Squaring the Culture

"...and I will make justice the plumb line, and righteousness the level;
then hail will sweep away the refuge of lies,
and the waters will overflow the secret place."
Isaiah 28:17

03/02/2010 (3:37 pm)

The Elephant In the Room


I’m feeling a little bit sorry for Fox Sports writer Jason Whitlock, so I’m going to talk about race. I don’t often talk about race because it’s a dangerous topic; careers are ruined and jobs are lost because somebody said the wrong thing regarding something regarded as racial. Sometimes it’s not even about race at all, as in the various cases where somebody took heat for using the perfectly lucid but arcane adjective “niggardly” (meaning “stingy”, based on the Old Norse verb nigla, “to fuss about small matters”.) But race is a subject about which I know a little, being a white Christian/Jew who has served and worshiped under several black pastors, in mostly-black congregations and mostly-black home meetings for several decades, and engaged in evangelism in the black community many times.

Whitlock earns my sentiment because he made a fool of himself over race, and was duly but a little unfairly taken down by Peter Heck at OneNewsNow.com. The subject of the take-down was Whitlock’s long-after-the-fact riff on the Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning’s less-than-stellar performance in Superbowl XLIV. It’s a pretty decent riff, actually, in which Whitlock explains that though he likes Manning personally, and considers him one of the 10 Greatest QBs of All Time (which was the title of the article,) people were making lame excuses for him after the game. The simple fact that nobody seemed to want to admit, opines Whitlock, was that Manning was outsmarted by defensive back Tracy Porter. It was Porter who intercepted that crucial pass and scored a touchdown that put the Saints irretrievably ahead, ending Manning’s late-4th-quarter attempt to salvage the close game.

Here’s the spot where Whitlock goes completely loopy:

By Wednesday morning, I was so upset I grabbed my laptop and reached for The Card. I was going to make this column all about the elephant in the room:

In the biggest sporting event in the world, with a record number of people watching and on the game’s most important play, a black defensive back outsmarted a beloved white quarterback.

I know. That’s a truth many of you can’t handle. It makes you uncomfortable. You don’t even get what I’m really saying. All of us — white, black and brown — get so caught up in our stereotypes that we oftentimes miss what is right in front of us.

Tracy Porter outsmarted Peyton Manning and won the Super Bowl for New Orleans. End of story.

For all I know, Whitlock is right about the outsmarting part; what I understand about football would fit on one side of a single sheet of paper. I have to tell you, though, that the respective skin colors of the players never occurred to me until I read Heck’s take-down. I imagine that’s true for nearly everybody. It’s been a long, long time since the first black player broke the race barrier in the NFL. It’s been a long time since the first black quarterback, and the first black coach. It’s not an issue anymore. We simply don’t notice.

It’s obviously an issue to Whitlock, though. Why?

It’s tempting to take Heck’s line, and rag on the race-baiters of the left that use such incidents as political and social fodder. That’s a very real problem. Mostly white progressives have taken hold of race as a means of validating themselves. They buttress their own feelings of superiority by declaring themselves the champions of race, and their adversaries, the villains of race. They have to perpetuate the perception that racism continues as a serious social problem, because they continue to need validation. Solving the problem is the last thing in the world they want. The admission that their view of the problem is imaginary comes when they accuse their opponents of “talking in code;” that’s an admission that their adversaries never, ever say anything racist. So what makes them think they are? simply the need to be able to say it, and the political advantage that comes from that. It’s all the better if it can be said without any supporting evidence; that way, they’ll never have to stop.

But I don’t believe that Jason Whitlock is one of those, and I think Peter Heck is being a little unfair to call him one. Here’s why:

I was extremely socially awkward as a child, physically puny, weak, and wimpy. I took a lot of abuse for being weak, cowardly, and different, and I did a lot of things that were socially wrong and about which I still cringe when I think about them. You’d think I’d have gotten over that by now, and mostly I have, but it still has its subtle effects on my behavior. Because of accumulated childhood trauma, I never really feel entirely welcome in any group, even among friends. I’ve been known to avoid certain people for months over some insignificant thing I took as a slight, usually incorrectly. Also, I can’t watch certain films that remind me of painful things. Meet the Parents is a piece of comic genius, but every time Ben Stiller lies to make himself seem acceptable to Robert DeNiro, which is pretty much the entire film, I cringe and feel pain. It’s just not funny to me. It reminds me of things I did when I was a kid. People whose childhoods were less traumatic than mine can’t possibly understand my feelings, but they still affect me.

whitlockI imagine that in Jason Whitlock’s life, as in the lives of most blacks in America, he has faced dozens of incidents in which he saw fear in some stranger’s eyes who knew nothing about him aside from the fact that he was black, male, big, and nearby. He was probably suspected more than once of stealing, loitering, or planning mischief on the basis of no better evidence than that he was male and his skin was black. There are still plenty of places, one being Havertown, PA where my children live, where blacks get pulled over disproportionately, committing the crime they call “driving while black.” To say that I know how this feels would be patronizing and wrong; we can’t completely understand what we have not experienced. But I’m sure it hurts. Lots.

Does that excuse Whitlock’s just-plain-silly analysis of the support for Peyton Manning being motivated by race? No. But it does explain it somewhat. You see, Mr. Whitlock feels pain about which he can do nothing — as do we all. He’s mostly gotten over it, but it still affects his adult behavior in subtle ways — as do all our childhood traumas. And on this instance, it affected his analysis in a way that is simply unmistakable; it made him see race where no racial component was present.

Lynching blacks is vile; it does not happen anymore, and has not since the 1930s. Laws that ban blacks from certain public places, or relegate them to second-class status, are wrong; they don’t exist anymore, and have not since the 1960s. The personal pain that comes with being unfairly perceived as different is real, and still occurs; but that’s not generally the result of a crime, and cannot be made the subject of laws.

Human beings are naturally more comfortable among people who are like them. That’s not wrong, and social progressivism has done great damage to the culture by pretending that it is. Attempting to repress that as though it were evil is identical, in behavior terms, to attempting to repress sexual feelings as though they were evil; it does not work, and the attempt produces damaging distortions. We are who we are. And just like with sexual feelings, we can learn to control what we do with our very real feelings about different cultures, but we can only do it after we understand what they are. This cannot happen in an environment like ours, where merely mentioning that one has such ordinary feelings can result in financial and social ruin. Racial McCarthyism is evil, and must stop.

Moreover, some of the reactions black men grow up facing are perfectly rational reactions. Most people, white or black, see plenty of rowdy groups of young black men causing trouble in public or committing crimes on film. Most people see far too many news reels reporting violence by gangs of young black men. Consequently, when most people see a group of rowdy, young black men approaching them in public, they naturally feel fear. Jesse Jackson has admitted to this same feeling, himself. The cure for it is not to repress reasonable feelings, or to feel shame for feeling them; the cure for it is for young black men to clean up their act and behave in a civil and sensible manner. People fear them because in realty, a lot of them are fearsome. If they were not, the fear of unknown blacks would vanish.

I’ll say this, too, though it’s not strictly necessary for the topic: a lot of poor, young black men are angry. A lot of that anger gets expressed as anger against whites, but it’s not really that. The young, black men I knew when I was in the ghetto were angry at the parents that abandoned them or mistreated them — and they had good reason to be. Eventually, that anger got redirected toward the white society that they blamed for holding them down, but in truth, it was the lack of sound parental influence that was holding them down; the ones who had good parents were easily headed for the middle class. The solution to their anger does not lie in changing white society, it lies in getting black fathers and mothers to stop abandoning or mistreating their children.

Jason Whitlock is not guilty of race-baiting for political advantage, as Peter Heck says he is. However, it’s clear that the only person in the room who has a race problem is Jason Whitlock. As a culture, we need to recognize what that is, and we need to treat it with some understanding, but we don’t need to poison the political atmosphere with it. We can feel compassion, but it’s Jason Whitlock who needs to address his racial feelings, not anybody else.

Ironically, Whitlock himself explains why everybody is defending Peyton Manning, rather than acknowledging that he was outplayed. Look:

Some of you who read my column regularly think I have a major problem with Peyton Manning. I don’t. I enjoy watching him play. I admire the values he and his family project. I respect his work ethic. Even with an incomplete resume that will only improve, he is already one of the 10 best quarterbacks of all time.

Jason, everybody else sees exactly what you see in Peyton Manning, and that’s why they’re defending him: everybody wants to think well of the guy. He’s a good guy. We like guys like him in America. He validates the things we believe.

It has nothing to do with the color of his skin. I feel exactly the same way about Jimmy Rollins, shortstop for the Philadelphia Phillies. Rollins’ prayers and positive mental attitude are probably more responsible for the success that team has experienced over the last four years than any other single factor, including Ryan Howard’s 58-home-run season and Chase Utley’s astonishing hyper-competence. That makes Rollins a hero to me, and yes, it makes it that much more difficult for me to admit it when Jimmy’s being an idiot about some boast he made in public. None of us like to admit the faults of our heroes. Rollins, in case anybody does not know, is black, but honestly, I don’t notice that except when somebody else brings up race.

Race is still an issue because a lot of people need it to be, but it’s also an issue for some because they feel very real pain that’s related to how they were viewed. The only way these people will ever be healed is if we can talk plainly about why we react the way we do to certain cultural stimuli. That is not possible in the poisonous environment created by the opportunism of white liberals, but… we shall overcome, someday.

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1 Comment »

March 2, 2010 @ 5:06 pm #

Wow, where did this one come from? No one I know has even commented on the racial side of the equation of that play. Porter simply outsmarted, schooled, outhought, whatever, Manning – a QB who does not make a lot of mental (or physical for that matter) mistakes. To me it seemed like Porter temporarily reduced Manning to the status of a rookie QB trying to sneak a pass in against a savvy, tough pro defensive back, who made him pay. Nothing more than that. Great play by Porter. Tough luck, Manning, try again next year. That’s how razor sharp the edge is in sports at that level.

I read and talk a fair bit of sports, and truly, no one I know or have any dialogue with cares unless someone takes things to an unacceptable level. I cringed when I heard about Crips, Bloods and other “gangstas” intimidating people in Las Vegas at the NBA all star game, but if that reaction spells racism to someone, well, so be it.

Sadly, I believe the atmosphere has been so poisoned that there will not be an honest “discussion” of this for possibly decades, when the boomer libs and others who have kept this alive long after it needed to be, are dead and gone. Right now, PC is the current meme du jour, and until we toss that out the window, forget a rational, evenhanded dialogue.

BTW, I hear you loud and clear on Jimmy Rollins. He and Chase Utley are the team leaders, and he is the star player who was there first, and who set the original tone for the team and gave them that swagger a good team needs to get them over the top. I’ve found over the years that when he once in a while says something that initially makes you wince (“the fans here can be frontrunners”), there is generally some truth/insight in what he is saying. One of my fondest hopes as a Phils fan is that Jimmy and Chase will both finish out their careers in Philly, and that their statues will be in front of the stadium next to Mike Schmidt’s in a decade or so.

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