With Friends Like These…

There’s a lot of speculation among Daily Show fans about who should be the next host now that Jon Stewart has announced his departure. A lot of the positive chatter has centered on 25 year-old show correspondent Jessica Williams to fill the chair. While she is indeed funny and very good at what she does, she herself refused the nomination and took herself out of the running for the host spot with a Twitter post stating that, in her words, she feels she is “extremely under-qualified” for the job. In the wake of her decision, writer Ester Bloom responded in an article by saying that she was not going to accept Jessica’s explanation and placed the blame for it on “imposter syndrome”, the tendency some intelligent women have to downplay their intelligence and qualifications so as not to threaten male superiority. While I believe the writer’s heart was in the right place, to me it was indicative of a disturbing trend among white feminists to take it upon themselves to speak for women of color, as if Black women don’t have the mental capacity to speak for themselves and make their own decisions.

I’m a man and I will not presume to speak for any woman although I have been in situations that for me feel similar. I’ve been in professional meetings and had a suggestion I made be ignored only to have a white person in the same room make the same suggestion and have it taken up. I once had a white grad student say during an online debate that he was qualified to talk about how it feels to be a Black man because he took an African-American Studies class. I think for a lot of white people, even the most well-meaning, Black people are only seen as objects or victims to be rescued so they can feel good about themselves and satisfy their hero complex. We are still not seen as full human beings capable of critical thinking, but psychological children who are spoken about or spoken for, but never spoken to. It’s a condescending attitude that does nothing to address any individual issue.

63 years after Ralph Ellison’s landmark book and people of color are largely still invisible. In the movie Being There, Peter Sellers plays a possibly autistic gardner who stumbles into the world of the political elite but only speaks in snippets of dialog he picked up from watching tv. His wealthy new associates take his ramblings to be profound statements and create global policy from them. All too often the lives and the struggles of African-Americans get co-opted by sympathetic people and turned into the social media equivalent of a Che Guevara t-shirt. It shows that many progressive “allies” believe Women of Color have no active agency or intelligence beyond being rescued by White saviors.

Jessica Williams is a very talented woman who doesn’t need me or anyone else to speak for her. I think Ester Bloom’s article had valid points about patriarchy. I just wish she would have given Jessica enough credit for being intelligent enough to self criticize without patriarchy being the reason.

Raising the Bar, Raising the Roof

From Jack Johnson to Muhammad Ali, from T.O. to Richard Sherman, America has always had a love/hate relationship with the Black sports figure. Larger than life with an attitude and ego to match, in many ways they could be considered the ancestors and counterparts of today’s rap stars. They are both seen alternately as “trouble men” and America’s heroes, worshipped for their skills on their respective fields but often vilified for their personas away from it. Their intelligence is often ignored but they are also allowed to express their blackness, however limited that expression may be for whatever times they live in.

In Corporate America, it ain’t like that. Conservative by nature, submerging your personality into the larger corporate culture is the only way to succeed, especially for black men. Especially in broadcast journalism.

All of this is why Stuart Scott was so important to journalism and why his death from cancer at age 49 is so tragic. He understood the swagger of the pro athlete and the dedication of the sports fan, and translated both for the larger world using the language of hip-hop. In doing so, he changed the sportscasting game in a way that hadn’t been done since the days of Ring Lardner or Howard Cosell.

Listening to Stuart recap a game was like watching a rapper freestyle, spitting lyrics off the dome and hitting you with metaphors that sounded dissimilar for a second before conveying perfectly what just happened once your brain caught up. Stuart’s passion and immediacy matched the speed of the touchdowns, blocked shots, slam dunks and half court three-pointers he reported on. Whether namechecking Luke, Wu-Tang or Cypress Hill or using the latest hip hop rap tracks and catchphrases during airtime, his mainstream audience enjoyed his enthusiasm, but the hip-hop heads/sports fans like myself watching saw it another way: a broadcast version of “the nod”, a not so subtle acknowledgement of our presence. Like with so many cultural media trailblazers, the corporate bosses were hesitant. But the public ate it up.

Iconic journalist Ed Bradley wore an earring in his left ear during the later years of his career. It didn’t effect the excellence of his reporting, but there was concern by CBS executives that it would be a distraction. It became his trademark, along with his continued excellence. The same can be said for Stuart Scott.

There has always been a battle that many brothers in corporate jobs have to fight: how to be professional and still be comfortable in your own skin, relatable to other people using your own background and cultural references. Stuart Scott made that battle a little less difficult for countless businesspeople of color by just being himself. The language of Corporate America and Sportscasting got a little bit cooler because of him.

Raise the Roof up there Big Stu.