"Truth to Power:"? No Truth or Empowerment in Jason Whitlock's Tweet

February 12, 2012
By

By the Collective (see below)

The Feminist Wire | New Black Man

We come together to express our collective disappointment over Jason Whitlock’s recent tweet about Jeremy Lin.  We hope that our voices, our analysis, and our anger demonstrate not only our opposition to this sort of rhetoric but the ideologies and stereotypes that provide a foundation for people like Whitlock to stand upon.  His tweet is a symptom of a larger problem and therefore warrants analysis and condemnation in an effort to transform the very culture that produces these sorts of comments each and every day.

***

Perhaps Jason Whitlock is suffering from (L)insanity. Or, perhaps on a much more politically incorrect level, Whitlock is on that bull.

His tweet wraps misogyny, stereotypical phallic fantasy, and race into one awkward ‘joke’ that provides enough side eye for years to come. Perhaps most disturbing is the crude attempt at humor with little to no purpose and situating it within politics of (ir) respectability. Further complicating (complementing?) the peculiarity of this tweet is the imposition of digital anonymity/privacy of Whitlock and his followers: because I’m behind a screen name (or lack thereof), is it cool to laugh and ‘joke’ about such sensitive and taboo topics? Is it respectable?

Does Whitlock have (social) responsibility? Damn right. Why wouldn’t he? Because, in an offsetting way, Whitlock’s crudeness is a representation of the public dismissal of race as a marker of American cultural discourse. And, simultaneously, how jacked it is. – Regina Bradley

 

***

Male professional sports, like the military, have long been valued for their ability to allow talent to flourish, in spite of the realities of race and ethnicity.  Professional sports are often viewed as the most natural of American meritocracies, though such opportunity, as it were, rarely extends beyond the field into the realms of management and ownership.  This is not to suggest that racism, sexism, and homophobia are non-existent in professional sports, but their impact is largely muted by performance.

One location where intolerance remains unfettered is, of course, within the arena of commentary where sports-talk radio and the comments sections of sports sites recall the kind of racist, sexist and homophobic rhetoric that many believed went underground generations ago.  Ironically, such rhetoric has proved big-business for Big Media, creating celebrity in hosts and sports journalists, whose bad behavior is celebrated as “realness” and who somehow think that thoughtful and reasoned analysis and commentary are towing some invisible line of political correctness.

In this regard, Jason Whitlock is not alone—his now infamous idiotic, racist, sexist, homophobic and xenophobic rants are part of his brand, and it’s a brand that apparently serves him, and his employer Fox Sports, very well.  Bless them.  And while I feel no real need to compare Whitlock’s recent comments about Jeremy Lin—as misogynistic as they were racist—to the ill-advised comments on twitter by journalist Roland Martin, I would at least expect that the same fervor in which GLAAD demanded that CNN punish Martin, and that many of Martin’s Black peers demanded that Martin be reinstated by his employer, would be deployed to protect a young Taiwanese-American basketball player, who is simply doing his job to the best of his ability within a meritocratic structure that we all claim to value. – Mark Anthony Neal

 

***

Appalled. I find myself rendered nearly speechless in the face of the harmful and repulsive comments of Jason Whitlock and many others with regards to Jeremy Lin. We, however, cannot remain silent about such racist and misogynistic comments. Relying upon deeply infuriating racial, sexual, and gender stereotypes to “celebrate” Lin illuminates not only the absurdity of a post-racial society or national, cultural imaginary, but makes apparent the most disgusting and deeply entrenched stereotypes that are foundational to social and cultural discourses on race in the United States. To merely disregard Whitlock’s or other comments about Lin that pivot around deeply problematic racial, gender, and sexual stereotypes as “jokes” or “harmless sports banter” minimizes the dehumanizing nature of such comments. In the same breath that we laud Lin, let us also collectively deplore the words of those who rely upon damaging stereotypes in their commentary. – Treva Lindsey

 

***

There are so many levels on which Whitlock’s (knee)jerk attempt at satire was sad and wrong; most of them have been covered by others, including the boorishness of greeting a player who’s risen to the toughest of challenges by ceremonially unmanning him; the pathetic symbolism of a man whose race has historically suffered because of sexual mythology unleashing the tools of such distortion and degradation on a man of another race that has so suffered; the almost antique misogyny of Whitlock’s phrasing and innuendo. So I’ll focus on something I haven’t seen raised: The enormity of Whitlock’s imposition of the darkest stereotypes of the modern celebrity athlete on a young man who clearly is anything but. Lin is humble, hard-working, clean-cut almost to a fault — and a deeply, deeply devout Christian who has spoken of joining the ministry after his playing days are over.

Forget the ridiculous anatomical slur: The suggestion that he might celebrate a victory he dedicated to God by having random sex with a “lucky lady” is almost certainly what would offend and horrify Lin more.

Now, given that his employers at Fox will likely lose little if any sleep over Whitlock’s arrant racial offense, the question I ask is this: Will FSN — whose sister networks carp endlessly about the war on faith — punish Whitlock for demeaning Lin’s deep, professed Christian beliefs?

If so, I’ll take it. – Jeff Yang

 

***

Jason Whitlock’s tweet brings me back to a time in the early 70′s when I was playing on a football team comprised of players from Harlem, the Upper West Side and an Italian Restaurant near Lincoln Center. The only way people could communicate was exchanging ethnic slurs and boasting about sexual conquests, a discourse that reduced me to total silence. It is sad to see how much that atmosphere, so deeply entrenched nearly 40 years ago, still dominates sports journalism and shapes the way men immersed in competitive sports construct their masculinity, irrespective of their racial or cultural background. Needless to say, that atmosphere creates a camaraderie rooted in fear and suspicion on the field. It also promotes violence off the field toward those who are targets, especially women, who are viewed as appropriate subjects of sexual aggression following sports victories, and inhibits real relationships based on candor and trust. In short, it is really bad, and really sad. I had hoped that younger people had moved beyond what I had grown up with, but apparently not. Predatory masculinity is alive and well and living in America. – Mark Naison

 

***

At what point will we resist re-assigning markers of difference that have worked to asphyxiate our identities as people of color for centuries? And when will we realize that our deployment and projection of racial fantasies and stereotyping toward our selected “Others” not only destabilizes our ability to flourish as humans, but also are antithetical to our own personal and political interests? Further, on what occasion will black men and boys construct masculinities that are courageous enough to loosen the yoke of cultural (mis)re-presentations and broad enough to embrace the complex subjectivities of both self and others?

Jason Whitlock’s recent tweet regarding Jeremy Lin is obscene. And for those who want to dismiss it as normal sports talk, shame on you! Whitlock’s tweet is part and parcel of a larger, inter-textual grand narrative on classificatory violence, which aims to categorize things that feel out of place—in order to bring us back into a so-called normal state—or worse, get rid of the “problem” by thrusting it into the realm of “the spectacle.” Does this sound familiar? It should. Herein lies where identities, of both the signified and the signifier, get reinvented. However, in the present age of hyper-social-media, it is also where public discourse turns into a theater of fetishized display, where bodies serve as indisputable evidence for racial, sexual, ethnic, and gendered difference. This is where the signifier hopes to mark himself as “normal.” However, sadly for Whitlock, he too is part of the joke. He too is problematically fixated at a level of genitalia; no longer a black man, but a penis (pun intended). – Tamura A. Lomax

 

***

Jason Whitlock’s tweet fails not only the racism/sexism test but also the satire test. The racism is obvious–though it should be pointed out that the alternatively “positive” and “negative” stereotypes of Asians and Blacks (e.g. nerds v. athletes) have always been designed to complement each other and reinforce white supremacy. I might even be more offended by the pathetic attempt to be funny. It seems that any time someone breaks through a major public color barrier that America is required to go through an initial cycle of exorcising all of the most tired stereotypes before we can adjust to a whole new condition. So congratulations, Jason, you made the list alongside the birthers and Fuzzy Zoeller’s “fried chicken” (he forgot to add “pad thai”) comment about Tiger Woods. – Scott Kurashige

 

***

Jason Whitlock might as well have pulled up the corners of his eyes and said, “ching, chong, ching, chong,” like the kids who used to taunt me on the playground as a kid. (And I’m not even Chinese; I’m Filipina).  In less than fifteen words, he managed to dredge up the most tired racial, gender, and sexual stereotypes associated with “oriental” people: the hypersexuality and ready availability of Asian women, and the effeminacy and queerness of Asian men. His comments play into the longstanding techniques of divide and conquer that have pitted people of African and Asian descent against each other since colonial times. We have much more to gain in working together to combat white supremacy, not just in the United States, but also across the globe. Whitlock’s comment does nothing to encourage the development of these types of solidarities. – Theresa Runstedtler

 

***

U.S. racial discourses remain arrested in that primal scene of childhood violence: the schoolyard. For so many of us, the schoolyard “wisdoms” about which Jason Whitlock tweets are not just a bad memory but a daily reality. It is especially painful to hear such “wisdoms” repeated by a black man. Whitlock’s chauvinism denies Jeremy Lin’s body the capacity to represent the nation as well as more obviously the NBA and the high stakes capitalist world of sports celebrity. Bodies like Lin’s can never measure up. But in a sense neither can Whitlock’s. This was the terrible irony that left me feeling more saddened and broken than angry. Whitlock participates in the very logic that demeans his humanity. His comment suggests that he has embraced racist notions of black sexual prowess as the sorry (mis)measure of his own masculinity and self-worth—his fantasies about Lin’s body, inversely reciprocal, certainly speak to such unhappy investments. – Hiram Perez

 

***

Jason Whitlock’s racially insensitive tweet about rising Asian-American NBA superstar Jeremy Lin betrays an investment in an impoverished Black masculinity narrative that pivots upon the erroneous and scientifically disproven idea that Black men have bigger penises than every other group. Whitlock’s need to re-establish Black masculine potency vis-à-vis narratives of athletic and sexual dominance suggests the presence of a threat. But why is the presence of an Asian American kid who can ball his ass off so threatening? Perhaps because Lin’s presence in the Black male dominated space of the NBA rightly demands we rethink our tired and dangerous investment in the myth of biological Black male athletic superiority. Coupled with the homophobic tweets of news commentator Roland Martin, it is clear that the logic of hypersexual Black masculinity is dangerous (e.g. lynching, myth of the Black male rapist, etc.) not only to Black men but also to other subjugated masculine subjects, be they Asian men, gay men (Black and otherwise) and women, who become the targets of straight Black men’s misguided need to re-establish dominance. – Brittney Cooper

 

***

What makes Whitlock’s tweet funny? First, of course, there is the nod to the social construction of Asian men as feminine and sexually passive, which then gets played out in our (oh so necessary) cultural discourse on the size of their penises. So that’s funny. Then, there is our collective racial imagination of basketball as a sport in which Black men demonstrate a certain aggressive kind of masculine performance. So the presence of a Chinese American in this sport demands that he be assessed for his ability to perform race consistent with our imaginations, both on the court and off. He impresses us with his on-court moves, but we are obsessed with whether an Asian male can compete with (naturally) virile Black ballers when it comes to really laying it down. So that’s funny, right? Oh, and of course, we all know women can’t help but fight over dick, especially the dick of a basketball player, which, as we’ve already concluded, is huge because it’s black.

Unless…ha ha… it’s not. And what (all) women really want at the end of the night is to be “lucky” enough to score a big dick, so they can feel the “pain.” So Whitlock’s tweet is also about this woman lying there prostrate, sexually frustrated because Lin couldn’t deliver, which, of course, she should have known because he’s Asian. So once again, women are not only insatiable in bed, but are also naïve, particularly about sex. Which just confirms what we already know about women. And that is hilarious, no? – Michael J. Dumas

 

***

It makes me wonder about you, Mr. Whitlock, that you assume Jeremy Lin should celebrate his stellar performance on the court last night by inflicting “pain” on a woman. Is that how you celebrate your tweeting achievements? It is amazing that you could be so unaware of the irony of racially stereotyping Lin’s anatomy and linking it to sexual violence, given the ugly history in which “southern justice” has been justified again and again through fantasies of black men, their genitalia, and their supposed propensity to inflict sexual pain on women. But then again, given your “achievements” as a sportswriter in the past, your cluelessness is not all that surprising. – Anoop Mirpuri

 

***

My response is flavored by spending the past few days immersed in a discussion of the liberation that is to be experienced with Post-Blackness. In the age of social media, I remain amazed by the lengths bullies, masquerading as “writers,” are willing to take to demonstrate their ability to use micro-aggressive means to exert their supremacy over others. As a Baby-Boomer, I’m left with questions. Is social media a mechanism used by the socially inept to exercise their “voice” that is impossible in a face-to-face environment? Does some social media exacerbate the breadth and depth of stupidity possessed by the owner? Does it foster stupidity; perpetuate it? I believe that all of the world via the blogosphere is a stage and juxtapose this medium against an old school warning that I received in the 1980s to avoid emulating a colleague who was a wild cannon in the work place because with that person it was always “what comes up, comes out.” But in those days, what you said was only heard by those within hearing distance. Should you think before you tweet? Jason Whitlock’s “performance” at perpetuating racial stereotypes is flawed on way too many levels to begin to articulate. – Valerie L. Patterson

 

***

Jason Whitlock, who describes himself on his twitter page as “too honest” and someone who “speaks truth to power,” once again showed the power in speaking hurtful untruths based on stereotypes, assumptions, and systemically produced biases.  Jason Whitlock has made an entire career in demonizing Others, disseminating the ideologies of white supremacy, and peddling sexism.  He once referred to Serena Williams as an “unsightly layer of thick, muscled blubber, a byproduct of her unwillingness to commit to a training regimen and diet that would have her at the top of her game year-round.”  This is the same man who has described “hip-hop culture” as “nothing more than prison culture,” and who once provided this assessment of black youth:

We have a problem in the black community, and it didn’t make its debut at All-Star Weekend Vegas. What was impossible to ignore in Vegas was on display in Houston, Atlanta and previous All-Star locations. With the exception of Louis Farrakhan’s 1995 Million Man March, it’s been on display nearly every time we’ve gathered in large groups to socialize in the past 15 or so years. The Black Ku Klux Klan shows up in full force and does its best to ruin our good time. Instead of wearing white robes and white hoods, the new KKK has now taken to wearing white Ts and calling themselves gangsta rappers, gangbangers and posse members. Just like the White KKK of the 1940s and ’50s, we fear them, keep our eyes lowered, shut our mouths and pray they don’t bother us. Our fear makes them stronger. Our silence empowers them. Our lack of courage lets them define who we are. Our excuse-making for their behavior increases their influence and enables them to recruit more freely. We sing their racist songs, gleefully call ourselves the N-word, hype their celebrity and get upset when white people whisper concerns about our sanity. And whenever someone publicly states that the Black KKK is terrorizing black people, black neighborhoods, black social events and glorifying a negative, self-destructive lifestyle, we deny and blame the Man. I don’t want to do it anymore.

The recent tweet about Jeremy Lin is a continuation of more of the same from Mr. Whitlock, leaving me to wonder if he would be better-suited writing stump speeches for the GOP or better yet keeping his “honesty” to himself. – David J. Leonard

 

***

Whitlock’s tweet was a cheap shot of the basest proportions. He’s an embarrassment to the writing establishment. – Oliver Wang

 

Contributors

Regina Bradley is a Ph.D. candidate in English at Florida State University.

Brittney Cooper is a Ford Postdoctoral Fellow at Rutgers University.

Michael J. Dumas is an assistant professor of Education at New York University.

Scott Kurashige is the Director of Asian/Pacific Islander American Studies at University of Michigan.

David J. Leonard is an associate professor of Critical Culture, Gender, and Race Studies at Washington State University.

Treva Lindsey is an assistant professor of Women’s and Gender Studies at University of Missouri.

Tamura A. Lomax holds a Ph.D. in Religion from Vanderbilt University and is co-founder of The Feminist Wire.

Anoop Mirpuri is an assistant professor of English at Drew University.

Mark Anthony Neal is professor of African American Studies at Duke University.

Mark Naison is professor of African American Studies and History at Fordham University.

Valerie L. Patterson is an assistant professor of Public Administration at Florida International University.

Hiram Perez is an assistant professor of English at Vassar College.

Theresa Runstedtler is an assistant professor of American Studies at SUNY Buffalo.

Oliver Wang is an assistant professor of sociology at Cal State Long Beach.

Jeff Yang is a columnist for the Wall Street Journal Online and can be heard regularly on WNYC ‘s “The Takeaway.”

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