Last Friday’s post about my goddamned running shoes being delivered late from Saucony must have offended a few people. Three or four apparently dropped my blog. I sort of get that. Not everyone likes to read language they might consider “swear words.”
Of course, it actually is absurd to think like that. It’s a false brand of sensitivity, calculating in its way, but still false.Deeming one word an evil thing is the stuff of ancient superstition. Yes, one could argue that using the word “goddamn” is taking the Lord’s name in vain. But let’s stop and think about that for a moment.
Because I contend that the Lord’s name is taken in vain far more often by those using it to manipulate people into giving them money than I ever could by using the word “goddamn” in satiric impatience over a pair of running shoes being delivered late. Do you see? I was actually mocking a lack of patience, temperance and Christian gratitude. So the word “goddamn” was a perfect foil to illustrate a set of corrupted values. That’s how satire works. But people too often refuse to see themselves in it. They take symbolism literally, or wonder how the writer could be so deranged. And they miss the goddamned point.
So let’s go further. Theologically the word “goddamn” has essentially been cleared for use because it no longer means what it used to mean. People say “goddamn” with no real reference to the Creator or anything holy at all. It’s just a word, or words, used to express a patent form of ignorant frustration. And God cannot possibly really care about that. Not when there are so many other keen problems we face in this world.
So we use the word “goddamn” these days precisely because it robs a term like that of its supposed taboo or power. In fact, with many such words, we find it necessary to abuse their original meaning in order to keep people from leveraging the supposed authority that goes with ownership of those words.
That’s exactly why black culture, for example, freely uses the word “nigger” as a playful pejorative (expressing contempt or disapproval). That is done precisely to challenge the perception that the original use of the word represents. Powerlessness. For a white person to call someone a “nigger” was to demean their person.
Yet John Lennon also wrote a song titled “Woman is the Nigger of the World.” You make her paint her face and dance… Artists are good us leveraging such terms to deliver creative insights.
Politicians, not so much. Nor bigots. Their idea of creativity is to shout such terms even louder, or to repeat them, type them in ALL CAPS or shout “Ditto!” when someone barks them on the radio.
So let’s examine a more creative and insightful dynamic. In line with celebration of a day in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., let’s pause for a moment and carefully consider a phrase that really does mean something to this world.
By contrast with the word “nigger,” which is a negative epithet adopted by white culture to racially demean others, black culture persists in its honor and achievements despite visible and determined obstacles to that end. Black culture has simply refused to be silenced, and the world is a far better place for it.
It was barely more than five decades ago that performers such as Elvis Presley and the Beatles and the Rolling Stones borrowed, begged or stole from black artists to drive popular music forward. When black artists were finally enabled to fully explore their art in popular culture, the world began to grow in its understanding of who people really are, versus who they were forced to be.
Meanwhile men such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., ever conscious of the forces of oppression and fear that dominate America (and beyond) to this day, remind us that the process of cultural growth is never finished. Dr. King said, “All progress is precarious, and the solution of one problem brings us face to face with another problem.”
So, let’s look at the nature of progress. It is universally recognized that as black athletes entered the world of sports, the quality of all those activities was improved. The empiric evidence is there in sports such as track & field. There is no argument that can dissolve that. And as the level of sports was raised, it forced white athletes to up their game or be left out. Yet the first response to men such as Jackie Robinson was prejudice and fear. (All progress is precarious). In other words, fear of competition. White people were genuinely afraid they would not prove superior after all.
One can also apply this paradigm to all facets of culture, from music to science, art to the Olympics. On many fronts, black culture brings out the best in humanity. But it does so at great conflict because fear dominates racial discourse.
Which means that what black culture continues to get in return for its contributions to society… is ever more fear and prejudice. People tend to hate change and the progressive front of black culture demands it. Which means that change brought about by black progress can be tough for certain groups of white people to handle. Even compliments towards black achievement can sometimes sound like insults.
For example, runners tend to make jokes about wanting to be as good as “the Kenyans,” or Ethiopians or Moroccans. But these are sometimes grudging (if ironic) allusions to racial advantage of some sort. So we must understand that so-called racial superiority is a slippery slope in either direction. Instead, it is hard work and intelligent use of those physical attributes that make people great. Dedication and discipline too.
I personally recall spending time in the company of world-class African runners at a race in Texas. The morning after the race, while American runners were crawling out of bed hung over from the party the night before, laughing at their own compromised state while slumping on the breakfast table, the Kenyan runners had already returned from a 10-mile workout, showered and were dining on tea and enjoying lean breakfast fare. That is how you become great.
A world of wiggers
I cannot help make a comparison between the symbolism of that moment and the way that white America engages with black culture. Our nation consumes the creative output of black musical artists (producing “wiggers” as a result) and apparently admires the personality cult of Oprah Winfrey. Michael Jordan essentially owns the world, and Neil DeGrasse Tyson is the scientific equivalent of Air Jordan.
Yet the problems of black culture are not so popular a topic of engagement. Young black men are incarcerated at a far higher rate in America than their white counterparts. In fact, the perception of young black men as thugs has led to violent, ugly confrontations. That kid-killer George Zimmerman in Florida invoked vigilante justice to shoot Trayvon Martin simply for being black, wearing a hoodie and being in the wrong neighborhood. Yet somehow this execution has given men like Zimmerman an audience to criticize none other than Barack Obama, America’s first black president, for publicly crying over the idea that gun violence is causing American families real pain. This is disrespect of the most egregious form: getting away with murder and bragging about it. Yet that’s how the KKK ruled the South for decades. Those forces have not gone away. Movies such as O Brother, Where Art Thou delightfully mock the backwards ways of Southern hatred, but those strains of belief are not gone from this world.
The fact remains: Zimmerman is a goddamned poor excuse for a moral center in America. And by proxy, his obvious and demonstrated hatred for black people is taken as an excuse for hating President Obama. Even before his election, Obama became the target of many verbal attacks about his intellect (either too smart or too dumb) and his “community organizing” which were dog-whistle complaints about his black origins, and they have persisted during his eight years as President. These attacks may not be as direct as shooting Trayvon Martin for the apparent crime of wearing a hoodie, but the attacks are just as real, and have been as calculatedly “set up” to mete out “justice” as seen fit. That is, to keep an uppity nigger in his place.
Obama haters love to deny this racism exists, claiming their objection to his Presidency is strictly based on policies, not the color of his skin. But even if that were true, hate of the man still persists in place of the racism, and the hypocritical effects are the same.
Because the sad fact is that Obama haters frequently align themselves with politically-motivated people who love to claim that America is a Christian nation. If that is true, in what way does this brand of Christianity respect the call to “love your enemies?” Instead, we’ve seen clear demonstrations in which politics and racism and religion are clearly wrapped in helix with Confederate or Tea Party or even Nazi flags. At what point does this confused mix of hatred and racism and selective religious belief get called into account?
Take Back America?
It does not. And that is why calls to “take back America” ring so goddamned hollow. That brand of hate-based fascism is not what America is about, at all. That is not America. The America that hates women’s rights, that hates blacks. The America that hates gay people, and scientists too (for evolution and climate change). The America that loves white privilege and doesn’t understand why that’s a problem. The America that claims to love creation and uses religion to despoil it, or take it over with a militia. The America that claims persecution when questioned about basic aspects of its theology. The America that denies birth control to women while decrying abortion. The America that loved the cynicism of lying to go to war, yet criticizes legitimate diplomatic resolutions for peace. The America that loves when our black athletes win Olympic Gold Medals yet doesn’t want black men marrying white women, or vice versa. The America that loves the second half of the Second Amendment far more than it values human life.
The America that is perpetually conflicted by its own violently racist history…without now accepting that social progress has been made on all these fronts if people would only stop trying to “take back America” by taking America back to a time when all these worthwhile movements toward progress were still only hopeful ideals.
Yes, I might have lost a couple followers this past weekend, and will lose a couple more most likely, because of this particular blog. Yet I accept the challenge to challenge all of your perceptions through this blog because that’s how I started how and plan to remain engaged in that efforts. This has everything to do with how I started out three years ago to provide “original thoughts about running and riding” because look around; racial diversity is a very big thing in our respective sports. We should talk about it.
And I simply refuse to accept that words like “goddamn” or “nigger” should be the end of dialogue on any subject.