Friday, September 21, 2007

Who said ‘bitch’?

According to Knicks coach Isiah Thomas, if a white man calls a black woman a “bitch” it’s worse than if a black man insulted the same woman using the same word.

A brief recount of some of the coach’s court statements last Monday:

Thomas said he never called ex-Knicks vice president of marketing Anucha Browne Sanders a “bitch”.

He also said it is not right for any man to call a woman a bitch. But, for him, “bitch” directed at Sanders by a white man like former Knicks executive Frank Murphy would be much worse than the same insult from the mouth of a black man like basketball star Stephon Marbury.

On Tuesday, the New York Daily News criticized Thomas’ “double standard”.

Initially, as I read the article, it seemed to me that Thomas was being a coward by trying to deflect the accusations against himself and Marbury and, to top it off, using the loaded language of racial community and solidarity. I had just been reading Mark Anthony Neal’s excellent book New Black Man the day before and Thomas seemed to be making the classic “race trumps gender” argument that Neal criticizes.

But when I started reading the comments to the Daily News article posted on the Internet, I was puzzled that quite a few readers were accusing Thomas of having said that a black man has the right to insult a black woman, but not a white man. Something similar was erroneously reported on CNN and the New York Post.

That was NOT what Thomas said!

What exactly did the coach say? I found a partial transcription in Newsday and, though his statements are still highly questionable, they are not as scandalous as many are making them seem. Thomas did not pull the race factor out of a hat, but brought it up when he was asked about Murphy insulting Sanders. He brought it up to emphasize that he would not have tolerated such insults from Marbury OR Murphy… but especially from Murphy. Sure, that may be Thomas' manipulative tactic of eliciting sympathy toward himself for being a respectable black man who cares in particular about “his” people.

But if we’re going to criticize Thomas, let it be for what he said, not for what we misunderstood he said.

It seems to me that many media outlets and readers are much too eager to have examples to say: “See... black people are obsessed with race! Black people are even more racist than white people!”

Huh? Race IS still a big factor in this country… and definitely not because black people are imagining it. Is it really that shocking that, in a racist society, a black man would admit to having a more emotional response to insults directed against one of “his”—particularly when “his” is the group at the bottom of the racial hierarchy?

I’m not defending Thomas’ statements. More than anything, his words seem like the perfect example of what Mark Anthony Neal describes as African American men failing to own up to their privilege as males.

All I’m saying is lets stick to what he actually said.

Also, lets keep in mind these ridiculous scandals about who called who a “bitch” next time someone wants to attack rappers and reggaetoneros, as if they were the ones who came up with these dogly insults against women.

1 comment:

jared said...

I think that you cut exactly the right way in teasing out the racist nature of the fanfare. This is as much about sexism as the Michael Vick controversy was about animal rights. This is about the major media and their ravenings for a another black skin on the wall. The hippocritical and at their core diversionary accusations of sexism are opportunistically utilized to further the media's agenda. Sensationalism and the delegitimization of racism in this case are the order of the day. Manipulating Isaiah's quotes to have arguing a double standard on the basis of race when making sexist comments is not only disingenuous, but downright criminal. It stakes a claim that racism is sensationalized by people of color. That same old blame the victim argument trotted out to put the kibosh on the real story.With the attempted legal lynching of black teenagers in Jena, Louisiana, and the racist attack on Black CUNY students last week we need to be edifying anti-racism not poking holes in it.