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The Race Debate In Pro Sports Inspires Jealousy, Mistrust And Shots At Historically Easy Targets

Boston Bruins fans' racially demeaning social media assault highlights the confusion and sensitivity concerning race in America. 

Subban

By J.R. Gamble May 05, 2014, 03:41 PM EST

Thanks to Donald Sterling and TMZ's unintended partnership, and the way it flipped the NBA upside down for a couple of days, race has once again moved to the forefront of conversations concerning sports and society.

Race issues remain a hot topic because there are no guidelines, specific rules or established protocol on how to approach race. People who try to be conscious and respectful to the sensitivities of race still end up offending at times. Then there’s those who play it safe and simply blend in with the racial temperature of the day.

Race isn’t robotics. People aren’t clones, so sharing the same skin color doesn’t automatically mean you will have anything in common with a person. In this country, many of us still assume that similar complexions breed compatibility, but skin color doesn’t dictate anything a person believes or comprehends. That’s the problem when you lead with skin color. You tend to overlook the internal aspects of a person. That which truly matters.

In the HBO series Silicon Valley, a comedy about a start-up company run by a group of young, nerdy tech bums, company partner Erlich convinces Chuy, a Mexican graffiti artist, to create Pied Piper’s logo for a cheap price. He secures the deal by confirming the artist’s incorrect assumption that Elrich’s Pakistani business partner Dinesh is also Hispanic. Overall it’s a revealing and hilarious take on the complexities of race in America.

Erlich: Don’t be offended, but for some weird reason, Chuy took a look at you and thought you were, uh, Mexican.
Dinesh: Why would I be offended by that?
Erlich: Wha?
Dinesh: Why would I be offended by him thinking I’m Mexican? He’s Mexican, right?
Erlich: Yeah, he is. But you’re not. You’re Pakistani.
Dinesh: So? Actually, the very fact that you think this might be offensive to me, is offensive. You're the one being racist.
Erlich: No, I'm not the one who called you a Mexican.
Dinesh: Called me a Mexican? You’re doing it again.
Erlich: I’m bending over backwards to not be racist right now.
Dinesh: Well, what did he say when you told him I wasn’t Mexican?
Erlich: I didn’t.
Dinesh: And why not?
Erlich: Because I wanted him to paint our garage for cheap.
Dinesh: I genuinely don’t know how to respond to that.
Erlich: You know, I’m not going to take the bait, here. I am not a racist, all right? I watch a lot of black porn. I mean, a lot.

Erlich figured Dinesh would be offended by being mistaken for another ethnicity (i.e. feeding into the stereotype that racial minorities "all look alike”).

However, Dinesh believes Erlich thought he would be upset at being called "a Mexican" — as if it's an insult. Eventually Erlich, responds: “I’m not a racist. I watch a lot of black porn. I mean..a lot”

Dinesh then asks if, “In this porn are the men black or the woman black or both?”

Later in the episode Elrich came clean about Dinesh’s true ethnicity. Elrich admitted that he felt the common Hispanic bond would sway Chuy – who was impressed that one of “his people” was working in the tech world - to do the garage mural for a cheaper price. The Mexican artist also blasted Elrich’s reasoning as racist.

A frustrated and confused Elrich replies: “I just can’t win with that.”

I’m no cable sitcom expert, but this particular clip was a timely take on the sensitive topic of race, how it affects people differently and how many people don’t even know that they are being racist or offensive in their expression. It happens just as often in real life.

America is truly a melting pot. In our country, we tend to form opinions about people based on color, but the real differences are in culture and experiences. They shape our beliefs and opinions. Strong-minded people tend to appear racist at times because they express their personal beliefs more assertively than others. People tend to confuse a person who’s adamant in their beliefs with that person being maniacal or hateful. A disagreement in philosophy often causes disdain between people – especially close-minded people.

There is, however, a difference between being an evil bigot and acting upon these discriminatory ideologies as Donald Sterling did, and feeling a certain way but making an effort to judge everyone by their individual actions.

There’s also the “Mad Dog” Russo race superiority complex, which automatically diminishes and marginalizes the talents and accomplishments of other races. Living in a bubble, sort of speak. Not malicious, but unapologetically offensive and bigoted all the same.

Then there’s the pack racism as exhibited by disgruntled Boston Bruins fans, who directed racial slurs at P.K. Subban via social media after the defenseman scored in the second overtime to lift the visiting Montreal Canadiens to a 4-3 victory Thursday night in the opener of an NHL Eastern Conference semifinal series. They called the brother every name in the book.

The psychology of the entire ordeal is revealing, seriously disturbing and comical at the same time. And it was all because they were sick with grief. The confine of the ice and the fans at the rink is one thing. It’s almost like a cult or subculture and black hockey players dating back to the great Edmonton Oilers goalie Grant Fuhr have always endured racial buckshots from rabid fans and opposing players, and Beantown's had its share of racially insensitive situations over the years, but Bruins fans have never been this outwardly racist to my knowledge. 

The N-word is the most prolific assault tactic. Most of the racial slurs aimed at Subban involved the word “nigger,” and  Deadspin.com laid them all out for us.  

Even after all of these years, when certain races want to be as offensive as possible towards blacks (including black people themselves), it’s still their go-to word, and they accessorize it as vividly and derogatorily as possible to emphasize the hate.

No matter how one justifies its use, the historically heinous nature of these racial slurs still hold a lot of power and do psychological damage. Some in the black community have tried to embrace and empower it as a term of endearment, but no word in the world can have dual meanings that clash so catastrophically when used. It always causes a firestorm of emotion and retaliation from some offended party.

That’s why it’s not all good for people of any race to use the N-word, because it has NOT lost its value as a demeaning tool of oppression, separation, discrimination and venomous ill will. Everybody seems confused about the acceptable and unacceptable uses of racist-based slang – until somebody of a different race wants to hit a brother below the belt. Then the N-word, whether ending in "er" or "a", becomes a sword used with an intended purpose to cut down pride and ambition in black folks. 

In Subban’s case, Bruins fans were so hurt and broken by the loss that instead of sticking to sports and criticizing the white Boston players who failed, they crossed the line, took the easy way out and chose ignorance. In another example of social media helping to expose the idiots of the world, Bruins fans decided to focus on the race of one man as an outlet for their frustration.

More than anything, it was really bush league, weak and the most sheepish BS I have seen in a while. I’m sure that more than half of those people actually aren’t racists and don’t generally hate black people. But 100 percent of them are suckers who showed an extreme lack of leadership, common sense and confidence in their hockey community. A large portion of those people’s families are ashamed and have probably already dressed them down for those ill-advised social media outbursts.

Any personal backlash at the job, on the streets or with black co-workers will be felt by these idiots as the weeks wear on and the liquor wears off. I’m sure that the powers of the sauce also played a vital role in tranforming them into digital thugs and coercing the willingness of these fans to spew their toxic Twitter tongues to the world.

People don’t like being told what they can and can’t think, say or do—especially in America. And to a large extent, I don’t blame them. The way Sterling’s personal comments were leaked to the world put a bad taste in the mouths of a gang of folks.

This isn’t Cold War Soviet Union or Communist China at its peak, but it seems that more and more of our personal freedoms are being infringed upon and left unprotected every day. Taping people and leaking private conversations and circumventing, twisting and blatantly ignoring the law in order to accomplish a destructive goal is becoming acceptable practice in America these days. The protection of our civil liberties used to be priority number one. Now, the government is getting people used to having their unalienable rights violated.

The entire Senatorial Hearings held on steroids use in MLB was based on leaked testimony. In 2007, The Mitchell Report was released, linking several current and former Major League Baseball players such as Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte, Eric Gagne, Gary Sheffield, and Paul Lo Duca to alleged use of performance-enhancing substances. Many of the players were victims of “sealed” tests that were leaked. In other words, they got caught in the phlim phlam.

You really think any of the disgraced superstars would have voluntarily taken a drug test knowing that they would be ousted as steroids cheats? The players were told the test was for MLB to assess the PED situation. The players were lied to and told that their names would be kept confidential—as numbers.

Fast forward through several more years of mistrust and race debates in sports, and situations like these now undoubtedly cause a flurry of emotions that have had some effect on the Bruins’ situation and how some non-blacks in retaliation for being labeled and muzzled, express themselves over social media.

Essentially it was as much a protest against not being able to express your racist views, as it was a bunch of bigots going in on the one, winning black hockey player. Another confusing level to this race stuff.

Then there are the young, hip athletic white males in predominantly black sports like Riley Cooper and Richie Incognito, who exist as minorities in a racially confusing landscape, where only certain people can say certain words at certain times. And the same word has the complete opposite meaning if said by the wrong colored person.

Bottom line is we are a country built on the extreme oppression of several races. Therefore, race is always an issue and will continue to be. America can’t shake that albatross off no matter how many times we sing “The Star Spangled Banner" or “My Country ‘Tis Of Thee.” No matter how many “black” presidents or millionaire celebrities sprout up.

When certain heads have no recourse and are looking for a demeaning dagger to throw, they will play the race card. It’s a way of keeping one group down and another on top without actually having to compete for merit. It’s the way the game is played in this country. Without race to separate, marginalize, boost and bargain we’d all have to get to know each other as people. What a different world that would make for.

Jr_gamble

J.R. Gamble writes for The Shadow League. He's been covering pro sports as a radio host and journalist since 1996. He's written for The Raleigh News & Observer, Newsday and SLAM Magazine. He has co-hosted Sportsrap Radio with A Tribe Called Quest legend Phife Dawg. Follow him @fanalyst1 & find him on Facebook.

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