Thursday, October 23, 2008

Can All the M&M's Remain Together?

Can All the M&M's Remain Together: Thinking About Obama's Multi-racial Coalition in Victory and in Defeat

On The yesterday, Wendi C. Thomas (metro columnist for Memphis, TN's The Commercial Appeal) wrote an article titled "Will White People Riot?"

Thomas hashed through the perpetual idea that Blacks act and behavior en mass, in response to a White man from Memphis asking her: "Would Black people riot if Sen. Barack Obama didn't win the election?"

Her article brought forth a thought-provoking analysis which posits that a more likely population to worry about rioting would be the loathing, race-baiting crowd seen at McCain GOP rallies (you know the one's that shout "TERRORIST!!!" and "KILL HIM!!!" at the mention of Obama's name).

For Thomas the question is not whether Black people can handle an Obama defeat, but can racist Whites handle an Obama victory.

When thinking about Obama, I always think about how he has this "multi-racial" thing going for him. We see it among supporters; we see it among campaign volunteers; we even saw it in Iowa.

We've seen it in good times, we have seen it in bad times, but will we see if it gets UGLY (or rather, uglier than it has already been)? Meaning IF (and I emphasize that it is an IF we really, really don't need), IF Obama loses the election on Nov. 4---what will happen then? What would a defeat do to the multi-racial Obama machine?

I know, I know. At this point we need to be putting all our positive energy and thoughts into an Obama victory. But we have to keep in the back of our mind the dark side too.

Would they rally together? Or splinter apart?

Historically in America, we have seen Blacks in rebellion (Watts '65, Detroit '68, Harlem '64, etc); we have seen Whites come together in resistance (the early 20th century race riots in places like Tulsa or East St. Louis; in racist and discriminatory legislation; hell in the formation of the Ku Klux Klan).

But we have also seen many coalitions of multi-racial, multi-issue, multi-community support. It is a progressive model that has been set forth throughout history: the abolitionist movement; radical organizers in the Communist party and others in the early 20th century U.S.; in CORE and other groups involved in the Civil Rights Movement. And such this has been the model called for, advocated for, and exercised by many organizers and activists.

But much in the way all these movements came to a head over divisive issues and events---particularly in the late 1960's---we are coming to a similar junction in these times.

This head has two parts though: first, what will happen in the event of an Obama defeat? Could all the M&M's mobilize together still? And if defeat did lead to rebellion and resistance, could all the M&M's rebel together?

But the second point is a bit more intriguing: what happens if Obama wins?

In so many ways, a Black man becoming President of the United States of America would be the fulfillment of the greater possibility so many Americans have worked, sweat, bled, and even died for. That we could surpass historic and living attitudes of racist, discrimination, and hate; and overcome injustice and inequality.

As Barack put it in early March: "that this nation is more than the sum of its parts-that out of our many, we are truly one."

But what happens next? How does the multi-racial, multi-issue, multi-community Obama movement deal with victory?

It is so crucial for all the interest-groups and all the supporters to continue to move united, progressively, and with forward-vision.

Ironically enough, victory would be the opportune time for division. And so, the bag of M&M's must begin planning for its united future.

Michael Partis

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Either Your Slinging Crack Rock or You Got a Wicked Jumpshot: Sports, Politics, and Economic Opportunity in the 21st Century's Racial Reality


Forty years ago this month, the 1968 Olympic Games was defined by the political statement of two Black athletes. With Black fist raised high, and an ode to the Black Power movement displayed, Tommie Smith and John Carlos made one of the most profound political statements ever seen at an international sporting event.

The beauty and the significance of the statement was the weight and poignancy of its symbolism. Smith wore a black scarf around his neck to symbolize Black pride, and Carlos wore beads around his in recognition of the Blacks who lost their life on the Middle Passage. Both wore black socks but no shoes, to symbolize the pervasive poverty numerous Blacks faced. Each had on a black glove on the raised fists, emboldening the Black Power cry.

Smith and Carlos' act was not a "rebel without a cause" moment, but an attempt to raise awareness about the condition of those who materially have the least and work mightily to obtain more. They represented not just the Texas and Harlem neighborhoods their came from, but struggle of those in the African Diaspora. Class, race, and human rights all came together in sports.


Would Terrell Owens put up a fist for "Black Power" after he scores his next touchdown? Would Lebron James lead a voter registration drive in his home-state of Ohio? Is Floyd Mayweather going to comment on the need to restructure America's health care system?

When the Celtics visited the White House for their NBA Championship visit, did Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett talk to President Bush about his tax plan? Will Candice Parker and Lisa Leslie come out and endorse Cynthia Mckinney and Rosa Clemente for President?

And if they did, would Nike, Reebok, Adidas, and all their other sponsors take away their endorsement deals?

When Jim Brown criticized Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, and today's Black athletes a few days ago, he touched on an important issue---the role of the Black athlete in contemporary society, and their responsibility to themselves and the Black community.

Certainly it isn't a new discussion. But given the times, it seems all the more pertinent to think about.

The Black athlete in today's society is perhaps the most notable figure in the Black community. They are certainly among the wealthiest; and among young Blacks, perhaps the most influential. While it may not be a position they asked for, it is one they occupy none the less---no matter who thinks they shouldn't be, and no matter how much the athletes may say they don't want to be.

The question becomes what does their social position and privilege mean in today's society. Should we expect them to be more than athletes? Do they have a greater responsibility?

For the Black community, sports have always been about more than achievement. In fact one of sports main functions in Black life during the first half of the 20th century was disproving the idea of Blacks being biologically inferior. Contest on the field, in the ring, and on the court were challenges to White supremacy (biologically and ideologically). This is why the fights of Jack Johnson and Joe Louis, the races of Jesse Owens, and the success of Jackie Roberson are monumental events in American history. It is where not only did we see sports, but racial struggle played out.

For the Black community, sports was political. The 68' Olympics Black Power moment defines this.

But it was also economical.

Sports opened financial and entrepreneurial opportunities for Blacks. Successful athletes were able to open businesses in Black communities, and some members in those communities sought to use sports to create business enterprises (i.e. the Negro Leagues).

Many athletes felt a duty came with this success: a commitment to advocate for Black rights, a responsibility to stand against injustice and the violation of human rights, a mandate to use financial success and social recognition as a tool for community building.

You didn't just play a sport. You were compelled to have a moral stance, a social consciousness, and a political awareness. The lives and work of Black leaders like Paul Robeson, Jim Brown, Bill Russell, and Muhammad Ali are a testament to this.

Russell, Brown,Ali, Jabbar

Sports, race, politics, economics, morality, community---they were not separate, it all went together.

There is no question Black athletes like Serena Williams, Lebron James, or Carmelo Anthony know about the struggle of many Blacks in urban cities today. Being raised and growing up in areas like Compton, CA, Akron, OH, and Baltimore, MD make that reality unmistakable. Living in cities marked by racial segregation; plagued by the economic troubles of unemployment, gentrification, and de-industrialization; and haunted by racial inequalities embed this reality in them. They and many other Black athletes have lived the other side of the Civil Rights Movement's success: the continuance of racial segregation, unequal access to resources, and inequality in living conditions. The issues that Smith and Carlos attempted to raise are still issue today.

Many of these athletes have a Black consciousness, constructed by living through the success, hardship, pride, and complexity of race in America. And many of them understand the economic situation of those who have the least.

It is being young, Black, and successful in America, and the burden and challenges it brings that they struggle with. It is not financial obligation or charity that is difficult for them, it is the accountability of political advocacy and the fight for justice that is the burden.

"Do You," "Give Back," "Stand Up," or "Say Something," these are the choices and pressures our Black athletes face today. A pressure added to the fact that many have to grow up and mature in front of the whole world; making their missteps, mistakes, and learning experiences subject to the scrutiny of the public.

This all combines to create a tremendous tension over what is their role---to be role models for the Black community; to dedicate themselves to giving back to those who have less; and to use their global name recognition, ample resources, and media access to advocate for social justice and human rights issues; in short, to become more than sports heroes---to become role models, and community-orientated, politically involved leaders.

Lebron and Kobe

There's no doubt your parents, your teacher, or someone in the community should be young people's role models; these are the people they should look up to.

The problem is how many young Black kids grow up without parents, without teachers who care, and with adults who certainly are not role models.

The fact that so many Blacks have chosen to use sports as a healthy, legal way to provide for themselves and their families should be commended. But doesn't it show that their lives and their stories, the perseverance, dedication, and determination used to reach their level of achievement, their accomplishments, doesn't those things deserve to be so much more than example of how to succeed in a sport?

This is the point we should take from Jim Brown's comments. These young Black women and men lives are bigger than sports; it means more than money. Their lives are so much more meaningful than those things.

In life we all live together, not separate. We affect each other, and we can affect anything. Jim Brown's comments attempt to explain this. Tommie Smith's and John Carlos' statement reminds of this.

This is why we must ask Black athletes to do more---because our life is more than sports.

And until we develop ways to keep more parents involved in young people's lives; until we economically, spiritually, and emotionally empower those Black communities in the deepest struggle; and most importantly, until make sure that the parents, teachers, mentors, guidance counselors, educators, sanitation workers, rappers, nurses, case worker and everyone else who deserve to be role models are seen as such, we have to ask for our Black athletes to lead the way.


The Carmelo Anthony Youth Development Center

(And I am sure there are more. Please feel free to mention them in the comments section)


Paul Robeson

Roberto Clemente

Dr. Harry Edwards

Common Bond for Uncommon Men: Roberto Clemente and Martin Luther King Jr-David Zirin

Forty Million Dollar Slaves: The Rise, Fall, and Redemption of the Black Athlete-William C. Rhoden

Darwin's Athletes: How Sports Has Damaged Black America and Preserved the Myth of Race-John Hoberman

Michael Partis

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The 7 Day Theory: Remembering Why Tupac is Important


I had a conversation with a couple of people the other day about the importance of Tupac. Somebody told me that Tupac wasn't one of the most globally known, or internationally recognized Black people ever. Another person said that his music wasn't politically or socially relevant; that he wasn't as important to Black music as Bob Marley.

All of this is just a couple of weeks after Blender Magazine said Pac was the most overrated musician of all-time.

So is the world coming to the end? Was Tupac really not that important, then and now?

Tupac was the most important Hip-Hop artist ever. He was important not just for what he did, but for what he said.

Whether it is twelve years after he pasted away, or seven days after the anniversary of his death, we must never forget what Pac contributed to the world in his short time here.

With the amount of books, documentaries, and articles produced on Tupac's life, I never thought I'd be put in a position to have to defend Pac's importance to Black people. I thought the fact that scholars like Michael Eric Dyson and Mark Anthony Neal, and institutions like University of Cal-Berkeley, studied Tupac was enough to justify his significance. I figured the murals of him in Brazil, the respect for him in Cuba, and the people who asked me about him in South Africa was a testament to his global impact. Perhaps being studied in a college classroom isn't enough to show Pac's importance to American history. And maybe Brazil and Cuba don't show his global meaning.

Maybe time makes us forgetful.

But for those of us that love Hip-Hop, and believe in the struggle and glory of Black people in this world, we must always remember and celebrate how important what our prince did (and the message he brought) was to this world.

Tupac was the window to the soul of the first post-Black Power/Civil Rights generation. He is indicative of that generation in so many tangible and intangible ways.

His name shows his ties to the African Diasporic tradition: Pac was named after the Tupac Amaru, the leader of Peru's indigenous rebellion against the Spanish Empire's conquest of the Inca people. His mother (Afeni Shakur) and stepfather (Mutulu Shakur) were Black Panthers, and instilled in him a Black consciousness that showed him the history and power of his people. He enjoyed the best that America had to offer: Pac had a childhood education that allowed him to read Shakespeare, study Theater, and participate in the arts; he was well read, as evident by his reading and studing of political philosopher Niccolò Machiavelli's The Prince leading him to name his last recorded album The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory. His music allowed him to reap the financial benefits our society offers.

Growing up without a father, raised by a mother battling a drug addiction, and living in Harlem, Baltimore, and Oakland, he also saw the dark side of his generation: Drugs, poverty, and broken homes.

Education. Success. Poverty. It's indicative of the struggle; the gift and the curse.

This story, this complexity, came out in the way Pac lived his life and in the music he produced. He wrote about how much he loved his mother despite her addiction (Dear Mama). He was misogynistic, sexist, and vulgar. He displayed sophistication and militancy in his music (Rebel of the Underground), while expressing charisma and intellect in his interviews. He crafted stories of urban Black life that was resonating for the time (Brenda's Got a Baby). He could uplift and inspire (Keep Ya Head Up). But most importantly, he wasn't afraid to be vulnerable (So Many Tears, Pain); Pac wasn't afraid to bear his soul as witness to the struggle and pride of being Black in America.

Author, educator, and artist Dax-Devlon Ross gives perhaps one of the most poignant testimonies to what Tupac meant in his book, "The Nightmare and the Dream: Nas, Jay-Z, and the History of Conflict in African-American Culture:"

"I was a 21 year-old college student the night 'Pac died. I wasn't a thug or a gangsta. I hadn't grown up in poverty. My parents hadn't marched with King. I'd never been to jail. I'd never been shot. I'd never sold drugs...Existentially, though, we were kindred spirits. He showed me that I didn't have to be the most intelligent or gifted person to bear my soul on the page...He let me know that it was ok to be vulnerable.

More than any other artist, Tupac explored the tensions stemming from our generation's desire, and in some senses demand, to 'keep it real.' Hip-hop was born and bred by those people and in those communities that were left behind; by the children and grandchildren of those who didn't make it to college and couldn't enter the middle class...For Tupac that cultural experience wasn't embedded in a single community, but in the soul of every community that knew poverty and the chaos it wrought."

It is all these things that endeared Tupac Shakur to a generation, to the public, and to people all over the world.

This is why the life of Tupac Shakur is so important.

Many of us know this; millions of people across the world know this. And that is exactly why we must continue to remember him, and never downplay his significant because he is that important to us...Until The End Of Time.

Michael Partis