Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Phil Mushnick: Jay-Z Said the N-Word So I Can Too

A while back we asked for blog suggestions and one of the common themes that many of you expressed was that you wanted to hear about more local stories.  Well I just so happen to have one for you today.  I want to talk about this local story out here in New York that has been picking up momentum lately due to its multiple levels of controversy.  This particular story deals with racial comments, and if there's ever a publication in New York City that knows about racial comments it is the infamous New York Post.  Now, for those of you who do not live here, the New York Post is generally accepted as the City's default bastion of conservative sentiment.  This is the same paper -- owned by Fox News' Rupert Murdoch by the way -- that had a political cartoon of Obama as a dead monkey shot by two cops and, when called on it, effectively said "Racism?  What racism?  We don't see any racism so F you."  Yes, THAT newspaper.  Suffice it to say, this publication has developed a bit of a reputation for reveling in controversy.  Many New Yorkers speculate that, given the fact that the paper typically loses money every year, Rupert Murdoch keeps it around to maintain his voice.  That is another debate for another day.  For now, just know that the Post is at it again. Enter New York Post columnist Phil Mushnick.

As you may have heard, famed rapper Jay-Z is part-owner of the New Jersey Nets NBA team which, thanks to the owners' group decision to move the team to Brooklyn, will soon be the Brooklyn Nets.
NYC Mayor Bloomberg (left) and Rapper/Part-Owner of the Brooklyn Nets Jay-Z (right)
As part of the roll out for the new NBA team, Jay-Z was charged with selecting the new colors (Black and White) as well as the logo for the Brooklyn Nets:

Apparently Phil Mushnick, a sports writer for the NY Post, did not appreciate Jay-Z's selection and had this to say:

“As long as the Nets are allowing Jay-Z to call their marketing shots— what a shock that he chose black and white as the new team colors to stress, as the Nets explained, their new ‘urban’ home— why not have him apply the full Jay-Z treatment? Why the Brooklyn Nets when they can be the New York N——s? The cheerleaders could be the Brooklyn B—-hes or Hoes. Team logo? A 9 mm with hollow-tip shell casings strewn beneath. Wanna be Jay-Z hip? Then go all the way!”
As you all know, New York City is a fairly diverse town.  So these kinds of comments did not go over too well, which, in keeping with the modus operandi of the NY Post, was probably Mushnick's intent all along.  Despite a barrage of push back from NBA fans, Brooklyn residents and from the City in general, Mushnick doubled down on his language choice and had this to say in response to all of the harsh criticisms:

“Such obvious, wishful and ignorant mischaracterizations of what I write are common. I don’t call black men the N-word; I don’t regard young women as bitches and whores; I don’t glorify the use of assault weapons and drugs. Jay-Z, on the other hand…..Is he the only NBA owner allowed to call black men N—ers?”
Jay-Z profits from the worst and most sustaining self-enslaving stereotypes of black-American culture and I’M the racist? Some truths, I guess, are just hard to read, let alone think about. (Same column I provide support for Amar’e Stoudemire at a time when everyone in town is ripping him to shreds. That was my LEAD, too, but what does that matter?)

I want to zero in on a few things here.  First, notice the unapologetic tone coupled with the shifting of guilt to anybody who is "ignorant" enough to be offended.  Classic NY Post maneuvers here.  They did the same thing when an apology was demanded over the Obama/Monkey cartoon.  There, the artist said:
This most certainly was not its intent; to those who were offended by the image, we apologize.
However, there are some in the media and in public life who have had differences with The Post in the past - and they see the incident as an opportunity for payback.
To them, no apology is due.
Sometimes a cartoon is just a cartoon - even as the opportunists seek to make it something else.
In other words, if you're offended by the racial overtones inherent in comparing a Black man to a monkey then it's your own fault for finding racism in that, even though our nation's history is replete with such insults.

The next thing that stood out to me was the last line where Mushnick tries to tout his non-racist credentials because he showed support for Amar'e Stoudemire.  Again, classic.  This is what is known in most circles as the "I'm not a racist - I have black friends" routine.  It falsely suggests that racism is predicated upon one's personal associations or, in Mushnick's case, his ability to find it within himself to say something positive about one Black person.  That's great that Mushnick chose to say something nice about a Black person, but if saying something nice about a Black person (or having Black friends) is your personal test as to whether you are a racist or not, then you've got a long way to go.  That type of thinking misses the point.

Being a racist or having the propensity to harbor racial prejudice doesn't turn on whether you happen to know a Black person any more than it turns on whether you can bring yourself to say something positive about one.  Instead, it turns on your personal beliefs.  Your personal beliefs are, in turn, manifested through the words and the actions that you choose.

In this case, Mushnick chose to somehow make the (quite large) logical leap that Jay-Z's selection of the Black and White team colors is somehow related to the negative stereotypes of Black people and hip hop music that Mushnick has seen in the media.  And then when called on it, he attempts to turn the tables and accuse Jay-Z of perpetuating those stereotypes -- as if this explains Mushnick's original choice to associate the colors Black and White with racial stereotypes.

Even if what Mushnick is saying in his rebuttal is true, it still provides no explanation for why he chose to equate the colors Black and White with racial stereotypes.  Many sports teams use those colors (e.g. Chicago White Sox) and their selection of those colors certainly did not have anything to do with whatever may or may not have been going on in the Black community.

Finally, Mushnick's entire rebuttal can be summarized like this: Well Jay-Z says the word "Nigger" so I should be able to say it too without any of you people acting offended.  Well, let's think about that for a second.  Does Jay-Z use the N-Word in his songs, sure.  No question there.  But that doesn't make him right for saying it, and it certainly doesn't make Mushnick right for choosing to repeat it or, worse yet, suggesting that it has anything to do with Jay-Z's selection of the Brooklyn Nets team colors.

So Mushnick, don't try to "Wax-on Wax-off" your way out of this one by sidestepping your choice to share your own racial prejudices on an issue that had nothing to do with racial stereotypes until YOU, Mushnick, brought them up.  Some of us may have been born at night, but not last night.

1. Were Mushnick's comments out of line?
2. Does Mushnick raise a good point in his rebuttal?
3. What do the Bklyn Nets colors have to do with anything that Mushnick said?
4. Are we all victims of another Rupert Murdoch diversion from the real issues here?
5. Is it right for White People to use the N-Word if Black People use it?

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