Archive for April 16, 2007

Deconstructing the “Santa-Clausification” of Jackie Robinson

Posted in Uncategorized on April 16, 2007 by Dax-Devlon Ross

Yesterday Major League Baseball did the right thing, a wonderful thing, in honoring Jackie Robinson. The 60th anniversary celebration of baseball’s desegregation couldn’t have come at a more appropriate time either. Race and sports are yet again at the forefront of public dialogue. With the suspension of Pacman Jones, and the never-ending soap opera surrounding Barry Bonds, the pro athlete is in need of some good P.R. Major League Baseball players and managers stepped up big.

But once the clock officially struck 12, I was left wondering why Jackie Robinson had never felt real to me as a kid; why his name never evoked the stirrings of supreme adulation in my soul like Ali’s and Malcolm X’s. Growing up, Jackie’s was a name I knew because I had to know it. He stood beside Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. in the pantheon of inviolable, unassailable black deities from the days before technicolor, immortals I dared not question or criticize. Cornel West calls it the “Santa-Clausification” of our heros. It’s when we strip them of their personhood for the sake of symbolism. He originally used the term to describe the public’s perception of Dr. King: the gulf between the Dr. King we learn about in schools and the Dr. King of actually flesh and blood— a mortal man with doubts, a man with an appetite for the fairer sex that drove him outside of his marriage. According to West, it’s only when we begin to deal with our heros as people who walked the earth that we can learn from them and appreciate them and even strive to exceed them. On the flip side, as long as they remain untouchable we remain untouched.

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Wrapping Up

Posted in Al Sharpton on April 16, 2007 by jweiler

It’s become an increasingly common point of discussion to link the Imus firing to the dismissal of all charges in the Duke Lacrosse case. I was not yet blogging when, just over a year ago, allegations emerged from an African-American escort/dancer that she had been gang raped at an off-campus party by members of the Duke University Lacrosse team. The case was problematic almost from the start. It emerged relatively early on that the witness had a troubled past, including a previous unproved allegation of sexual assault, that there was no DNA evidence linking the accused to the alleged crimes and that the DA, Mike Nifong, had acted in a reckless manner, publicly and repeatedly vilifying the accused before he had amassed convincing evidence against them. Almost from the first, Nifong’s critics accused him of pushing this case in order to aid in his re-election campaign in a city with a substantial African American voting population. Whether this is true, or whether Nifong’s ultimate re-election hinged on African American support, I don’t know. But, whatever the motive for his conduct, the misconduct hearing he now faces appears well-deserved. My thought when Nifong first brought the case was that a DA would not pursue such a case unless he really thought he could get a conviction. And, as I’ve noted previously, the New York Times, in a long article last July, after the case had already begun to unravel, reviewed in detail the case file and found that there was a basis for moving forward, even without the DNA evidence. But, the accuser’s changing stories, the lack of DNA evidence, the incontrovertible alibi of one of the three accused and the fact that Nifong himself was so obviously incapable of acting impartially about this case meant that it just didn’t have a leg to stand on. We’ve all known for months that eventual dismissal was the likely outcome.

The inter-weaving of this story with the Imus story comes not only from the timing of the firing and case dismissal, within twenty four hours of one another. It also stems from the intense focus on the role that Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson played in the public unraveling of Imus. In my earlier Imus posts this week, I maintained that the lumping of Jackson and Sharpton on this issue is curious, since they’ve played very different roles in the controversy – Sharpton a relatively significant one, Jackson much less of one. But, the two have also been lumped together in the linking of the Imus imbroglio with the Duke Lacrosse case. Beginning Thursday night, when I heard Adam Gold on 850 the buzz in Raleigh (and almost all of his callers), there was a trope repeated endlessly over the next couple of days: when are Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson going to apologize to the falsely accused Duke Lacrosse players? Gold himself asked that question throughout the evening, though he answered it by saying that he wasn’t going to hold his breath. But, between Gold and his callers, there was repeated goading directed at the two activists for having come down to North Carolina, stirred the pot, agitated for the conviction of the players and for having vilified those players – (in some versions calling them devils – and not Blue Devils). Gold, I should note, still believes that something very ugly likely happened on the night of March 13, 2006 – that the accuser was likely mistreated (and no one disputes that racial epithets were directed at both women involved in the party), felt genuinely threatened and may have been a victim of what we would call ‘sexual harassment.” (a view of the situation that seems plausible to me). But, Gold noted, this is still a far cry from rape and therefore, a terrible miscarriage of justice.

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