Wednesday, November 08, 2006

For the Record, Jason Whitlock is Wrong

Everyone enjoys a good smackdown. And the feud between Jason Whitlock and his ESPN colleagues has been a doozie. However, amidst the carnage, I think that one major aspect of this mess has not been getting its due.

It can't be overemphasized that Jason Whitlock was absolutely, unequivocally wrong for saying that Scoop Jackson, Stuart Scott and, most recently, Michael Irvin, are "bojangling." Not only is his schtick as the self-appointed sheriff of bojanglers inappropriate, immature and undignified on so many levels, none of the men cited are actually guilty of what Whitlock accuses them of.

I'm not even sure that Whitlock knows the meaning of the word he is so comfortable tossing around. "Bojangling" presumably refers to the late Bill "Bojangles" Robinson. Bill Robinson was a movie star in the 1930's and 40's, most notably as Shirley Temple's butler in several movies. For some, the cumulative product of Robinson's movie portrayals exemplified a dangerous stereotype - the always smiling and often dapper, devoted Black man existing solely, and happily, for the pleasure and amusement of White people.

Pandering alone is not enough to be guilty of perpetuating negative stereotypes. The pandering has to be coupled with clear intent or even reckless disregard of the consequence that one is advancing negative stereotypes. Robinson was criticized because, clearly, by acting in movies, it was obvious that he was doing something other than being his natural self. Consequently, if someone is merely displaying their genuine self, it's almost impossible to be guilty of "bojangling" (although they could potentially be guilty of plenty of other things).

Also, the term shouldn't be applied when there is a "mixed bag" at issue, balanced circumstances or any situation with a reasonable counterargument available. In fact, the original Bojangles himself was, ironically, unfairly victimized by the "bojangling" slur. Robinson was criticized for the roles he portrayed, but took those roles only after working exclusively in Black theater for the first 50 years of his life for far less money than he earned in Hollywood and was absolutely a pioneer for all Black actors just for being one of the first Black people allowed to be a "movie star."

Furthermore, "bojangling" is not a label for "one-off" incidents. Robinson was judged after accumulating a certain body of work on which others judged him. Whitlock has been perpetrating credibility by calling people out for individual incidents, which, in and of itself, constitutes an inappropriate application of the term.

So that's what "bojangling" actually is. Note that the definition failed to include matters merely concerning personal beef or legitimate disagreement. Consequently, as a factual matter, neither Stuart, Scoop or Michael fit the label.

Is there pandering in what some the Black guys at ESPN do? Sure. The mainstream enjoys a "safe" taste of a world they don't have much access to. But none of them have the requisite state of mind to be a bojangler. Black-Americans have a right to incorporate slang and hip-hop into our presentation, as we are the owners of the culture. Even if some go a little bit overboard, no one at ESPN comes off as so disingenuous that they should be labeled bojanglers.

Sure, Stuart has dropped one too many "boo-yahs", but he also conscientiously presents himself as an otherwise entertaining, trusted, experienced and competent broadcaster. (That's why he always rocks the eyeglasses, people.) He's not embarrassing the race. It would have sufficed just to say that Stuart was just corny, because he does come off a little bit like the old man at the club these days, but there's no grounds to call a grown man out of his name. Whitlock might want to pay more attention to the ever growing contingent of White broadcasters who have bit Stuart's style. You can barely tell the difference when Stuart does Sportscenter. Nevertheless, Whitlock wouldn't have ever gotten a taste of an ESPN career if not for Stuart Scott. At a minimum, Whitlock needs to show a little respect.

Personally, I do find Scoop Jackson to be unreadable. But just because I have a personal preference in writing styles, that doesn't mean I don't respect Scoop's right to make his own artistic choices. There is no actual evidence that Scoop s not writing with a genuine, intelligent voice. I presume that Scoop culled his writing style in a genuine attempt to resonate with the audience he wants to connect to, but certainly not solely to delight the sinister ESPN editors. It would have been fair for Whitlock to stop at saying that he didn't care for Scoop's style or he didn't agree with his takes, but he is just reveals himself as ridiculous when he starts calling Scoop names.

And even Michael Irvin deserves a defender, especially since Irvin spends most of his time on the air in steadfast defense of all his buddies. But even if you disagree with Irvin's takes, take notice that there is honor in loyalty. Irvin is just being who he is, even if he is too flashy, loud and obnoxious for civilized tastes. And he has established a firm record for always having been flashy, loud and obnoxious. But he is also competent (even though he is predictable, to say the least) and I think even Whitlock might cultivate an once of respect for Irvin just because he is firm and consistent on his takes. Genuine personality, even if it is offensive, can't be confused with pandering. And it certainly can't be confused with bojangling. Once again, Whitlock is just plain wrong.

None of the Black men at ESPN are above reproach. Indeed, it is meaningful to consider the ultimate consequences of their presence at the network, but they don't deserve to shoulder all the blame or otherwise be unfairly labeled.

Not to mention Whitlock also lacks credibility because it is obvious that he doesn't like some of these men on a personal level and/or is bitter about his relationship with ESPN. It is also suspicious that he is mostly limiting his shots for the Black guys (save a Mitch Albom here and there), but I guess they make easy targets. And if the audience is so harmed by these so-called "bojanglers" and Whitlock is the potential savior, why did Whitlock act out and get himself fired? I guess we all lose when Whitlock starts telling the "truth."

If Whitlock is going to judge these men according to how they are perceived by the mainstream, then Whitlock has to be self-aware himself. Coining racial slurs to get the attention of his audience doesn't exactly make Whitlock superior to anybody. Jason Whitlock wouldn't deserve it if someone labeled him with some choice slurs just because he is a jolly-looking fat Black guy on TV or because they read a handful of his recent insolent articles (guess what labels might apply), but Whitlock might deserve it if someone accused him of volunteering to be a general in the divide and conquer offensive.

34 comments:

Anonymous said...

Excellent take...its about time someone said it.

Anonymous said...

Stuart Scott sports the eyeglasses because he has a severley damaged/lazy eye that doesn't look very good without glasses. Has nothing to do with competence or experience.

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Anonymous said...

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Anonymous said...

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Anonymous said...

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Anonymous said...

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Anonymous said...

Your take is well written, coherent, and thought-out. I agree with your article. I've actually been thinking about this topic for awhile (Whitlock's criticism of certain black author's and mediapersons in the sports-world), and I'm glad I found your post.

Anonymous said...

One question - what do you think of subsequent criticisms of Whitlock as an "Uncle Tom"? Is it too far as a definition to suggest? Or is it accurate?

The HCIC said...

For me, many that criticize Whitlock as an "Uncle Tom" do that based on a comparison based on his ESPN work/early articles vs. AOL/FoxSports persona. What is disturbing to many people, including myself, is that he made an abrupt change from well written, rational articles to propaganda that pandered to a "mainstream" audience. I don't begrudge his opinion, if that is indeed his true opinion. But to be succinct, he changed. He changed.