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This Week in Race (ism): Michael Steele, Montgomery Bell Academy and the Nashville Scene

January 31, 2009

Okay, perhaps much to your surprise, Obama’s win did not signal an end to racism as we know it, or even an end to people talking about race and ethnicity. What with Nashville embroiled somewhat interested in a battle over legislation that sought to make the city less hospitable to those from other nations, you see that Obama may not have been such a magical Negro after all.

The Republicans, in the wake of the Magic Negro scandal, decided they needed a magic negro of their own and installed Michael Steele as the new chair of the Republican National Committee. While Obama is still a pretty centrist, conventional Democrat in many respects, his race and his ascension to a higher office has had an effect on his party — we’re all just giddy about the brother, and that has translated to a significantly renewed energy and a (temporary?) increase in participation by those who may have felt less than enthusiastic about participating in the political progress. Steele is like Obama in that despite his race, he is still a conventional Republican. However this guy is not going to inspire anyone outside the confines of the GOP. Given his want to engage in some skull-duggery to win elections, he’s probably a good choice for them. Plus, he’s not going to act like a runaway slave and leave the plantation like Powell.

There were a couple of interesting incidents involving race here locally besides the English Only vote. There was a much discussed (at least at the Nashville Scene blog) incident at a high school basketball game involving two private schools. Montgomery Bell Academy (MBA) students’ smug chants (they are fully prepared to be Duke students) took an ugly turn when some parents complained that the chant “Hooked on Phonics” could have been perceived as racist to the few (one?) Black player on their opponent’s team. The Scene brought the incident to light on their blog, and the MBA faithful went apoplectic, as would be expected. Who wants to be called a racist when there is a Black POTUS?

The defensive stance taken by many was that the taunt was not racist (only classist). Even if we allow for intent to be a proper defense AND ignore the fact that the students also offer a chant that explicitly points at the percentage of Jewish students at another school (wonder what they chant to Father Ryan students? “DRUNKEN IRISH” clap clap clap clap clap “DRUNKEN IRISH”) the whole incident still smells.

Take it from a brother who was at one time one of a very few brothers at a posh private institution. Context does matter. Think about it this way. Say you, White parents, lived in a district that bused in a lot of Black kids, and you, being the good liberal you are, sent your kid to the neighborhood school. Then, when your son stepped on the basketball court, the chant started “White Boy White Boy.” Perhaps the meaning is to be understood as support, “that one White kid can really play,” but you, sitting there amongst a sea of Black faces might start to fidget, wondering if you might get police protection for your kid.

We cannot expect everyone to be able to see the goodness in our hearts if it is not coming out of our mouths.

Many of you, yeah you MBA parents, don’t have to consider what it is like being the only among many. It’s a lesson that thankfully we’re all having to learn less and less these days.

Back in the day, I might hear from the sidelines “Man that colored boy sure is fast.” Then I’d say “Coach just send in the play already.”

Then Scene gets all up in race again with their cover story on self-made man/numbers runner Steve Ganaway. As soon as I saw the cover with the headline “Ghetto Superstar” I knew they would be bombarded with letters. I’m sure they knew it as well, like the guy who fouls you in the middle of a game then holds up his hands with a “who me?” gesture.

As one of the few Black people to have held the title Contributing Writer with the paper and one of the few Black people to have been featured on the paper’s cover, I feel exceptionally qualified to discuss this, lol. I understand people’s frustrations with the story and the cover. I know the title riffed on the song of the same name, and the art payed homage to 70’s era Blaxploitation flicks. And Ganaway could certainly be thought of as a character from that era. I wrote it off to post-hipster above-race insensitivity.

However The Scene should not write off the concerns expressed and immediately take a defensive stance. Their joke about having featured many Tennessee Titans on the cover was pretty funny. What? That wasn’t a joke? Oh, nevermind. The paper could do more in covering issues about and issues that concern the city’s Black community, even more music coverage would be a start. It is possible that people are using the Ganaway matter as a gateway to air grievances that have been a matter of concern for some time.

You’ve got all of February to make it up to us, Kotz.

PS. I just want to say a couple of my best friends went to MBA 🙂

7 Comments leave one →
  1. tim permalink
    February 2, 2009 10:20 am

    You’re an idiot. The problem with you people (liberals), is that you have to put racism in the argument when you don’t have anything intelligent to say regarding a subject. It is truly a shame that you cry racism when it benefits your cause but when the opposition is in a similar frame of thought you revert to childish name calling such as sell out, a slave to the white man or how about an uncle Tom. Oh and your comment about I have a few friends at MBA, is that like I have a few black friends. Grow up and let people live and grow together and stop trying to divide society and relive a travesty is our society that everyone is attempting to overcome(not forget). Don’t worry I will not repsond back to any comments due to the lack of credablity i your blog and will not ever view your site again until you GROW UP!!!!!

  2. February 2, 2009 10:59 am

    “…even more music coverage would be a start.”

    I guess that’s fair.

  3. william permalink
    February 2, 2009 12:38 pm

    Terrific writing. Really like your rational, honest insight and sense of humor. Reminds me of Sherman Alexie. Followed a link here from Crooks and Liars.

  4. Ronin Tetsuro permalink
    February 2, 2009 1:05 pm


    I love how “you people” (conservatives) find a need to insult others with invective when you disagree with their points and haven’t the grey matter to back up your thoughts and convictions with anything resembling a vocabulary.

    The irony of calling out the author for being insulting and leading off with an insult yourself is so classic of conservia, that the rest of the world blithly uses it as a common identifier for “your kind”.

    Your time is over. Thanks for playing. And by the way, we can’t begin to move on from racism unless we begin to objectively talk about it. Something I gather you’re still working on.

    An Intelligent Centrist.

  5. jen permalink
    February 2, 2009 5:59 pm

    First ,great piece of writing. Second, Good Lord, I feel so sheltered! What is wrong with these private schools?! How on earth have repeated racial chants been allowed to occur in recent years? 😦


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