For This Young Philadelphian, Allen Iverson’s Retirement Bitter Sweet

Reports have surfaced indicating one-time NBA MVP and perennial All-Pro Allen Iverson will announce his retirement. Bouncing around the NBA after being traded from the Denver Nuggets for Chauncey Billups, the polarizing personality nicknamed ‘The Answer’ left the NBA, played overseas, contemplated several times coming back, finally refusing an offer to play in the developmental league. The depressing end of Iverson’s career should be celebrated, but it should also shame us all; the fans who longed to see him hit rock bottom and the league he helped build but tried to wash their hands of him, pretending as if Iverson never existed.

As a twenty-three year-old young man born and raised in Philadelphia, my peers and I literally grew up watching Iverson cross up futilely-stout defenders, crash the lane, endlessly run around screens, dive after and intercept passes.  He defined how my generation played basketball. Play basketball at a local rec center in Philly, and you’ll see that everyone can put the ball on the ground. Men five-foot-nine, 220 pounds full of tone-less body fat and muscle can put the ball on the floor and can cross you up and down as good as any. Everyone’s hands are lightning-quick. They can rip the ball very quickly, drive with dexterity and have great anticipation skills. Think of the this generations’ influx of players from Philadelphia—the Morris Twins, Tyreke Evans, Dion Waiters, Kyle Lowry- all players with a unique and vast array of skills– an ability to handle the ball and little guys with an edge, toughness and grace to them that defines the city. Philly loves A.I. (pronounced tightly as ‘Ayah’ ) he gave courage to a lot of guys much smaller to him on the court. And for as long I live I will always be reminded of the legacy of Allen Iverson every time I step on a local playground.

First-hand experience can testify to how A.I. had an entire city of basketball players in the palm of his hands.

Iverson had cities full of young boys walking around proudly with braids, a hairstyle bound to develop in communities deprived of male-presence and poverty, where mothers use their hair-braiding skills to their son’s hair for free in lieu of paying up to $40 per month for haircuts. Iverson’s popularity took it out of that context and made it a overwhelmingly embraced hairstyle in the culture. While he was certainly not the first, Iverson put his culture on display and did so unapologetically. Filled with tattoo’s from his toe to his chin, Iverson was an individual. But within his unabashed individualism, he also was as every bit as human as we can imagine. He was filled with insecurities and emotion, cried in front of audiences and was a great interviewee. Behind Iverson’s boisterous demeanor was also treads of vulnerability that seemed so aligned with the communities that Iverson and I come from. Iverson grew up in a town that became racially divided because of his talent and the controversy surrounding a spar between his friends and a group of white kids, He grew up in a single-parent household that struggled to provide for him. Almost every step of the way was chastised for things that may have or may not have been any fault of his own. Iverson just wanted to play basketball. And you saw that tension on the court.

Basketball is an amazing sport because a player’s skills are usually never an extension of a persona, like wrestling. They tend to be extensions of who the person actually is. While in football, players need celebrations and antics to display their personalities and are overshadowed by a 55-man roster, basketball players can display their character organically within the game. The NBA is a player-driven league, driven by personalities, observable through how aggressively they attack the rim, when and how (or if)  they pass to teammates, complain to referees, or even facial expressions through the course of the game. Everything Iverson did felt organic and genuine because that character seemed to extend onto the court. He was candid during interviews and was adamant about letting his play on the court speak for him. Iverson wanted what every person arguably wants—to be himself and to be allowed to be that way because that is how he was made.

Though Kobe was the hometown dude, we adored and adopted A.I. 

Iverson’s most iconic moment—his step over Tyronn Lue—is usually taken out of context. The image, along with context illuminates his greatness. People forget that Lue did a great job shutting down Iverson in that second half up until those waning moments of the second half and Overtime, all this after scoring 30 points in the first half. Iverson finished the game with 48 points in what had been his third consecutive game of 44+ points. Iverson dominated those playoffs, having two 50+ performances in one series against a Toronto Raptors team one shot away from winning the series. Iverson barely sat on the bench in any of those series for the exception of one missed game against the Bucks. The 2001 playoffs was owned by a great Lakers team that only lost one playoff game, but it was dominated by the smallest man on the court.  He was small but lanky looking, lacking the muscle and build that the best point guards today have. Fans liked watching this mini miracle.

Iverson’s second most-iconic moment as a player, his infamous tirade about practice, is also taken out of context. And while it is argued that Iverson’s tirade is proof of the fact that, in that moment, he was overlooking the importance of team cohesion and performance, people overlooked what was hidden behind Iverson’s larger point: his team did not have any talent.

Currently the reigning Eastern Conference champs but a significantly worse team during the 2001-2002 season, the Sixers experienced a first-round loss in a five-game series against a young and talented Celtics team. Talks had surfaced about his practicing habits, as then-Coach Larry Brown had discussed it the day following the series’ conclusion. When asked about Coach Brown’s comments, Iverson’s larger point about practice was that it was a non-factor in losing the series. This is best seen in his simple explanation as to why his team lost. “We lost man. It ain’t a whole bunch to that. Simple as that, we lost.”

How the hell am I gonna make my teammates better by practicing? 

The Sixers were demolished in game 5 by 33 points. When asked by a reporter “Is it possible that if you practiced, not you but you would make your teammates better?”,  Iverson emphatically asks “How the hell am I gonna make my teammates better by practicing?”  Iverson knows it is a team game, but he also acknowledging there is a major individual component. It was clear to Iverson, the Sixers lacked individual talent across the board. After watching a series where all-stars Paul Pierce and Antoine Walker gashed the Sixers game after game while Iverson scored an average of 30 points per, he needed players who were better. Iverson needed players with more individual talent that team practice would not solve for. It is a simple, unaudacious point made by Iverson that he has received much condemnation for.

What is often forgotten is how intense the rest of the interview gets. If you read the transcript of the interview, you can hear Iverson growing frustrated with lingering rumors of him being traded and having to address his daughter telling him about people approaching her about the fate of the iconic star. Throughout the interview, Iverson points out his frustration with it all— how confounded he is at the idea of why reporters are talking about trading Iverson if it is clear he’s the best player on the team, the Franchise player and the MVP. Iverson is perplexed at why people are focusing on him and why they are not asking questions about the people who comprise the rest of the roster—the non-MVP’s, the less-talented players. Iverson was tired of taking blame and being the called the source of the problem when he was the only solution the Sixers had, especially when the team lacked any play of consequence.

His talent, while definitely filled with high-volume scoring, made for some of the most memorable Sixers teams to memory. Perhaps if you gave Iverson, in his prime, a 3-and-D wing athlete that every team seems to have today, the Sixers could have reasonably stole a championship during those years. Instead the Sixers signed players like Matt Harpring, Keith Van Horn, volume shooter Glenn Robinson, and a past-his-prime Chris Webber. The best complimentary players the Sixers drafted were a young Larry Hughes and Andre Iguodala, both players who needed time to develop. The best low-post presences in Iverson’s time were all players the Sixers picked up while on the tail end of their careers. Perhaps Iverson was difficult to play with other talented players. Volume-shooting comrade Kobe Bryant will tell you that complimentary players are necessary to win games. If Iverson was given the Lakers teams from 2008-2010, minus Kobe Bryant, then he likely wins just as many championships as Kobe had during that period. Iverson did many things really well. For the exception of a post-game, Iverson could create his own shot, ran around screens perfectly, and could run an offense. And the increase in shooting percentage he experienced in Denver indicated a serious personel and scheme problem in Philadelphia.

Iverson’s inability to win a championship will likely be the same reason many talented players like him never win them. They run into dominant teams and players that are difficult to defeat. But people seem to blame Iverson for the Sixers’ failure. They how awful the Sixers were. There was no reliable offensive weapon other than Iverson.  Name a legitimate offensive threats the Sixers had on their teams other than Iverson , compared to the other championship-winning teams during his era and that should answer the question as to why Iverson never “won” anything. We demanded a lot of Iverson. And we should re-assess if that burden was fair.

But outside of reassessing our personal expectations for Iverson, we should also reexamine whether things would have turned out differently had the league embraced him more. The NBA should be ashamed as to how they have treated Iverson. He was never truly embraced by the league, never hailed or advertised by the NBA.  Though, they have reaped the benefit of a gamut of Iverson-ites in the NBA. Since Iverson, the league has recently seen an influx of small guards who play with tons of heart. They slash to the rim, some dunk, some use flashy layups, some take bad shots. Many break ankles. In fact, Iverson perfected a crossover that hadn’t been seen in the NBA yet. The ability to put the ball on a string, using a mix of body motion and ball gestures as a form of misdirection to keep your defender off balance, while making him pay for ever planting his feet is something that Iverson famously mastered. It is almost a prerequisite for any novice ball handler in the NBA who has any ambitions on getting to the lane to possess now. We’ve even seen players as lanky as Kevin Durant use the crossover in his array of moves. Once again, while Iverson is not the first but he’s mostly the reason why kids were experimenting with those moves on the playground during my upbringing. I certainly tried. Now the NBA is getting populated with young talent my age.

Embracing the “Thug”

Even the dreaded tattoos Iverson has helped foster in almost every sport. Players proudly dress their bodies in ink. Iverson was featured on magazine after magazine, brazenly showing off his tats from head to toe. The NBA wants to pretend these things do not exist. The NBA wants to disassociate itself from elements of threatening components of an American sub-culture, even if it has almost everything to do with the fascination of the sport from the perspective of those that populate—and will continue to populate—the league. Part of that required a barring of Iverson from the NBA. The NBA initiated a dress code, and they required the jerseys be tighter on the skin, and forbade wearing leg or arm sleeves for the purposes of fashion. They could not be more pleased with Iverson’s immediate fade from the NBA. Instead of looking at menacing 5X white tees and gold chains that slide down to his navel, we can now discuss Dwayne Wade’s ankles, Russell Westbrook’s next-best Prince impersonation, or Amare Stoudemire’s fedora’s. We can even feature fashion experts op-eds about NBA fashion trends on the website (as if none of this could be done without a dress code). The NBA has worked hard to eliminate the things Iverson unapologetically fostered.

Iverson’s fade to black will be a product of many factors. One of which is his own arrogance in his own ability (which I find we are frustratingly inconsistent in how we admire or demean that quality). But could any league MVP ever subject himself to the D-League? Not likely. Another will be a bad image and reputation, some of which is earned and some of which is not. His (mis)fortune post-NBA has created justification for some that hold negative views toward him. You’re not likely to see him on NBA TV or ESPN, despite his magnetic personality and charisma. He was built for basketball. And while that definitely had to come to an end, I am not sure if we—or even Iverson himself—could imagine what that end would look like. As ESPN personality Bomani Jones indicated in an article last year, it will probably be best if we never hear from him.

Undeniable Legacy

In the meantime, I will think of Chris Paul, Steve Francis, Dwayne Wade, Brandon Jennings, Juan Dixon, Dion Waiters, Louis Williams, and Rodney Stuckey. These are players who don the #3 jersey proudly. I am confident it is derived from them watching Iverson during their adolescence, probably mastering crossovers and developing their touch around the rim after seeing highlights of the superstar. Iverson contributed to the sport in ways that some of the best players will never be able to claim, and his popularity and iconoclasm has left a mark on the NBA for better or worse. But we should always acknowledge when we’re in a presence of a legend. This is fact; meaning that it is exists whether we’re comfortable about it or not. Pay your due respect.

Black Male, Heterosexual Feminist, Struggling And Growing in Patriarchy.

Can A Man Be A Feminist?

This past summer, I have had several conversations about gender and patriarchy and how those ideas impact the way we interact with each other. One of the questions that have surfaced is: “Can a man be a feminist?”

Is it possible for a man to view the interaction of the social, political and cultural world from the viewpoint of how they impact women? What can a man specifically do to take up the cause for women on a fundamental level?

One of the things that has been brought up by a few women I have had these discussions with is how it is impossible for men to really understand the struggles of women—how men, by virtue of their manhood and gendered-privilege cannot be perceptive to the plight of their wives, sisters, mothers and daughters. This entry seeks to address this.

The other idea that has been brought up is the belief that men lack real-world consequences of manhood; that our privileges extend in a way that makes our lives fundamentally easier than the lives of women. This essay will address this as well.

As for background, I grew up in a household headed by a single-parent mother. I grew up with a consistent male-presence in the household. However, he was more of a place-holder than a father. My mother disallowed him from having the power to discipline us. The rest of my family is a rather solid balance between patriarchs and matriarchs, albeit the matriarchs very much deferred to men and promoted male authority.

Patriarchy And Its’ Impact on Men

Some people may consider such a promotion a privilege for men, but my experience disinclines me from making such an assumption. Far too often in my community have I seen men beaten down from the “privileges” of man-hood. These men are charged to financially provide for his family in spite of conditions in the world that make poverty and unemployment inevitable. The view of men being a provider can not only cause one’s family to alienate and chastise him in the event he fails to be a “man,” it can also lead to him alienating himself. Providership is intrinsic to manhood, and an inability to do so destroy’s a man’s self-esteem in a way different from when a woman fails to be a provider. While both sexes’ inability to provide create a frustration, anxiety, and desperation; for men, it annihilates his soul and affects his worthiness as a human. No one wants to save a capable man who can’t provide. No one empathizes with him. There are no excuses. He is just a failure.

When a man sits stoic-ly on his couch because his job of ten years laid him off, it is synonymous with his testicles being ripped from him. Women tend to be more resilient, optimistic, and driven to adapt in those situations because they are not defined by their ability to provide. A man has to consider his self-esteem in the event he is unable to find a new job. Failing, in the capitalist and western sense, has a greater burden.

Furthermore, a man is not allowed to show his frustration with the conditions that create his destitution in normal and functional manners. He’s taught not to cry about his fears. He’s taught not to express any form of visible despair. Patriarchy has the power to turn men into crazed people who are urged to suppress the large range of emotions their human bodies are designed for them to do. Any person with a deeply intimate relationship with a man has seen a man composed on the surface but facing a gamut or turmoil internally. Almost all of this “suck-it-up-and-be-a-man” idea is derived from man having the burden of being the provider in the philosophical sense. While “sucking it up” and moving on is certainly an idea women internalize, the range through which they express frustration can be assuaged in ways their communities would not chastise them for. The discourse follows: If a woman can’t provide for their children, it a product of community failure, or the lacking presence of men. This kind of thinking is obviously sexist, but this sexism does not create some de-facto advantage for men. If a father can’t provide for his children, it is decided that he is not equipped or worthy of manhood.

Expectations have a larger impact in how we develop interpersonal relationships with men as well. The expectation of him being a provider precludes him from being involved in his dependents lives in ways that exclude money. We know about women belittling men in front of their families because they lack employment; women who withhold the man’s authority with their shared children because he cannot pay for diapers (as if this would apply the other way around). A man’s ability to provide for himself and for others is intrinsically tied to his individual and community identity. Think about how we give disparaging looks at grown men who live with their parents or who lack a dollar to their name.

Not The Same As Race

I understand the inclination for those to draw parallels from an “intersection” of race and gender. And in most instances, the tendency to do so is appropriate. But like real streets, intersections have separate streets names and separate corners that make each component distinct. What makes the issue of race unique is that racial inequalities dictate where colored and non-colored people live and convene; it streamlines if races will cross paths and the terms under which those interactions can occur. However, as long as it is only biologically possible for men and women to conceive and extend the human race, there will never be a way to politically or culturally dictate where sexes live and convene—they will always occupy those spaces simultaneously in a philosophical and spatial sense. A white man can live his life without ever being cognizant of his whiteness in ways a man is readily aware of his gender. And while it is possible to solve the cultural issues of blacks and ignore that of whites, it is quite illogical to believe that any issues about the experiences of women can be addressed without understanding thoroughly how they impact men as well. To solve one is to solve for the other in this case.

Your Personal Values Matter In This

I am also aware that the same expectations lead to the enfranchisement of men. Disproportionate employment in higher ranks, higher pay-scales and wage-rates, and the creation of the glass ceiling are all products of the same worldview-complications I have listed thus far. As with almost every paradigm, there are advantages and disadvantages to patriarchy. We consider which is more advantageous based on which roles we consider more important in society. If you consider emotional inclusion into one’s community more important than income, that will dictate how you view the dynamic. But if you only care about the political and economic enfranchisement of certain demographics, you will view this another way. Either way, being a man is not a walk on easy street because the worlds of gender consciously and directly collide.

A Man Running Away From Manhood?

I oppose patriarchy and matriarchy. I lament a predetermination of roles either gender will play in a relationship, especially when determinations are made before personalities are known and assessed. However, as a heterosexual black man, my interaction with women (family included) tends to follow along the same consistent lines. There are men and women who characterize my tendency to shriek from typical patriarchal roles—leadership, authoritativeness, etc.—as an indicator that I “think like a woman”, or view me as a “boy” who is simply unwilling to accept the responsibilities and mantle of manhood. This has an interesting impact in romantic relationships.

It is difficult for any heterosexual relationship to exist without gendered roles. As a man, it is also confusing to have interactions with a woman that you are certain exist without any gendered underpinnings. To what extent is my relation to women derived out a desire to be that role for the sake of my own personal psyche?

What if I am confronted one day with a situation that require I demand a woman I am deeply in love with to be with me and forgo her own dreams for the sake of the relationship? Let’s suggest I am established in my career and she has yet to– do I implore her to live with me or do I encourage her to continue her dreams at the cost of the relationship? The feminist in me would encourage her to continue her own pursuits and hope for the best. The man inside of me would consider that cowardly and characterize my willingness to let her go as an unwillingness to be accountable for the sacrifices she would have to make. Should I embrace that accountability? Or is the fact that I would even feel accountability proof of my sexist thinking?

Or even worse: is considering how the ways we interact impact women itself patriarchal in-nature? Who am I to impose what best-suits all women? But who are you to do that, too, even if you are a woman?

Something Is In It for Men, Too

If you– as the reader– are inclined right to immediately rebut, please be aware that I understand there are impacts of women being expected of be nurturers. I DO NOT seek to ignore the plight of women, I have simply used this time to point out how patriarchy can disadvantage men. This also does not imply those disadvantages turn into advantages for women, it is simply to state such expectations do not exist to the same extent that they do for men. Most importantly, it is to point how patriarchy does not only limit women; they limit men just as deeply. This should be grounds for us to collectively reject patriarchal AND matriarchal thinking.

Male feminism tends to be discussed as some sort of philosophical philanthropy—something men take up ideologically for the sole benefit of the plight of women. Understanding that people do not make changes unless they stand to gain from said changes, I am asserting that men have a stake in it too, and stand to gain from rejecting patriarchy. And that instead of trying to view the impact of patriarchy from the eyes of women, perhaps viewing how patriarchy impacts women can be done through analyzing how those paradigms impact the self as a man.

Major Internal Conflict

Conversely, though, the little things woman can do to make you feel like a “man” is very endearing. Additionally, the gender-driven tasks I perform can build self-esteem as a partner. Carrying grocery bags in the house, mowing the lawn, changing tires and other auto-mechanical work does contribute to the overall aesthetic of the relationship for me. Also, greater strength, height, and physical control add to the collective feel of a relationship. And being able to provide for my woman (not a date, I could care less)—whether it is a meal, a trip, or courage—is personally rewarding as well.

And that is a man’s feminist struggle—deciding how, when or if to be a man for the women you love. And trying to decide whether it is necessary for me to be those things and assessing whether it is possible to develop a relationship with a woman devoid of those expectations. Or should I just take it and accept the good and bad that comes with it?

What is certain is that the world and my community will not stop expecting me to be unemotional and living an existence independent from my ability to provide. I am also certain that my self-esteem will continue to receive a boost the more financially equipped I become to build, create, and sustain families. Just as unlikely to depart is the impending anxieties of manhood, and being defined by my willingness and readiness to accept such roles. It is there that I find common ground with feminism.

Or maybe I am just overanalyzing. But what I do know is that, for this man, the decision is not as easy as some may think.

‘Why Black People Are Single’ Articles Just Promote Stereotypes.

I hate those list that give the “top __ reasons black men are single” list. They must be stopped. These lists for single people tend to always blame the opposite sex for the reason one sex is single. They blame someone’s single-ness on the way others treat them instead of basing them on the interest, habits, and miscues of the subject.

I have recently checked out an article about why “good” black men are single. These articles tend to be written in a way that assumes that we all know what a “good” man is. As a MAN– not just a black man—I am clueless as to what a good black man is. In some discussions, a “good” black man is simply a gainfully-employed and available black man. An employed black man is not necessarily a “good” one. Also, these articles tend not to clarify what “bad” men are. Are they men who are not gainfully employed? Men who have been unwilling to make commitments to their past partners? Men who have multiple sexual partners? Any answer to those questions still does not answer to whether the gentleman is “good.”

One painfully visible point these articles miss: You don’t find out a “good” guy is a “bad” guy until he does something “bad” and vice versa. Being a “good” or “bad” guy are not rigid confines, as men and woman are capable of being both, whatever that means. You are one person away from becoming either. Just like certain workers thrive in certain conditions and struggle in others, becoming a good or bad man is dependent on a variety of factors. Thus, the same men you have in mind on this list can be the same men they have in mind on this list.

But I am going to settle the argument for good and provide 11 simple reasons for why “good” PEOPLE men are single (if they are single, these articles tend not to have data, either). These reasons are focusing on the behavior of men, not how others treat them.

1. They are too busy and/or distracted to be in a relationship.

2. They enjoy being single. They don’t want a relationship and/or are not ready for one.

3. They meet prospective partners in environments not best-suited for their personality – if you are quiet and reserved, meeting people at bars probably will not work.

4.  Hesitant to approach people they find attractive.

5.  Narrow-minded in the type of partner they want. Constricting their potential partners to race, shape, size, class, creed, etc.

6.  Scared of rejection

7.  They prefer for partners to approach them

8.  Not assertive or confident enough.

9.  They don’t recognize a good partner when they see one (shocker! Good people can be horrible at selecting partners too?)

10.They have not met and/or are waiting for the right person.

11. A ton of other reasons that vary based on the personality of the INDIVIDUAL.

Oftentimes, the reasons why black men are single are the exact same reasons why white, Asian, and Hispanic men are single. They can also be the exact same reasons why women are single. They usually are. It’s that simple.

Though I am certain not to solve the question for good, I think we should stop generalizing. They only promote stereotypes about how we treat each other, and often enable a single person, who is interested in finding a life-partner, to evade their own behavior in explaining their dissatisfaction with their romantic life.

Riley Cooper, Devoid of Real Talent, Will Be Just Another ‘Nigger-Guy’

This should be good.

It is said that in our anger and angst is when our true colors show. In the midst of adversity, no matter how great or small, we notice what we are truly made of for better or worse.

This is one way to interpret Riley Cooper’s angry tirade at a Kenny Chesney concert, where the Eagles wide receiver dropped one maddening ‘N-Bomb’. The former roommate of Tim Tebow is the new ‘Nigger Guy’, and he will be forced to walk the plank all his other predecessors have. This situation has a different twist to it, as Cooper’s profession places him in the same locker room as men who have the same racial identifier as the racial slur he damn-near unconsciously threw at the security guard.

Yet, his apology mostly seemed like he was just a man who knows his career is ending, but desperately trying to do the most to show he cares. Like a man futilely trying to buy his woman who’s completely over him flowers, Cooper’s apology was mostly Tiger-esque—an apology that’s mostly derived from the trauma of our embarrassment of the aftermath than from the action itself, where self-loathing for the destruction of one’s image is mistakenly contrived as contrition. The Eagles have excused him from the team so he can see “professionals” to help him “deal with” what he said. I have a simpler solution to the problem; just cut him.

Unlike Michael Richards (Kramer), a past-his-prime actor who at worst may have had to answer to the rest of his scrawny, skinny, or out-of-shape African American comedic colleagues, Cooper’s counterparts are men who are, arguably, in the best shape of all pro sports and are given license permission to hit him with hard helmets at blitzing speed. Unfortunately—or fortunately– the Philadelphia Eagles have to release him.

It seems justified to allow him to at least continue auditioning to make the team. To allow men desperately trying to make a name for themselves to throw their bodies at him, and to have him run curl and slant routes in front of some beefy black middle linebacker from Texas seemed to be the best way to have this story end for those that now want his helmet on a pike.

Whether Riley Cooper is racist does not matter. Besides, when these things happen, people close to the matter tend to want to speak positively. We’re not going to meet anyone who knows Cooper to publicly state they are not surprised at his outburst. What we do know, however, is that instead of referring to security guards in the epithets we uniformly tend to call them—rent-a-cops, asshole, pig, jerk, dickhead, etc.—Cooper took disdain for a singular security guard who happened to be black as an opportunity to make a declaration of how he’d beat “EVERY nigger” at the venue. He may not be racist, but what he said is definitely something racist people say, and said it with the visceral tenacity that accompanies such racists.

Even more interesting is the variety of responses it drew from those with him. One telling, and discomforting detail, though, is the humor to which the epithet is received by those that are in his crew. More than his ease in saying the word is the fact that some found it amusing—not appalling—to hear him use the word. One woman exclaims laughingly “ahhh, he said nigga.” But a redeeming one comes from the gentlemen—one noticeably Eagles Guard Jason Kelce—beside him who’s smiley quickly turns into a shaming “whoa, whoa, whoa” after Cooper says the word. This why assessing who he is as an individual is difficult; even if you don’t believe him when he says he has never said that word before. (Because we all know that when you’re drunk and upset you develop new vocabulary and slang.)

As with everything, though, context is paramount. If Riley cooper says the word while at a Rick Ross concert while reciting the chorus this becomes a different conversation. He doesn’t have to (as) shamefully stand in front of a mic feigning depression. But Cooper will not be released because of what he said more than he will be because you want your team focused on the task of winning a Super Bowl and not news headlines. On basic economics alone, Cooper is too much of a liability. Cooper spent a long time on the Eagles roster and never got a starting spot. If Peyton Manning made this mistake, it’d be much more consequential. And because Cooper is not Peyton Manning—or even Carson Palmer—we only learn what we already knew: being a team distraction will probably get you released, especially if you suck. Thus, the Eagles are taking a greater stance on team focus than they are about the use of the word itself.

A better player would have given us a better idea about how we actually feel about it. And until that happens, we’ll keep beating the dead horse.

Two more weeks of Cooper in the NFL should be entertaining. But Cooper’s career is over. But do NOT get it twisted, it will be because of his talent (or lack thereof). Not what he said. And I hope he remembers that.

And like every player cut because he can’t make the grade, we can go back to forgetting him. He does not have the talent to be known as anything else. He’ll just always be known as another ‘Nigger-Guy’.

The Pervasiveness of Injustice Affects African American Male Psyche.

Following the aftermath of the George Zimmerman trial has been fascinating. Everyone from Charles Barkley to President Obama have chimed in. And while some comments about the issues and matter in its periphery can be considered more warranted than others, every opinion is a necessary pitch added to the cacophony of comments driving the discourse. Each level of inquiry, every perceptive comment and every ignorant comment is exactly what the issue is about. At the base of all these discussions lay assumptions regarding the nature of black men and our place in the political and cultural flesh of the nation. An experience I recently had encompasses the issue perfectly.

In my hometown of Philadelphia, I frequently wander the city in my spare time looking for inspiration and comfortable places to write. My instincts take me to a familiar building—Houston Hall at the University of Penn. I find that the building’s antiquity, hardwood floors, and comfortable seating (and air condition) adequately suits my musing.

I set out my lunch at the table, take out my water and my laptop and cool down for a moment. I also have to go to the bathroom. Since I have just set out my workplace, I do not feel like packing everything up and going to the bathroom so I risk it. The room is full of white and Asian students.  I leave my property unattended, go the bathroom and return with my things untouched.

Later on the afternoon, I have to return to the bathroom. A young black man, dressed in kakhi-colored cargo shorts and a fitted white v-neck tee-shirt has entered the room since my last venture to the bathroom. There’s nothing inherently harmful about him. He was slouching in his chair, clearly exasperated from the heat. It appeared he came in the room just for rest as he has no bags with him.

The only noticeable change to the room was this gentleman’s presence. And while I still went to the bathroom while leaving my items unattended, I felt a greater dissonance doing so than I did just two hours earlier.

I couldn’t prevent it. I profiled him. Today.

And as if to add insult to injury, he went to the bathroom and he politely asked me if I could watch his things as he went.

Even after everything I have known, seen, and read as an African American man who has dressed similarly to him, likely from the same city and after all that has transpired over the last three weeks—hell, over the duration of my life—I could not prevent my subconscious and conscience from making this good brother out to so much more than he was not.

I could not tell you what anyone else in the room wore. I can confidently say I can describe this man fairly well.

My name is Derrick. And I think I may be racist.

Yes. Black people can be racist against black people. And not all of them have to be Uncle-Toms and Sambo figures. They can be as conscious as Malcolm X, and as much of an activist and nationalist as Marcus Garvey and still hold a deep, psychological wound that causes him to put his fellow man through the same predispositions he himself experiences.

And this would be a courageous admission if I felt I was alone. However, I am not the first young black man making racial assumptions about the same racial demographic he belongs to. But that’s exactly the point. The criminalization of black men in our society is so pervasive that it affects us in a variety of ways. It affects how our nation views us, how our cities, states and municipalities view us, how our communities view us. And most of all, they shape how we view ourselves.

These are the impacts of negative images of African American men and unjust judicial processes that becoming circular in its attempted justification. I have never been victim to any assault, theft, or any bodily harm at all at the hands of black men. In order to treat my brother fairly required I take control of my own bias. But it takes all of us to admit the prejudice exists first. Then we must take control.

This case provides us all with an impetus to reflect which of us would have been suspect of an unfamiliar young black boy walking into a neighborhood where our most cherished things belonged. The saddening reality is that the same prejudice that creates suspicion (that most willingly ignore) is the same prejudice that motivated the actions of Zimmerman. It is the same prejudice that motivates the actions of police officers, security guards and other areas of enforcement.

The difference between us and them (which is HUGE)? Our lack of policing authority AND weapons preclude we exercise more-thoughtful reactions to our preconceptions.

There is something at the core of the American judicial and cultural fabric that creates the stigma. And the same processes we must go through as individuals to rid ourselves of that core must be the same process the nation undergoes collectively.

Defending ‘Nigga’ Use… … …

For obvious reasons, the term ‘nigga’ is divisive. I am not going to refer to the term as the ‘n-word’ as if when I say it, a former slaves’ star in the universe in extinguished. It is a real word, regardless of its origin and tradition.

Saying ‘nigga’ still brings back a collective cultural memory of the years through which African Americans were routinely referred to in ways designed to destroy their self-esteem and remind black people of the unjustly-subservient status people of color occupied from the day they were bought to the Americas. For many, ‘nigga’ harken back to the days when a man felt powerless to assert his humanity. The history of the word itself then, for some, is sufficient justification for outrage whenever the vibrations of the word are parted from someone’s lips.

No matter how a white man referred to his human chattel —African, Colored, Negro or Negress, or even his slaves actual name- he was referring to what was legally his. And every interaction with this man, even apparently harmless ones, served as a constant reminder of the black man’s toiling space in the American hierarchy. Even after slavery, white people referred to black people as an effort to remind them that any personal efforts to develop dignity were futile. Being called a nigger reminded blacks– no matter how many businesses a black man owned, how many children’s schooling he was able to afford, or the beautiful happy family he successfully created– his city, nation, and world still viewed him as an unworthy citizen. A simple utterance of ‘nigger’ reminds a generation of people of a malicious era and visions of white people angrily holding signs that read “no niggers.” I thoroughly understand and appreciate the desire for people to sanction any language, idiom, expression or treatment that even slightly bring back memories of horror. However, I also understand how language works, and how language survives.

What I am arguing here is that it is possible for people to understand the destructive power of a term while simultaneously using it. And the use of the term itself does not destroy nor embolden how we feel or felt. Civil rights activist and Ambassador Andrew Young once retold a story about the night before Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was shot to his death. Joking around about the catfish Young brought King from the store, Dr. King made a remark that included the word ‘nigga’. I am not making a fallacious appeal to authority, here; but I do find it fascinating and telling that a man to whom the word was thrown at in every city and every turn, he was still perceptive enough to draw the line between offensive use of the word and an innocuous use of it.

Dr. King was not the only one to be called ‘nigger’ and say ‘nigga’ simultaneously. The word is survived by slaves and other victims of racism who lamented the term in some contexts and used it with impunity in others. Men and women who marched for respect, recognition and dignity every day and night were also frequent users of the word (ofcourse, we know not ALL did). Yet, they were also very sensitive to the word when used by those that were attempting to remind them of their “place” in the national stratosphere.

‘Nigga’ is not a term of endearment. Do not let anyone get away with saying that. No term independent of context has any value. A sarcastic reference to someone as a genius is malicious, just as an underhanded reference to someone as ‘master’ can be. Context means everything.

However, ‘Nigga’ has evolved even while having never really changed. As African American culture gained greater access to media outlets and as it becomes more-mainstream, there have been certain expressions in African American culture that have gained wider acclaim. Clothing styles, the prominence of personalized style, the popularity of sneakers, hairstyles (braids, fades, high tops, dreadlocks, etc) are a few that stick out. Not coincidentally, just as African-American imagery has been proliferated throughout the world, so have certain forms of language.

The cat came out the bag. We found out that black people call each other ‘niggas,’ call white people ‘crackers,’ call police ‘pigs’ and ‘5.0.’

This is what the issue is about. It is not so much about the use of the word but that once it got popularized that we use it, it could lead to others using it (in other words, if white people did not know we used it, this conversation would be pointless). For those that still care about not wanting to feel like a second-class citizen in the eyes of white Americans and others, the word ‘nigga,’ and the cultural memory of the term may bring one down a peg or two. It is a fair emotion.

However, we should NOT chastise those for whom the use of the word does not affect their self-esteem. And if they do not think it does, it would be paternal in nature to assume that it did without admission. For many, ‘nigga’ is so non-offensive and commonplace that it is how they refer to people in general regardless of race, class, gender or origin.

It’s like having an overweight cousin whom the family benevolently refers to as ‘Fatso’. For that individual, it is perfectly fine for those who are in on the narrative for them to be called that. Just because we know ‘Fatso’ to be a term that people have used to maliciously refer to someone overweight does not mean we need to tell Fatso how to feel, even if you yourself are overweight and have been called that. It is also fair for Fatso to beat you down if you are outside of his narrative and lack permission to refer to them that way.

For this generation of black people, a white man calling a black man a nigger is only an inefficient effort to destroy his self-esteem. Our skin’s tougher (in a cultural sense). We’ve tired of caring what some may think or believe about black people. And that is a wonderful and liberating feeling. But most importantly, we’re perceptive enough to choose when to care about calling and being called ‘nigga.’ Just like King was.

Let’s face it. People will continue to use the word—white and black alike. There will be black people negatively affected by its use, and black people who are indifferent to it. But let them decide how they feel about it without one trying to tell each other how to feel when the word is said. All you can do is demand they not call you a ‘nigga’.

Non-black people: Be cautious of your use. And be prepared to handle the confrontation if a black person is outraged, and be prepared to handle the reaction of an indifferent one. And because we’re perceptive enough to choose when to care, the same black man may react differently based on context. You must decide if your desire to say the word is worth a swift and just kick in the face, because the ass-whooping will be totally understood for the reasons I have stated above. And the response will be fueled by my ancestral memory. And yours.

Is the word hurtful? Yes. Is the word harmless? Yes.  The word has power because we allow it to have power. Just try to to see the position of those who have determined the word will mean what they want it to mean when they want it to mean it. Like all words in language, some things are allowed to remain complex.

The Zimmerman Trial: How Both Sides Are Incredibly Wrong and Right at the Same Time

There are many things to discuss about the Zimmerman trial. I could go on for hours. But there’s really nothing else to argue. All the arguments and evidence has been placed forth. George Zimmerman went from a man who freely killed a young man to having to justify it in a court of law. We should consider this the objective and the best way in which justice is given to everyone involved, which is all you can ask. And while the not-guilty verdict is to understandably aggravate certain African American communities, it is important to note a few things about this entire process.

The reaction of some African American communities throughout and after the trial proves the defense’s point about a “smear” campaign on George Zimmerman in the growing stages of the conflict, leading to an unnerving dismissal of African American jurors and ridicule of the prosecution’s witnesses.

This case is a double-edged sword. If this case makes it to trial without the publicity, George Zimmerman is likely incarcerated. The publicity of the case was certain to provide him with better legal counsel compared to if the case lacked profile.  The publicity of the situation also led to a dismissal of several black jurors, many of whom were already familiar with the case that the defense was able to successfully argue is to the unfair detriment of Zimmerman. If we gave Zimmerman an average legal counsel and some more diversity in the jury—as most trials will have—and the facts and evidence is likely enough to at least convict him of manslaughter.

On one side we can argue the media assault led by black community activists on the case created a dichotomy in the case that was simplified to the following: Prove Zimmerman to be a racist, he’s guilty. The discourse driving the entire situation required the Prosecution to prove a mindset that, in this case, was just (and I mean JUST) ambiguous enough to fall short of a clear racial prejudice against Trayvon Martin.

But to those that dare to castigate African Americans because some refused to believe in any of Zimmerman’s innocence, place yourselves in the context. To an entire demographic of people whose sons, fathers, uncles, cousins and husbands who have fallen prey to some variety of racial profiling for generations, it is more than a coincidence that a man sees a black teenager, is on record of following that teenager, and said teenager ends up killed—directly or indirectly—as a result of that man’s suspicion. It follows a narrative of an unnervingly familiar, subtle (and some not-so-subtle), and daunting experiences that makes us scream “guilty!” really without needing the facts. It helped we had some for this situation.

Psychologically speaking, for black people—for myself— this trial was about much more than just George Zimmerman. It was about speaking out against racial profiling, the abuse of domestic authorities falling on the backs of blacks, and the vilification of all African American male bodies. And pay attention, those most emotionally invested in the case have had those experiences. Talk with them if you have not. Like most things relevant in today’s news cycle, they often have to do with more than the subjects than it does with how our personal narrative connects to it. Zimmerman’s defense team knew this, and was right to continue to point out how the presumption of his guilt makes people forget the prosecution failed to meet their burden of proof.

On the other side, we know that none of this happens without the presumption of Zimmerman’s guilt. While it is reasonable to believe Zimmerman is jailed if things are done properly from DAY 1, making any profile for the case unnecessary, the only reason the facts are forced to bear themselves and depositions are taken is because a community of people did indeed lead a smear campaign against Zimmerman.

There I said it. We did. Acknowledge it. It was necessary.

Let this be another lesson in the Insanity of Racism: It took an entire nation of black people making Zimmerman out to be a vigilante Klan member JUST to take him to trial. Yet, it still was not enough to send him to jail.

Let this be a lesson about the blurred lines between righteousness justice.

So if you see some black folks protesting it’s because of a buildup of all those issues. It’s about so much more- not just about the results of the trial. Its less about how we feel about the trial and more about how feel in general.

Ain’t that black people in America?

First Day of Zimmerman’s Murder Trial Places Focus Where It Should Be.

Sixteen months ago Trayvon Martin, a 17-year old black male in Florida was shot and killed by George Zimmerman while returning from a local store. After almost a year and a half of speculating the various issues surrounding the shooting—from racial profiling to racially driven and controversial Stand-Your-Ground laws- jurors will now need to use the facts of the case along with the persuasiveness of witnesses and legal teams to finally place a lid on this drama, providing closure that everyone closely associated with this unfortunate event needs.

The opening statements both sides made today made their strategies clear. The state attempted to play off the emotions of the jurors, many of whom are women and have children. The defense will focus on how the bare facts of the case planted Zimmerman against Martin, where they argue Zimmerman had reasonable justification to use lethal force to escape from the assault the defense team argues that Zimmerman was subject to at the hands of the 17-year old.

This is the fascinating part about what takes place about incident. Unlike popular opinion, what motivates Zimmerman’s actions are reasonable. There lies enough ambiguity in the events that it is difficult to judge how each escalation in the drama should be interpreted.  Here are few questions the jurors may ask and things both legal teams will try to make clear.

Is George Zimmerman racist?

Like any individual who observes an unfamiliar individual in their community, they are reasonably suspicious. Most of us, however, are not empowered in any legal or community capacity to do much about those unfamiliar faces. We usually deal with our weariness by just hoping for the best. Zimmerman was empowered to do something about those who risk danger in his community. That much will be considered understandable for the jurors in this trial. The 911 call- introduced early today— is critical to the prosecution because it is the only piece of evidence that questions the character of Zimmerman and for some observers, serves as sufficient proof to prove his guilt. While that may not do so in court, his call to the police does give license to the idea that he may have some predisposed and unwarranted suspicions of black boys or young men in general.

If we believe he is racist, is that sufficient enough to make him guilty of the charges? How much weight do we place it on the confrontation and death of Trayvon Martin?

The prosecution also attempted to use additional 911 calls to police that Zimmerman made previously to hint to jurors an habitual prejudice and apprehension toward black males.

Establishing that Zimmerman has some prejudice against black men as it relates to crime is not a clincher for the trial, but it is useful. The prosecution will have to make clear to the jurors that Zimmerman’s decision to confront Trayvon Martin is, beyond reasonable doubt, motivated by Zimmerman unfairly criminalizing the departed youth. This is why the 911 call is essential for the prosecution. Zimmerman’s lamentation of “these fucking assholes” who “always get away” as heard in his call to police will be dissected and heard multiple times throughout the trial.

How much do we attribute prejudice to his decision to use fatal force in the moment of the physical altercation between him and Martin?  

Now the difficult part for the prosecution is that even if they are successful in portraying George Zimmerman as racist in the eyes of the jurors; that alone will not make him guilty. Despite all of the implications of racial profiling, the defendant is not on trial for that. He is largely on trial for the confrontation and his use of what the defense will argue is warranted fatal force while in physical combat. The more successful the prosecution is in making the case about more than that, the more likely they are to get a desirable verdict.

Jurors will need to assess who is the aggressor and whether it was reasonable and necessary for Zimmerman to use lethal force. His prejudice and bias will ruin any chance he has in portraying himself as a victim (or hero). If the prosecution is successful in proving that his mindset at the time of the incident is influenced by prejudice and feed into his overanxious attempt in dealing with this young black boy, the Zimmerman’s freedom is likely to be indefinitely suspended.

I’m not a lawyer. But the facts of the case and how they are interpreted define most, if not every criminal case. And as the facts and evidence of the case are readily available, how they all come together in the context of legal and rhetorical strategy will be very interesting.