TWITTER FUMBLE: CNN suspended pundit Roland S. Martin indefinitely following the uproar over his offensive tweets during the Super Bowl. (Photo: RolandMartin.com)
So GLAAD (Gay Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) has gotten someone suspended again. This time it’s political pundit Roland Martin, who was sacked by CNN “for the time being” from his contributor’s gig. I know Roland. I sent him a text of prayerful encouragement to “hang in there … take in the lessons learned … this too shall pass.”
However, despite being his friend, this is actually an easy commentary to write.
Roland deserved the penalty flag. Period. He admitted as much in his statement on his website. He’ll take from this setback that not everyone is anticipating his every tweet, nor is it in his best interest as a public figure to thumb type every impulse in his head — comedic, philosophical or otherwise — out to the Twitterverse.
CNN had little choice but to suspend Roland. Most legit news organizations have some type of morals clause that basically says an employee or associate of the organization must always be on their game, even when the cameras aren’t officially on. Roland knows this.
In a series of comments during the Super Bowl on Sunday, Roland, an award-winning journalist and devout Christian, tweeted the following that landed him on GLAAD’s hit list:
“If a dude at your Super Bowl party is hyped about David Beckham’s H&M underwear ad, smack the ish out of him!”
Not exactly something Jesus would say — and, frankly, not that funny. GLAAD, not surprisingly, wasn’t amused, which is why they called for CNN to kill Roland’s contract. Though Roland is not anti-LGBT and was simply being playful, the comment is still from another era — like when most TVs were black and white. I liken it to a joke about my wife being better off in the kitchen with the gals making punch and clam dip than in the living room with the fellas watching the game. The fact is, my wife was in the kitchen and other than when our sons played football, she could care less about watching muscle men in tights grabbing and pushing each other for an oddly shaped brown ball and then patting each other on the butts. Nonetheless, the joke’s unintended sexist connotation is obvious.
So, yup, Roland fumbled and should’ve been suspended. But fired? C’mon now, GLAAD. Is there a black man pattern here? A few years ago it was actor Isaiah Washington, last year it was NBA star Kobe Bryant and comedian/actor Tracy Morgan, now Roland. Black men certainly aren’t the only ones getting into this kind of hot water with the PC Police, but the pattern sure is curious.
GLAAD is definitely right to fight anti-LGBT rhetoric and violence. In fact, we Christians should be defending the rights of all of God’s creations, especially those made in His image — even if we disagree with how some of our brothers and sisters exercise those rights. (We’re not calling for bans against divorce are we?) Sadly, Christians are often the tail instead of the head regarding human rights, cherry-picking the sins we deem most contemptible. As Americans we should never be for restricting the pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness of other Americans, because to do so puts our own liberties at risk.
Roland knows this and simply dropped the ball this time. (I suppose the New England Patriots weren’t the only ones.)
GLAAD, on the other hand, is running the risk of undermining its own mission by over-pursuing every misdirected play.
What’s also curious is where the black gay organizations, like the National Black Justice Coalition, stand on this? Will they call for TV One and the Tom Joyner Morning Show (Roland has contracts with both) to suspend Roland too? What does it say about GLAAD that they apparently only focused on the majority white-owned CNN and not the black media outlets? Are the black gays “punking out?” (Oops, can I say that?) Or are they simply wise and more reasonable?
Perhaps a bigger question is whether in this Internet age, where thoughts in a living room can spread globally in an instant, we are going to have to lighten up on PC. Most “tweets” are not fully constructed thoughts like a letter, op-ed, essay, or book. They barely qualify as sentences.
Stringing together a list of someone’s tweets over a period of time does not necessarily construct a reliable narrative of their views either. Haven’t people been doing this with the Bible for centuries, pulling passages together out of context to fit their agendas?
We’ll either have to lighten up on people, or we all better learn fast to tightly script everything we type. Or, maybe we need to realize that not all of our witty musings are profound or interesting enough to post publicly and should just remain in our heads.
Roland knows part of being good at dishing it out is being able to take it.
Roland can take it.
He may no longer be as funny on Twitter, but he’ll be a wiser man.
Now there’s word that GLAAD aims to enlist Roland Martin in its cause against anti-LGBT violence and is no longer calling for Martin’s firing.
GLAAD spokesman Rich Ferraro said after the suspension, “CNN today took a strong stand against anti-LGBT violence and language that demeans any community. Yesterday, Martin also spoke out against anti-LGBT violence. We look forward to hearing from CNN and Roland Martin to discuss how we can work together as allies and achieve our common goal of reducing such violence as well as the language that contributes to it.”
Ferraro added early Thursday, ” . . . Our goal is to ensure better coverage that works toward ending anti-LGBT violence.”
Congratulations to Stanford law professor Ralph Richard Banks, author of the new book Is Marriage for White People?: How the African American Marriage Decline Affects Everyone, which was released earlier this month. With a sensational title like that, Banks is sure to sell a ton of books. But that doesn’t necessarily mean the author doesn’t have something important to tell us.
Personally, I’ve decided I won’t be reading Dr. Banks’ book. I’ve also been trying to avoid reading articles related to it. Why am I treating his book like Kryptonite? After all, I am a 38-year-old single, professional black woman — presumably smack dab in the heart of his target audience. Why wouldn’t I want to read a book about how miserable my life is?
What? Do I sound bitter? Well, I’m really not. I will admit, however, that I am annoyed. But I was annoyed way before Dr. Banks became the latest purveyor of solutions for the single black female.
In December 2009, ABC’s Nightline came to Atlanta, where I live, to interview several single professional black women and ask them why, in spite of their beauty, great personalities, and accomplishments, they just couldn’t find a good man. Cue Beyoncé’s infectious “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)” in the background. Comedian Steve Harvey was to the go-to expert for the segment and demonstrated with his streetwise insight why single black women made his first book, Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man, a New York Times bestseller. The segment “went viral,” facilitating the need for Nightline to follow up in April 2010 with a full-fledged and star-powered forum called “Why Can’t a Successful Black Woman Find a Man?” It also was held here in Atlanta. A few months later, dating expert, Deborrah Cooper, through her Surviving Dating website, blamed the black church for keeping black women single and lonely. And in May of this year, VH1 debuted its first scripted show, Single Ladies, which is about an interracial group of single women based in … yep, none other than Atlanta. So excuse me while I get from under society’s microscope …
All that being said, what do I actually think of Dr. Banks’ book? First of all, for those who may not have yet to hear about the book, Banks ponders why “nearly 70 percent of black women are unmarried” no matter their socioeconomic status and offers solutions based on about 100 interviews with African Americans. In a Wall Street Journal article adapted from his book, Banks wrote, “I came away convinced of two facts: Black women confront the worst relationship market of any group because of economic and cultural forces that are not of their own making; and they have needlessly worsened their situation by limiting themselves to black men. I also arrived at a startling conclusion: Black women can best promote black marriage by opening themselves to relationships with men of other races.”
In his article, Banks cited the high incarceration of black men as one source of the problem. “More than two million men are now imprisoned in the U.S., and roughly 40 percent of them are African American. At any given time, more than 10 percent of black men in their 20s or 30s — prime marrying ages — are in jail or prison.” Banks also pointed to the inequity of education between some black women and black men as another root of the problem. “There are roughly 1.4 million black women now in college, compared to just 900,000 black men.”
As a result, according to Banks, many black women have opted to “marry down” (i.e. marrying “blue collar” black men) instead of “out” (i.e. professional white men). This, he asserts, may contribute to the alarmingly high divorce rate, as these “white collar” black wives are often incompatible with their “blue collar” black husbands. “Even as divorce rates have declined for most groups during the past few decades, more than half of black marriages dissolve.”
His solution, according to the article: “By opening themselves to relationships with men of other races, black women would … lessen the power disparity that depresses the African American marriage rate. As more black women expanded their options, black women as a group would have more leverage with black men. Even black women who remained unwilling to love across the color line would benefit from other black women’s willingness to do so.”
It would appear many black women have already taken his message to heart. According to the latest U.S. Census data, black and white Americans are now getting married to each other in record numbers. In 2008, 14 percent of black men and 6 percent of black women tied the knot with a white partner; that’s up from 5 percent and 1 percent in 1980.
CONVERSATION STARTER: Author Ralph Richard Banks wants black women to expand their territory.
But back to what I actually think of Banks’ book. First, in all fairness to Dr. Banks, anyone who wants the full picture of what he’s arguing should read the book for herself. I’m sticking with my decision not to read it. I’m simply weary of sifting through this type of information and being assailed by the grim reminder that my chances of finding an eligible black man who meets my standards are severely limited.
Based on my experiences and the experiences of my friends, I think black women should expand their options. But that doesn’t mean they have to give up on being with a black man — educated or otherwise. I have friends who have married black men with a college degree, black men without a college degree, and white men. And I am happy to report all the friends that I’m speaking of are still married. So I believe marriage is for all people, not just white people. But I suspect Dr. Banks knows that already and is simply trying to grab our attention with his provocative title. (Note to Dr. Banks: From one writer to another, you hit it out the park with that title, sir. Cha-ching!)
As for me, my approach to dealing with this “where are all the good men?” dilemma, as well as other quandaries I find myself in, is to trust God and allow Him to speak through the challenges He allows in my life. I thoroughly believe what one of my favorite authors, Zora Neale Hurston, said in her book Their Eyes Were Watching God: “Two things everybody’s got tuh do fuh theyselves. They got tuh go tuh God, and they got tuh find out about livin’ fuh theyselves.”
My God has promised me that if I delight myself in the Lord, He will give me the desires of my heart. And to quote another Southern sage, Forrest Gump, “That’s all I have to say about that.”
PROBING A BROKEN SYSTEM: Author and legal scholar Michelle Alexander questions the lopsided number of black men in prison.
Forty years ago today, the United States government declared its legendary “War on Drugs,” and our nation has not been the same since—especially if you happen to be an urban male with dark skin.
The Jim Crow laws may have been officially struck down years ago, but author and scholar Michelle Alexander argues that a new racial caste system has grown in its place: the mass incarceration of minorities, particularly African American men.
It’s not a conclusion she reached lightly. As Alexander discusses in her critically acclaimed book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, it took years as a racial justice project director for the ACLU for Alexander to see the eerie similarities between the present U.S. criminal justice system and Jim Crow.
Namely, having a criminal or felony record means you face legal discrimination for the rest of your life. Depending on the type of crime, you can lose some of your rights—including the right to vote—and can be barred from housing, employment, financial aid and public benefits (see this report for details). These consequences have come down the hardest on low-income minority communities. As Alexander points out, law enforcement has unfairly targeted those neighborhoods for drug arrests, despite the fact that minorities do not use or sell drugs more than whites.
As a result, more African American men are in prisons, in jails, on probation or on parole today than were enslaved in 1850, 10 years before the Civil War. And an African-American child has less of a chance of being raised by both parents today than in the age of slavery, both according to Alexander’s book.
In an exclusive interview with UrbanFaith, Alexander called for people to create a major social movement against the new Jim Crow spurred by love for the imprisoned. She drew on Martin Luther King Jr.’s book Strength to Love to discuss the kind of love needed for this movement: a love that is, as King wrote, “not to be confused with sentimental outpouring” or “emotional bosh,” but rather a force that loves in spite of flaws or wrongdoings.
As a person of faith, Alexander said she believes every person is a “precious child of God, deserving of our care, compassion and concern, and to use Martin Luther King Jr.’s term, unsentimental love.” Part of our conversation with her is below.
URBAN FAITH: You say in your book that so few people realize that mass incarceration is a racial caste system. Why do you think that is?
MICHELLE ALEXANDER: The system of mass incarceration and how it operates much like racial caste system has lived invisibly in our society in large part because prisons themselves are out of sight, out of mind. In the days when there were whites-only signs, people of all races could not help but notice that a caste system was alive and well. Today, people who are sent to prison are shipped off and no longer a part of our consciousness, unless of course they’re a family member or a friend, someone we know well. The communities which are hardest hit are themselves segregated from mainstream society.
If you’re not directly touched by this system of control, it’s very easy to be seduced by the myths we are fed in mainstream media, propagated by shows like “Law and Order” and CNN and MSNBC shows that focus on the most heinous crimes. These media images and narratives reinforce the idea that most people doing time in prison are heinous people who we should be fearful of and have no care, compassion or concern for.
The colorblind rhetoric that has enveloped this system seems quite rational on the surface. The system is officially colorblind and we have been told by politicians, media pundits, even by some scholars, that the reason so many poor folks of color are cycling in and out of the criminal justice system is their own fault, due to their culture and their poor choices. And because it’s due to their individual choices, we need not care about the suffering that they may be experiencing.
Why do you think people should care?
I think the fundamental question posed by this system of mass incarceration is whether we as a nation are willing to see every human being as worthy of our collective care, compassion, and concern. And I believe the fate of poor people of color in this country depends on our willingness to answer that question, ‘Yes.’
Even if their behavior we find objectionable or reprehensible, we will not stop caring. We are capable of the kind of love—what Martin Luther King Jr. referred to as unsentimental love—reflected in our policies, practices, our rules of law, our ways of being, structures and institutions. Unsentimental love that keeps on loving, no matter who you are or what you’ve done.
If we continue to look the other way and believe that some people are not worthy of our moral concern, caste-like systems will be a permanent feature of American life. It’s always possible to demonize or criminalize people along racial or ethnic lines to make certain groups of people be viewed in the public eye as bad and wrong. If we allow those kinds of tactics to cut us off from our own capacity for compassion, then we are conceding to a system that is dehumanizing millions.
And we have got to rethink our drug laws, which criminalize and stigmatize people who may well be suffering from drug abuse or addiction. We put them in a cage, brand them as criminals and felons and then subject them to a lifetime of discrimination, scorn and social exclusion. Is that how we would want someone we cared about to be treated? I think the answer is no. It is possible for us to do things differently. In fact, we haven’t always incarcerated such an astonishing percentage of our people.
You say in your book that we need a major social movement in order to truly transform the criminal justice system. From what you’ve seen since you’ve written this book, do you have hope such a movement will start?
I do. I believe that a major movement is possible to end mass incarceration. There are many people who think otherwise. In fact, there were many people who believed in the mid-1950s that Jim Crow segregation in the South would never die, and that civil rights advocates committed to end the Jim Crow system were foolish.
One of the reasons I believe it will take nothing less than a large social movement to end mass incarceration is because, if we were to return to the rates of mass incarceration we had in the 1970s—before the War on Drugs and the ‘get tough’ movement kicked off—we’d have to release 4 out of 5 people in prison today. More than a million people employed by the criminal justice system could lose their jobs. Private prison companies would be forced to watch their profits vanish. This system is now so deeply rooted in our political, social and economic structure that it’s not going to just fade away without a major shift in public consciousness.
But I believe it’s possible. Just as racial justice advocates were able to bring Jim Crow to its knees in a relatively short period of time, it is possible to bring this system to an end as well. Once genuine care and concern are awakened for a population that has been so demonized and stigmatized for so long, the injustice of the legal system that has operated to keep them in their place will become readily apparent to all.
Do you see people having that personal awakening?
Yes, I do. In fact, there are a growing number of African-American churches that are answering the call to engage in movement building work to end mass incarceration. I’m working right now with the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference, which is a network of progressive black churches across the country that has committed themselves to making ending mass incarceration a number one priority.
My own view is that the faith community has got to play a lead role in this movement, because what it’s going to take to end this system is a real awakening to care, compassion and concern for all of us, opportunities for redemption and pathways home. And people of faith have got to find their voices in this movement. I’m just delighted to see a growing number of people of faith and faith leaders answering the call and the challenge that this moment in history presents.
Among other things, the NBA star’s troubles offer this sobering reminder: An occasional joke is okay, but don’t quit your day job.
Washington Wizards basketball star Gilbert Arenas was recently suspended by the NBA because of a practical joke involving several unloaded handguns, a joke that he played on a teammate who was angry over an unpaid gambling debt. Consequently, Arenas was hit with a gun charge, to which he pleaded guilty, and now his contract with the Wizards appears on the verge of termination.
Clearly, the joke didn’t go over that well.
Nevertheless, Gilbert Arenas is a genuinely funny guy, and I hope that somehow, despite the fallout over his recent transgressions, he doesn’t lose his sense of humor.
See, humor is a funny thing.
In one sense, it’s a basic human need, a notch or two below the need for food, clothing, and shelter. This is why sitcoms and comedians are so popular. As people, we don’t just love to laugh, we need to laugh. Humor is a critical way that we humans express shared meaning and make sense of the world, and it exists at the convergence of our intellect and emotions.
Unfortunately, this makes the concept of funny mysterious and hard to pin down. It often depends on context, which is why sometimes it’s so hard to relay a funny joke from one situation into another. So many factors can change the equation so many times, that a joke that sparks a bout of side-splitting laughter here might only elicit a chorus of yawns there — or worse, an avalanche of boos.
This problem has plagued many comedians over the years, especially White entertainers who complain of an unfair double standard regarding ethnic slurs. Many White folks in general have cited, from the annals of Black pop culture, example after example of things said by Blacks that if said by a White person would be denounced as racist.
So it’s with more than a little schadenfreude that pundits and commentators of almost every persuasion have emerged from the woodwork to pontificate on the subject of fallen-NBA-star Arenas and his recent incident involving handguns in the locker room. Like Caesar, they come not to praise Arenas, but to bury him under a cloud of suspicion.
This wholesale denunciation is problematic.
Much has been said in defense of Arenas’s quirky, practical-joking “Agent Zero” persona. And I agree with those who have detected a racialized difference in the overall response and coverage of this and incidents like it, proof of the NBA’s overall image problem in mainstream America. Both the NFL and MLB have been dogged by far more police blotter activity, particularly as it relates to violent crime and drug abuse, yet neither is tagged as routinely as the NBA is as a “league full of thugs.”
Furthermore, too little has been said about the reason why Arenas had the guns in the locker room in the first place, which, according to reports, was because he didn’t feel comfortable with them coexisting with his children at home. This seems, on the face of things, to be a responsible decision.
But all of that is beside the point.
The real travesty is that Gilbert Arenas earned all the penalties levied against him because he failed to grasp a rather obvious truth: In life, not everything is a joke.
Inveterate pranksters often use humor as a defense mechanism to mask their insecurity. Arenas’s story — abandoned by his mother and raised by his father, whom he didn’t meet until he was 3 years old — is filled with the kind of personal pathos that can inspire insecurity and fear of rejection. Not only has Arenas fit this pattern throughout his career, but after the gun incident went public he actually admitted in his Twitter feed — boasted, really — that he never takes anything seriously.
This quality often makes him an engaging interview subject, but in this case, it clearly impaired his judgment.
How do we know this?
Because with even a modicum of awareness, he would have noticed the following:
• Guns are often involved in violent crimes, which are often perpetrated by, and thus associated with, young Black men
• The NBA is a league dominated by young Black men
• The NBA has, for the last few years, been trying to recover from a series of scandals that have generated a lot of negative publicity
• The D.C. team used to be known as the Washington Bullets, but the general public decided the name was in bad taste, considering the District’s notoriously high murder rate
• Not coincidentally, The District of Columbia has some of the strictest gun laws in the country
All of this, and still …
Not only did Arenas not have the sense to ask a team official about how to properly deal with his guns, not only did he not have the sense to realize that guns and practical jokes don’t belong in the same sentence, but even after he did these things and they became public knowledge, he didn’t have the sense to apologize or show any genuine form of contrition outside of a statement drafted by his attorney.
I think Gilbert Arenas defaulted to his normal response to everything, which is to turn it into a joke and hope it goes away.
This time, it just didn’t work.
Now, I’m not saying that he should lose his job over this. Some punishments, though understandable and legally permissible, are still excessive — like the guy who was fired from his job for being a fantasy football commissioner.
Plus, this will remain as a stain on Arenas’s reputation. As such, Gil will probably continue to feel misunderstood as he tries to put his career back together. Like many talented Black men with chips on their shoulders, he might be tempted to adopt a me-against-the-world mentality.
“Only God can judge me,” goes the typical ‘hood refrain. This could become his mantra.
But I hope not.
Likewise, I hope he doesn’t lose his sense of humor altogether. Maybe one day he’ll crack open a Bible, find Proverbs 26:18-19, and learn to use discernment when cracking jokes. And maybe he’ll discover Romans 13:1, and learn to receive correction from authority more gracefully.
Maybe, as part of his NBA penance, he’ll end up in a public service announcement about the dangers of practical jokes.
Now that would be funny.
Photo of Gilbert Arenas by Keith Allison from Wikipedia.