Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Is The NFL Defining Black Masculinity For Society?

Photo Credit: Keith Allison
One of the most intriguing storylines from the current NFL season is that of the Miami Dolphins and the alleged bullying that took place by Richie Incognito towards teammate Jonathan Martin. After Martin unexpectedly left the team at the end of October, many wondered what prompted his departure.

In the days and weeks ahead, it was alleged that what caused Martin's abrupt leaving of the team was the severe bullying that he had endured, most notably by Incognito. The story ignited a national discussion on race, hazing and what is acceptable behavior in the locker room (and beyond).

In another angle on the story, ESPN The Mag writer Howard Bryant explores what it means to be considered a masculine African American man in today's society:
"Here was a case in which a white man used racial slurs to a Stanford-educated teammate who comes from a two-parent, Harvard-educated home. And more than anything else, the root issue was the eternal difficulty this country has in allowing black men to live in full dimension. Martin didn't look the part. He didn't conform to the accepted code of black masculinity, exposing the fault line that has always run underneath the American soil, transformative president or not. 
On the Dolphins, Martin wasn't seen as a real man. Uncomfortable with the strip clubs, he wasn't trusted as one of the boys. And because he represented the images of scholarship and manners, of dignity and higher education -- reputable qualities generally associated with white mainstream America -- he was inauthentic in the eyes of black players, but no more authentic in the eyes of whites. His teammates preyed on Martin's economic class and demeanor, viewing each as weakness, his education as a mimicry of whiteness. (It's telling that John Elway and Andrew Luck, also Stanford grads, have never been accused of being soft.) 
Meanwhile, Incognito became "honorary black" not for any great contribution to African-American history or society but by personifying the negative attributes that American culture usually assigns to black men: the thug, the sex-club swagger, the tough-guy bravado. The images shifted, twisted and flipped, and the person embodying the stereotypical N-word was actually the white man, to the point where Incognito's black teammates saw themselves in his behavior more than Martin's. 
Martin and his family may be what politicians and teachers say is the American ideal, but the actual rewards -- the acting jobs, the record deals, the social acceptance, the money -- largely go to the African-Americans who exemplify the N-word, who embrace the suffocating, limiting image of male blackness. The decision to perpetuate this image isn't made solely by the black community but by the white suits who decided long ago how the part is supposed to look and what black behavior they will compensate; think of that LeBron cover again. Corporations seem to doubt the authenticity and marketability of black men who live outside the primal construct. 
This represents the ultimate victory of racism: the belief that exists among both whites and blacks that being educated, being articulate, having manners, is the sole province of being white."
To read the rest of Bryant's article please click here.

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