in Washington’s footsteps by backing down in the face of white racism.

Booker T. Washington

And yet I think there might be another way to understand Obama here.

First, there are important differences between Obama and Booker T. Washington beyond the purely intellectual. The latter preached a doctrine of group uplift through industry and agriculture. His was a separatist, if not segregationist schema. It’s no wonder that Marcus Garvey, who led an even more radically separatist group in his “Back to Africa” movement, looked to Washington for inspiration.  Washington, Garvey, Malcolm X and the Nation of Islam, these leaders and movements rejected integration. Obama, whether he discusses race or not, is an apostle of integration.

Obama’s story, then, is not one of accommodation and separation, but of accommodation and integration. In order for this integration to occur, Obama has had to avoid the perception of succumbing to “black rage,” of being an “angry black man.” And in that way, the black leader he most resembles is baseball player Jackie Robinson.

Jackie Robinson

When Jackie Robinson entered the major leagues in 1947, he made a promise to Brooklyn Dodgers’ general manager Branch Rickey, the man most responsable for signing him in the first place. Robinson promised Rickey that no matter how many taunts he received from players and fans and teammates, no matter how many baserunners slid into him spikes high or pitchers who threw at his head, he could not fight back. He had to take it, grit his teeth, and remain silent. Robinson promised to do this for three years. Rickey knew that if Robinson retaliated, he would be labeled an angry black man, other owners would refuse to sign African Americans, and the great experiment at integrating America’s national pastime would be rendered a failure.

Barack Obama is the Jackie Robinson of the white house. He has effectively integrated the presidency. But in his first term in office he has behaved like Jackie Robinson did in his first three years in the majors. After those first three years, Robinson was free to retaliate, to yell and fight back, and he did so vociferously. The metaphorical gloves came off. He succeeded in integrating baseball, and could then assert himself, as a black man, and as an individual.

Obama has not faced the degree of racism that Robinson did, but he has faced racism, both overt and subtle, in large part coming white resentment in the face of a changing national makeup. He is living in the post-Civil Rights era, indeed, HE IS PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES. One would think he would have the ability, the power, to speak his mind more forcefully on racial questions.

Or maybe it’s precisely because he is president, because he is blazing a trail, that he needs to keep a low profile on race issues. The question remains: will Obama, if elected for a second term, take the gloves off? Will he be the tough-as-nails player that Jackie Robinson was his whole career, while still putting up Hall of Fame numbers?

This question may be related to the left’s criticism of Obama, that he promised change but then governed from the center. If a re-elected Obama changes course on race, will he change course and veer left on other policy arenas?

Written by David Weinfeld

August 30, 2012 at 15:24

New Book on Race on the Canadian Campus

leave a comment »

by David (shameless self-promotion)

 In line with our series of three posts on affirmative action, I thought I would mention this cool new book that just came out called “Too Asian?” Racism, Privilege and Post-Secondary Education. The title is a response to Canada’s Maclean’s magazine article “Too Asian?” from 2010. It just so happens that I contributed the second chapter, “Asians and Affirmative Action on Campus: An Historical Canada–US Comparison.” That chapter came out of this blog post. Here’s the blurb on the book:

The now notorious Maclean’s article “’Too Asian?’” from the magazine’s 2010 campus issue has sparked a national furor about race in Canadian higher education. Since the founding of the federal policy of multiculturalism, Canadians have prided themselves on their ability to integrate diversity into a broader multicultural environment, but the often heated discussions about race point to fissures in this national project. This collection uses the controversy about the Maclean’s article as a flashpoint to interrogate issues about race and representation on Canadian campuses and what it means for students and learning across the country.

Anyhow, if you’re interested in buying the book, you can do so at this link.

Written by David Weinfeld

May 29, 2012 at 16:52

B-Hop vs McNabb: Racialism from the Ring to the Gridiron

with 2 comments

by Weiner

Here we go again. Only a short while after the Grant Hill versus Jalen Rose “Uncle Tom” controversy, and a few months after former middleweight championship boxer Bernard “The Executioner” Hopkins played the race card in the Manny Pacquiao versus Floyd Mayweather Jr. debate, the same Hopkins has brought his politically incorrect opinions into the limelight again.

This time, B-Hop, a life-long Philadelphia sports fan, has gone after former Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb. We’ve heard this tune before. Both men are prominent African American athletes. McNabb‘s crime? Like Grant Hill, he comes from a middle-class family. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by David Weinfeld

May 13, 2011 at 18:46

Huck Finn and Teaching the “N-word”

with one comment

by Weiner

Growing up in Canada, I was never required to read Mark Twain, so I never did (I do remember the Star Trek: The Next Generation episodes where he appears as Samuel Clemens though). With the controversy surrounding the editing of the The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, I’ve decided to go out and read it. I’ve also realized that as someone who aspires to teach American history, this particular controversy is rather important to me. I know I don’t support the changing of the text, but I do think that teaching the “n-word” is difficult, no matter what the race of the students or teacher. With that, I link to this outstanding essay from Autumn 2005 issue of The American Scholar, “Teaching the N-Word,” by University of Vermont English professor Emily Bernard. Here’s a taste:

Over the next 30 minutes or so, Eric and I talk about “nigger.” He is uncomfortable; every time he says “nigger,” he drops his voice and does not meet my eyes. I know that he does not want to say the word; he is following my lead. He does not want to say it because he is white; he does not want to say it because I am black. I feel my power as his professor, the mentor he has so ardently adopted. I feel the power of Randall Kennedy’s book in my hands, its title crude and unambiguous. Say it, we both instruct this white student. And he does.

Read the whole thing. And also read the post from the US Intellectual History blog by Lauren Kientz Anderson which directed me to Bernard’s article.

Written by David Weinfeld

January 19, 2011 at 10:46

Asians in Universities: A Canada-US Comparison

with 11 comments

by Weiner

A recent Maclean’s magazine article reported that some white Canadians students worried about the growing Asian and Asian-Canadian presence of university campuses. Originally titled, “‘Too Asian’?” (now retitled “The Enrollment Controversy”), the piece noted:

When Alexandra and her friend Rachel, both graduates of Toronto’s Havergal College, an all-girls private school, were deciding which university to go to, they didn’t even bother considering the University of Toronto. “The only people from our school who went to U of T were Asian,” explains Alexandra, a second-year student who looks like a girl from an Aritzia billboard. “All the white kids,” she says, “go to Queen’s, Western and McGill.” …

Alexandra… explains her little brother wants to study hard, but is also looking for a good time—which rules out U of T, a school with an academic reputation that can be a bit of a killjoy.

Or, as Alexandra puts it—she asked that her real name not be used in this article, and broached the topic of race at universities hesitantly—a “reputation of being Asian.” ….

…an “Asian” school has come to mean one that is so academically focused that some students feel they can no longer compete or have fun. Indeed, Rachel, Alexandra and her brother belong to a growing cohort of student that’s eschewing some big-name schools over perceptions that they’re “too Asian.”….

…“Too Asian” is not about racism, say students like Alexandra: many white students simply believe that competing with Asians—both Asian Canadians and international students—requires a sacrifice of time and freedom they’re not willing to make. They complain that they can’t compete for spots in the best schools and can’t party as much as they’d like (too bad for them, most will say). Asian kids, meanwhile, say they are resented for taking the spots of white kids. “At graduation a Canadian—i.e. ‘white’—mother told me that I’m the reason her son didn’t get a space in university and that all the immigrants in the country are taking up university spots,” says Frankie Mao, a 22-year-old arts student at the University of British Columbia. “I knew it was wrong, being generalized in this category,” says Mao, “but f–k, I worked hard for it.”

The article has generated a good deal of controversy, along with spirited defence from Margaret Wente in The Globe and Mail and fierce criticism from  Jeet Heer in The National Post (as well as Heer’s response to Wente in The Walrus). There is no question that the original article, by Stephanie Findlay and Nicholas Kohler, made some sloppy arguments. As Heer correctly observes, it over-generalizes based on only a few schools and few departments, it lumps Asian foreign students with Asian-Canadians, counts east Asians but not south Asians, dismisses the plight of non-Asian foreign students, ignores working class white students (and any notion of class really) and stereotypes many groups unfairly.

And yet, Heer’s criticism of the article “obfuscates” (to use his word) as much as Wente’s defense of it does. He misses two crucial aspects of the story: 1) the potential pitfalls of Canada’s purely numbers-oriented university admissions system and 2) the very interesting–from an objective, academic perspective–statistical over-representation of students of Asian background in elite Canadian and American universities.

The Maclean’s article, along with Wente’s defense, runs off a number of statistics: 38% of Vancouver’s University of British Columbia students self-identify as white, compared to 43% as Korean, Chinese, or Japanese, in a city in which only 21.5% of the population falls into one of these three groups. In California, Asians make up 40% of the student body in public universities, despite only forming 13% of the state population. In the United States more broadly, Asians are 5% of the population but between 10 to 40% at elite colleges. They make up especially large portions at science oriented schools like Caltech and MIT.

I don’t have access to the data on-hand, but I have no reason to dispute these numbers. Rather than run away from them, however, I think we (referring to those people, regardless of race or ethnicity, interested in higher education) should try to ask questions: what do these numbers mean? How can we explain them? And to what extent, if any, should our investigation affect education policy?

The authors of the Maclean’s article insist, “that Asian students work harder is a fact born out by hard data.” I’m not sure how “hard” the data are, but I suspect that there is a great deal of truth to this assertion. But this “fact” plays out differently in different contexts. Certain Asian groups are statistically more over-represented in public American universities, Canadian universities, and science-oriented universities (CalTech, MIT) than they are in top American private schools, like the Ivies, Stanford, Duke, and elite liberal arts colleges. Why is this the case?

I’ll try to answer this question with a personal anecdote. When I applied to college, I applied to only one Canadian school, McGill. I wanted to apply for a scholarship there. In order to do so, I needed an “R” score of 33. I was never quite clear on what the “R” score was, except that it was some figure tabulated using my grades in CEGEP (a two-year non-remedial form of junior college that Quebec students attend before beginning their undergraduate career) as well as some grades from the end of my high school career. When I was applying to college, my “R” score stood at 32.9. I thought, surely, at only a fraction of a point under the requirement, some exception could be made. I called the admissions office. My father, who is a professor at McGill, called the admissions office. There would be no exceptions. I tried to tell them that I participated in extra-curricular activities. That my grades had steadily improved, and would continue to improve in my final semester at CEGEP (they did). None of this mattered. Scholarships to Canadian universities, like admissions, are a numbers game. If you don’t make the cut-off, you’re out. My R score was good enough to get in to McGill (which I did) but not good enough to even apply for a scholarship.

This was in stark contrast to my experience applying to American colleges. I applied to all the Ivy League colleges (except Dartmouth, which my parents deemed too goyish). Every one of them read my entire application. Canadian university applications often require only a transcript. American schools want much more. Beyond transcripts and standardized test scores,  elite American schools typically require an application essay (sometimes multiple essays), a CV and letters of recommendation. They also accepted poetry, artwork, musical recordings, and other evidence of extra-curricular talent. I submitted the 100 page non-fiction self-published book on baseball that I wrote at age 13 (my wife submitted her award-winning photography portfolio). I got in to Harvard, and off I went.

In setting up this contrast, the strengths and weaknesses of each approach appear quite clearly to me now. On the one hand, there’s something wonderful about the more purely “meritocratic” Canadian system. School is about academics: those with the highest grades should get in. While the Canadian system favours the wealthy, who benefit from tutors, better schools, more access to books and other class-based advantages, the American system is even more class-biased. Entire industries serve to help richer students best the SAT, write the perfect application essay and sufficiently pad their resumes. Canadian schools also lack the resources to use the more “holistic” approach that American schools do for each and every one of their applicants. Instinctively, I sympathize with the Canadian admissions system, even if I had my own (albeit very minor and ultimately inconsequential) difficulties with it.

There are benefits to the American holistic approach, though. I clearly didn’t suffer because my scholarship application was not considered. But it’s certainly conceivable that some Canadian students do suffer: students from under-privileged backgrounds who have to work jobs which cut into their studying time, or have to help raise brothers and sisters because their single parent is at work. These are the kinds of circumstances that are often communicated in application essays, which Canadian universities, because they don’t require them, never see. Indeed, even if poorer students are too ashamed to mention these things in essays, American schools demand to know the incomes of their applicants’ families, what schools their parents went to, and yes, their race and ethnicity. All these factors are carefully considered in weighing applications. Some students are advantaged by being “legacies,” i.e. their parents went to Harvard, or because they are recruited athletes (by far the most advantaged) and so they get in as well. But others are “advantaged” because they grew up on welfare, or one of their parents died when they were in elementary school, or any other reason that might compensate for a less-than-perfect academic record.

I’m frankly not sure which system is better. But implicit in the absurd and offensive question “Too Asian?” are more reasonable questions as to whether there are other admissions processes which might be more “fair,” at least in terms of admitting people of lower socio-economic status.

In comparing the article to anti-Jewish quotas at Ivy League schools before WW2, Heer misses the irony. Today, quotas in American colleges, which exist more informally than they did back then, serve to INCREASE the presence of disadvantaged minorities, namely Blacks, Latinos and Native Americans. At least that is the theory. In the famous 1978 US Supreme Court Case Regents of the University of California v. Bakke which enshrined the principle of Affirmative Action into American law, quotas were rejected, but race was allowed to be considered as a factor in university admissions in order to promote the court-sanctioned goal of diversity.

And so we get to the crux of the matter. Are Asians “disadvantaged” and do they promote or stifle “diversity”?”

Of course this is a matter of opinion. The important opinion here is those of admissions committees at selective American schools. Without all the data, I can only speculate as to their criteria. My suspicion is that Asian immigrants might be treated as somewhat disadvantaged, and thus given some preference, while the evidence seems to show that native born Asian-Americans are penalized because there are so many strong applicants that fit that ethnic profile. I don’t know if the different immigration policies in each country lead to large differences in the make-up of the Asian communities therein. Canada tends to favor educated, middle-class immigrants, so it’s possible that Asian-Canadians already have a leg-up, though I’ve heard similar theories about Asian Americans.

Again, it’s important to remember not to lump all Asians together: Chinese and Korean and south-Asian students perform better, on average, than Filipinos and Pacific Islanders. I don’t know the data for Cambodians, Thai, Vietnamese, and other groups. But the point is that even among Asian groups, and within those groups, large differences exist.

Also, while students of colour (in Canada, called “visible minorities”) face racial discrimination, many of these students at elite universities come from relatively privileged backgrounds. So determining who if anyone deserves preferential treatment in admissions requires looking at race and class. Some even argue that class-based preferences make more sense, to make sure that the iconic white “coal miner’s daughter” is not passed over in favour of a wealthy suburban African American or Latino applicant.

The take-away here is: the issue is complicated. Canadian universities’ relatively simple “meritocratic” approach avoids these difficulties. This is another huge point in its favour.

At Harvard, they used to say that they could fill their class with people who got 1600 on their SATs, or people who went to Stuyvesant High School in NYC, but that wouldn’t create the diverse student body they’re looking for. This leads to questions as to what the university’s mission is all about: is it to educate in the classroom and prepare students for careers that require some form of expertise, or is it to expose them to different cultures, to build future leaders and active participants in the local, national and international community? As an aspiring academic, I’m sympathetic to the former goal, though I also understand the desire for the latter. My impression is that in Europe, higher education seems to be about the schooling, not about “campus life.” In the United States, it’s the opposite: a rite of passage on the way to adulthood. Canada might be somewhere in the middle. And maybe that’s the right place to be.

Last, there’s the issue of explanation. Why do some Asian and Asian-American and Asian-Canadian groups perform so well in school? There are probably lots of good historical, cultural and socioeconomic explanations. But the point is that we should work to answer these questions, rather than run away from them. Let me refer to the 2004 essay by historian David Hollinger, which argues that “the failure to pursue this question implicitly fuels largely un-expressed speculations that Jews are, after all, superior.” Hollinger is right. And if you switch Jews for Asians then you have the Maclean’s story. So lets ask the question, and try to answer it.

Postscript: Since I began writing this post, Maclean’s has responded to the controversy surrounding the initial article with an emphatic defence of “merit.” It reiterates the claim that Canadian universities are “pure meritocracies.” The editors “find the trend toward race-based admission policies in some American schools deplorable.” They write:

Our article notes that Canadian universities select students regardless of race or creed. That, in our view, is the best and only acceptable approach: merit should be the sole criteria for entrance to higher education in Canada, and universities should always give preference to our best and brightest regardless of cultural background.

Again, this is true and isn’t: Canadian schools may not not discriminate based on race or creed, but they still do favour the middle and upper classes, who apply with distinct advantages. Still, I think the Canadian university admissions system is probably more fair than the American version. Last, I think the Maclean’s editors are right: Asian and Asian-Canadian academic success, like all academic success, should be celebrated. That way, humour like that of the Family Guy clip above becomes funny rather than offensive.

Written by David Weinfeld

December 4, 2010 at 18:27

The Great Filipino Hope? A Brief History of Race in the Ring

with 7 comments

by Weiner

It was not long after Filipino congressman and champion boxer Manny Pacquiao defeated Antonio Margarito in a masterful 12-round unanimous decision that somebody decided to play the race card.

In boxing, this sort of thing is inevitable. The sport has long been racially charged, perhaps most famously when Jack Johnson fought Jim Jeffries in Reno, Nevada in 1910. Much of the American public imagined Jeffries as “The Great White Hope.”  Johnson dashed those hopes, brutally battering his opponent for 15 rounds until Jeffries’ corner called it quits and riots erupted across the country (often simply in response to blacks celebrating in the streets), killing 23 African Americans and two white people.  The story of Jack Johnson has achieved legendary status, immortalized in a 1967 play, The Great White Hope, starring a young James Earl Jones, and later in Ken Burns’ documentary Unforgivable Blackness.

That story, of course, extended far beyond the ring. Johnson broke many racial taboos of his time, most infamously in his very public relationships with white women. He played upon stereotypes to suit his purposes, purportedly even wrapping his penis in gauze underneath his shorts to make it appear bigger. Johnson’s effect on American conceptions of race and masculinity is best explored in Gail Bederman’s introduction to her excellent study, Manliness and Civilization: A Cultural History of Gender and Race in the United States, 1880-1917.

The story of race and boxing doesn’t stop there. As NYU historian Jeffrey Sammons chronicles in his Beyond the Ring: The Role of Boxing in American Society, discussion of race played a huge role in the career of Joe Louis, the first Black heavyweight champion after Johnson, and of course in the life Muhammad Ali, perhaps the most famous athlete who ever lived.

jack johnson1 McCain Seeks Justice For Deceased Boxer Jack Johnson (Photos)

Today, racial discourse in boxing usual surrounds the action inside the ring. We live in strange times for spectators of the “sweet science.” The demographics of fighters and fans has shifted dramatically. Boxing has always been popular among American immigrants. Every young Jewish schlemiel who aspired to some sort of masculine ideal has devoured books like The Jewish Boxer’s Hall of Fame or When Boxing was a Jewish Sport. In the beginning of the 20th century the sport was especially popular among Irish, Jewish and Italian immigrants, as many fighters of that era drew the colour line and refused to box against African-Americans, especially after the “Great White Hope” affair. At this time, boxing was the second most popular sport in America, after baseball, the national pastime.

With the rise of Joe Louis, African Americans began to achieve prominence in the sport in greater numbers. After WW2, Jewish participation in boxing fell off dramatically, though other white ethnics, especially Italians, continued to succeed, most famously Rocky Marciano. For this reason, the image of the Italian fighter resonated enough to make the 1975 Oscar-winning movie Rocky so successful.  By the 1960s, however, Blacks dominated most weight classes. This began to change, though, as Latinos earned championships, especially at the lighter weights. In the 1980s, though Mike Tyson ruled the heavyweight class and Sugar Ray Leonard, Marvin Hagler and Tommy Hearns all achieved stardom, fighters like Roberto Duran and Alexis Arguello ushered in a wave of Latino champions. In the 1990s, many Mexicans and Mexican-Americans, along with Puerto Ricans and Cuban defectors, entered the ranks of boxing’s best. Boxing in the United States remained an immigrant sport, but the immigrants had changed.

Still, African Americans dominated much of boxing, like they came to dominate baseball, and to an even greater extent football, basketball and track and field. Scholars reached for scientific explanations. Books like John Hoberman’s 1997 volume Darwin’s Athletes: How Sport has Damaged Black America and Preserved the Myth of Race takes a historical and cultural perspective, while Jon Ensine’s 1999 work, Taboo: Why Black Athletes Dominate Sports and Why We’re Afraid to Talk About It, tackles the “science” more directly, concluding that a combination of biology and culture has led to Black athletic success. While Ensine’s conclusions are controversial and questionable, his contribution to the dialogue on this “taboo” issue is extremely valuable. To this day, when we see the runners line up for the 100 meter dash in the Olympics, most of us can predict accurately that the top three sprinters will be people of African origin. Why this is deserves to be studied.

In boxing, however, things are a bit different. Today, the fight game is not nearly as popular as it once was to the broader American public, but it remains extremely popular among Hispanics. And while African Americans once dominated the heavyweight class to such an extent that it was mocked in the 1996 parody, The Great White Hype, now the sport’s glamour division is ruled by two Ukrainian giants, the brothers Vladimir and Vitali Klitschko. Great Black athletes who weigh over 200 pounds are turning to football and basketball, and to a lesser extent baseball, where there is more money, less risk, and the possibility of getting a college education through athletic scholarships. The integration and growing popularity of America’s other major sports sounded the death knell for boxing’s prominence in American life. In a sense, Jackie Robinson killed the African American heavyweight, though he died a slow, illustrious death, and lived long enough to give the United States Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier, George Foreman, Larry Holmes, and Mike Tyson, among many other greats.

At the lower weights, however, things remain different. If you’re a great athlete, but only 5’5” and 125 pounds, your options are pretty limited if you want to make money in sports. Boxing may be your best or even only route. Indeed, this is probably true for men under 6 feet tall and 175 pounds, with some exceptions among middle infielders and point guards, and maybe the odd running back or tennis player. And so while Latinos (from the US and elsewhere) and now Asians and Europeans are an enormous presence in the ring, Black fighters in the lower weight classes still win championships, none more famously than Floyd Mayweather Jr.

Mayweather, aka “Pretty Boy Floyd,” aka Floyd “Money” Mayweather,” may be the best pound-for-pound fight in the world. The only other candidate is Pacman, Manny Pacquaio. Mayweather has already hurled ethnic slurs at Pacquaio, making fun of Manny’s Filipino heritage. Mayweather also may have beaten his ex-girlfriend. Leaving that aside (which, I recognize, is a lot to ask), many believe a fight between these two men, despite their relatively small size, could be the biggest boxing match in years. Both men stand to make millions from it. Unfortunately, they’ve had trouble agreeing on drug testing specifics before the fight. Most observers agree that Mayweather seems to be the one ducking Pacquaio, though at this point his legal troubles might derail the whole thing even if the two boxers do come to an agreement.

Bernard Hopkins - View the Professional Career RecordIf they were to fight, however, who would win? Bernard “The Executioner” Hopkins, aka B-Hop, the Philadelphia fighter and former middleweight champion, clearly favours Floyd. Why? Because of his race.

“Floyd Mayweather would beat Manny Pacquiao because the styles that African-American fighters — and I mean, black fighters from the streets or the inner cities — would be successful,” said Hopkins, according to Fanhouse.com. “I think Floyd Mayweather would pot-shot Pacquiao and bust him up in between the four-to-five punches that Pacquiao throws and then set him up later on down the line.”

Interestingly, Hopkins does not attribute Mayweather’s advantage to any biological or genetic superiority. Essentially, his strength is one of culture. For as the article notes:

Pacquiao fought and defeated Joshua Clottey of Ghana earlier this year, but Hopkins discounted that win, saying “Clottey is ‘black,’ but not a ‘black boxer’ from the states with a slick style.”

Hopkins also said this:

“Maybe I’m biased because I’m black, but I think that this is what is said at people’s homes and around the dinner table among black boxing fans and fighters. Most of them won’t say it [in public] because they’re not being real and they don’t have the balls to say it,” said Hopkins, a 45-year-old future Hall of Famer and a multi-division champion. “Listen, this ain’t a racial thing, but then again, maybe it is,” said Hopkins. “But the style that is embedded in most of us black fighters, that style could be a problem to any other style of fighting.”

So Joshua Clottey, from Ghana, doesn’t have it, though it’s “embedded” in most Black fighters. This a new, and interesting form of racial essentialism. It’s the same kind of rationale behind the argument that China will never produce a great point guard, because Chinese basketball players don’t develop the toughness that African American guards practicing on inner city playgrounds do. Is there any truth to this? Who knows? I do agree with the ESPN commentators that it is strange and surprising that Pacquiao has never faced an African American opponent. But I also agree that this has nothing to do with race.

In any case, I’m not sure if these race and sports questions can be answered. But I do want to see Pacquiao and Mayweather fight. Lord knows I’ll be rooting for Pacman, and not because of his race, but because he’s a class act and Mayweather’s a criminal and a dick. Also, I think Pacquiao should be the underdog, and I always root for the underdog.

Who do I think would/will win? I think Mayweather will be much harder to hit than Margarito was. Mayweather is a defense master and he hates getting hit. Pacquiao has incredibly fast hands, but they used to say that about Oscar de la Hoya until he came up against Shayne Mosley and Mayweather, both of whom were faster. I think Mayweather might have faster hands than Manny as well. I also think Floyd’s punching power is underrated. Though he’s not a brawler, he can punch.

At the same time, Pacquiao hits very hard, and he will eventually hit Mayweather. I don’t think the strategy he used against the bigger Margarito, in-and-out, pot-shot from different angles, will work against Floyd. He’ll have to crowd him, stay busy, stay on him, go to the body. I still think Floyd probably wins by decision or late stoppage. But then again, Manny has surprised fans over and over again. He started his career at flyweight, and now has won a junior middleweight belt, beating a guy who weighed over 165 pounds on fight night. Manny was able to hurt Margarito, so he will definitely be able to hurt Floyd. I don’t see Manny winning a decision, but just maybe he knocks Mayweather out. If he does that, he may be the greatest fighter of all time.

Written by David Weinfeld

November 21, 2010 at 11:24

Restoring our Honor

leave a comment »

by Wiz

In honor of Glenn Beck’s whitepeoplapoloza (even the AP described a “a vast, predominantly white crowd):

Written by Peter Wirzbicki

August 28, 2010 at 18:59

Park 51 Protests: First Hand Account and Thoughts

with 2 comments

by Wiz

According to the New York Post, there was a “Holy War” yesterday in the Financial District over the misnamed “Ground Zero Mosque.” I actually was there, and have some thoughts about the dueling protests, which have been receiving coverage all over the country, and spawned a video that has already gone viral.

First of all, the protests (both of them) were insanely small. We’re talking about 250 on our side (the non-bigot side) and maybe 500 on the other (the pro-bigot). That’s about roughly 0.0000131% and 0.0000263%, respectively, of the New York metropolitan area. So the narrative that this issue is enflaming New Yorkers is a bit exaggerated.

Second, while the bigots did outnumber us, I’d say the turnout was surprisingly big for the pro-tolerance group. Given that opposition to the community center is being driven by the entire institutional might of the conservative movement (talk radio, Fox News, the Republican Party, etc…), while, as far as I could tell, it was only the sectarian Left who mobilized anyone to come out and defend religious freedom, I’d say our numbers were decent. I’m not always a fan of the various splinter left groups (Judean People’s Front, Popular Front of Judea, etc…) but, to their credit, they were far better represented there than, oh, the Democratic Party. Once again, the non-liberal Left are better liberals than actual liberals.

Third, next time you hear some conservative complain about Muslims burning American Flags in the Mideast take a good look at this picture I took. Guess what happens when Muslims are proud to be American? When they embrace American flags? Well they get screamed at and insulted and told they’re terrorists by conservatives in Revolutionary war uniforms. As Jello Biafra might say, “tell me, who’s the real Patriot?”

I didn’t see that much violence, though there were some old bigots trying to start a fight with the hippies. And occasionally this fat white guy walked past us and screamed “racist” at our crowd. Given that his side was whiter than a Jimmy Buffett concert, I’m not sure what exactly he meant (actually, I do know what he meant: “white people are the real victims here.” As they always are…)

Glenn Greenwald had a good article today about this whole controversy, arguing that it is not a “distraction,” as some wish to call it. He writes, “The Park51 conflict is driven by, and reflective of, a pervasive animosity toward a religious minority — one that has serious implications for how we conduct ourselves both domestically and internationally.”

I think Glenn is right here. This controversy may be manufactured, more spectacle than reality. And it absolutely is. But imagery matters and now that its been manufactured, and the angry racists are on the loose, decent people have the responsibility to stand up to them. “Have you no sense of decency?” “No Pasaran”. That sort of stuff.

Anyways… it got me thinking about the excellent piece Luce had (before she joined us here) on the thorny question of multiculturalism and the Left. Luce criticizes the flatness of the common complaint that multiculturalist politics have gone too far and that we should return to the solid ground of economic justice. There is a group of (largely) white male lefties, some of whom I deeply respect (like David Harvey or Thomas Frank) who act as if the only true domain for the left to fight on is economics, everything else is a distraction. Luce pretty much said everything I had to say on the topic.

But I wanted to expand on something Luce wrote when she criticized those who act “as if these very categories of race, sexuality, and gender hadn’t been manufactured at some (sometimes not so distant) point by that majority itself.”

Situations like this Park 51 controversy, I think, illustrate this point perfectly. It’s not as if the Left is the one out there politicizing categories of race, gender, ethnicity, or religion. Perhaps it was different in the 60s, but today it is the reactionary Right who are increasingly choosing to fight its battles on those grounds. I think its fair to say that, after recent history, many of us on the Left would be more than happy to focus on defeating the banks, getting better health care, more equitable access to education, etc… But if the Right is going to go around mobilizing people with naked appeals to racial and religious resentment– with more than a dash of misogyny and homophobia thrown in– than its our responsibility to defend those groups, even if it means a politics of “special interests.” This is both because it is the right thing to do and because we’re well aware that once you start accepting that Talk Radio has a veto over one minority’s freedom of religion, things don’t end well for the rest of us. Like, for instance, people start going around calling Mike Bloomberg and Scott Stringer “Judenrats” or harassing black guys just because they happen to work near your protest.

Written by Peter Wirzbicki

August 23, 2010 at 21:21

Rand Paul on William Lloyd Garrison and Segregation

with 12 comments

By Wiz

A couple of days ago Rand Paul had his balls surgically removed by Rachel Maddow on her show, concerning the issue of whether or not private businesses have the right to discriminate. Watch it below, if you haven’t at one of the ten million places that already linked to it.

Particularly obnoxious, to me at least, was when Paul mangled the history of abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison. Here is the relevant part:

PAUL: You know, one interesting historical tidbit, one of my favorite historical characters is William Lloyd Garrison. And one of the interesting things about desegregation and putting people together, do you know when it happened in Boston?
MADDOW: What do you mean, the desegregation? In general?
PAUL: You know when we got — you know, when we got rid of the Jim Crow laws and when we got rid of segregation and a lot of the abhorrent practices in the South, do you know when we got rid of it in Boston?
MADDOW: I — why don’t you tell me what you`re getting at?
PAUL: Well, it was in 1840. So I think it is sort of a stain on the history of America that 120 years to desegregate the South.
But William Lloyd Garrison was a champion and abolitionist who wrote about freeing the slaves back in the 1810s, ’20s and ’30s and labored in obscurity (ph) to do this. He was flagged, put in jails. He was with Frederick Douglass being thrown off trains.
But, you know, they desegregated transportation in Boston in 1840, and I think that was an impressive and amazing thing. But also points out the sadness that it took us 120 years to desegregate the South. And a lot of that was institutional racism was absolutely wrong and something that I absolutely oppose.

Paul’s history is, well let’s say, a bit shaky here. His point, I guess, is that segregation ended in Boston because Garrison changed public opinion, rather than through government action. This is not accurate for reasons that are very relevant for the debate about libertarianism.

First of all, the low hanging fruit: This is picky, perhaps, but William Lloyd Garrison started abolitionist agitation in 1831, 1829 if you count his speech at Park Street Church, but most historians would say 1831, when he founded The Liberator. So, Paul fails on the dates when he claims Garrison started in 1810s.

Second, segregation did not end in 1840s in Boston. Perhaps Paul means the segregation of the railroads, which the abolitionists did largely achieve in the 1840s in Massachusetts. But the Public School system was not desegregated until 1855, Harvard did not graduate an African-American until 1870, and many churches, theaters, lecture-halls, and other public institutions remained segregated throughout the period. The leading scholars on Black Boston write: “In antebellum Boston, blacks were segregated into a few highly concentrated areas of the city, restricted to Jim Crow accommodations on public transportation, isolated in schools that were rapidly deteriorating, and scholastically inferior, excluded from juries, and seated apart in white churches, lecture halls, and places of entertainment.” (Horton and Horton 73)

Here, for instance, is a quote from The Liberator, Dec 12, 1853: “Rev. Theodore Parker administered, in a recent Sunday discourse, a well-deserved rebuke of the spirit of caste, which in the Puritan city is exhibited towards that portion of God’s heritage whose skins are colored unlike the majority; and for an illustration, referred to the concerts of Monsier Julian, at Music Hall, from one of which respectable colored persons had been excluded.”

Charlotte Forten, a black feminist, keep a meticulous journal throughout the 1850s and 1860s. A relevant entry from September 1854:

“I have suffered much today,- my friends, Mrs. P and her daughters were refused admission to the Museum, after having tickets given them, solely on account of their complexion. Insulting language was used to them.—Of course they felt and exhibited deep, bitter indignation; but of what avail was it? None, but to exit the ridicule of those contemptible creatures, miserable doughfaces who do not deserve the name of men. I will not attempt to write more.—No words can express my feelings, but these cruel wrongs cannot be much longer endured. A day of retribution must comes. God grant that it will come very soon! (Forten 98)

The point, of course, is that moral suasion and consumer choices—Rand Paul’s solution to segregation—did not work. Let me repeat. Non-state consumer action did not desegregate all public facilities in Massachusetts. Abolitionist pressure did convince some theaters, a number of railroads, and other companies to let in African-Americans. But, by any standard, segregation, but de facto and de jure, remained a fact in Boston.

Which is why—you guessed it—abolitionists and their allies turned to the government. First the State Government, and then the Federal Government. Wendell Phillips—Garrison’s close ally—testified in front of the Massachusetts legislature in 1841, on the issue of Railroad Desegregation (the abolitionists began a boycott campaign only after the State Government failed to act on the issue). This is a description of the event from his biography:

Privately owned railroads received “special privileges and franchises” from the state, he argued. The state, therefore had the right and the duty to make these enterprises treat all citizens as equals. “These corporations are public servants,” Phillips maintained,” and therefore bound to serve in accordance with the laws of the commonwealth,” which had been designed “to secure the rights of all the people.”…Since law, according to Phillips, must insure the public’s good above all else, legislators should override the private choices of the segregationists…. As Phillips had made clear during this contest, however, he now equated racial equality with the public’s good and insisted that positive law must prevent an individual’s discriminatory use of private property.” (Brewer p. 98-99)

No politician was as associated with the abolitionist legacy as Charles Sumner. Sumner devoted the last of his life to passing a Civil Rights Bill that would, in the words of Eric Foner “Guarantee all citizens equal access to public accommodations, common carriers, public schools, churches, cemeteries, and jury service.” (504) As he died, Sumner whispered to a visitor “you must take care of the civil rights bill… don’t let it fail.” (533) But fail it did, shot down by compromises in the Senate, and then a Supreme Court, and so segregation lasted, in much of America, for another 100 years.

In case the point isn’t obvious, Rand Paul’s idea of how to fight segregation and racism is simply nonsense. The power of privately owned business, institutions, and individuals is too great to be fought simply by consumer choices and moral suasion.

Written by Peter Wirzbicki

May 21, 2010 at 22:56

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 139 other followers