Silent for 20 Years, an Ex-NBA Player Erupts in a Cogent Critique of Anti-Black Media
The corporate sports media practices a kind of settler state “Orientalism,” blaming black players for the ills of an industry owned by rich white men.
“Sports media monopolizes the public discourse with its declassified dossier of black dysfunction.”
Punctuated by a fusillade of racial epithets, sexual innuendo and enough profanity to make a rapper blush, the recent eruption on social media of a feud between three African American, ex-professional basketball players could easily be dismissed as a banal – albeit entertaining – barroom brawl between retired jocks with too much time on their hands, yet nothing to say.
But underlying the debate over Kwame Brown’s 12-year-career in the National Basketball Association is a far more substantive meditation on the racial storytelling that is at the heart of the corporate news media, and the role that African American journalists and pundits play in a white settler project that shapes the narrative to qualify its exploitation of black athletes.
At issue are comments made last month by former NBA players Stephen Jackson and Matt Barnes on their popular podcast, All the Smoke, while interviewing the president of the Los Angeles Lakers, Jeanie Buss. When Buss recalled the 2009 trade that sent Brown and Marc Gasol to the Memphis Grizzlies, Jackson joked that Gasol was the only player involved in the deal, and went on to disparage Brown further in a subsequent interview last week with Brown’s former Washington Wizards’ teammate, Gilbert Arenas, who explained that Brown’s confidence was destroyed by the team’s general manager at the time, Michael Jordan.
That seemed to set off the 39-year-old Brown who has become the punchline of a running joke after the Washington Wizards drafted him first overall in the 2001 NBA draft. Taking to Instagram to release a series of posts challenging oft-repeated descriptions of him as a “bust,” or “scrub” Brown has repeatedly questioned the news media’s motives for consistently portraying black athletes in a negative light.
By turns profane and prophetic, Brown – who has maintained a monk-like silence for most of his adult life – has been nothing short of a revelation, attracting tens of thousands of subscribers to his YouTube page over a span of a week with his Southern aphorisms and comedic timing. Bracketing Brown’s ad hominem attacks against Jackson, Barnes and perhaps his loudest critic, ESPN pundit Stephen A. Smith, however, is a thoughtful rebuke of a sports media that monopolizes the public discourse with its declassified dossier of black dysfunction. Why, asked Brown, are sports journalists preoccupied with black athletes such as Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant and James Harden, yet have virtually nothing to say about Chad Wheeler, the white, professional football player charged with assaulting his African American girlfriend?
Continuing, Brown said:
“I’m mad that as soon as Cam Newton don’t play like a Super Bowl quarterback every second of every play, if he limps up just a little bit, y’all start talking about him like his career needs to be over. Same thing y’all did to Carmelo Anthony. . . same thing y’all did to Allen Iverson.”
Referencing a white NBA player drafted by Michael Jordan’s NBA franchise in Charlotte, he said:
“You guys are destroying black males . . .Show me how many times you guys talked about Adam Morrison . . . compared to me. See there’s an agenda and you guys don’t want to listen and I know why you don’t want to listen: you don’t want to see the ugly truth.”
For their part, Jackson and Barnes have said that their criticism of Brown has been limited to his performance on the court during a playing career in which he averaged a pedestrian 7 points and 6 rebounds per-game on 49 percent shooting. Said Barnes:
“I get where he’s coming from, I mean he’s kinda been the butt of jokes coming into the league and not being able to live up to that number 1 potential. . . .To me your anger is focused on me but . . . if you want to be mad at anybody maybe you should be mad at MJ for taking you number 1.
Brown says the description of him as a “bust” doesn’t tell the full story. Jordan, he said, fully intended to trade him for the Chicago Bulls all- star power forward Elton Brand but was overruled by the Wizards’ late owner Abe Pollin. According to Brown, a resentful Jordan bullied him and took great pains to criticize him publicly, going so far as to say that his hands were too small to consistently catch the ball. (That description is inconsistent with the size of his hands displayed on camera during his Instagram videos.)
“You guys are destroying black males.”
Moreover, Brown says, the myopic view of his on-court performance is detached from the broader reality of 42 million African Americans who own no larger stake in the country of their birth than they did during slavery. The last of eight children born to a dirt-poor South Carolina family, Brown earned more than $63 million in NBA salary, which he says he uses to give back to his family and community. He has extended his critique of Vichy blacks to include black sports journalists such as former ESPN host Jemele Hill –who singles out African American men for criticism and once compared San Francisco Giants outfielder Barry Bonds to O.J. Simpson – and ESPN’s Michael Wilbon, who wrote that he was unsurprised that Washington Redskins safety Sean Taylor’s violent lifestyle led to his murder; he refused to apologize after it was learned that Taylor was fatally shot defending hs wife and infant child from armed burglars. Said Brown:
“The more you talk about a black man, you get a paycheck from Daddy. The more you got your foot on a black man’s neck, Daddy’ll look out for you.”
Brown’s broadside against the media has drawn comparisons to Muhammad Ali and Nas’ classic takedown of Jay-Z, titled Ether. One African American man’s remarks on his YouTube channel typifies the outpouring of support from the black online community:
“I’m glad that a real brother is calling these people out and putting these mammies in their place. Kwame Brown is calling out all these c--ns. . . . This man has every right to stand up for himself. This man has not said a word in more than 20 years and all of a sudden this man got tired. These c--ns have been doing this for years. They always throwing us under the bus for their slave masters and that is exactly what he is showing you.. They are bootlicking and buckdancing for a . . . check.”
Postcolonial scholars might recognize in Brown’s riposte the theory known as Orientalism, introduced by the late Edward Said in his eponymous, groundbreaking 1978 book, which posits that the West has historically sought to alibi its imperialism by assigning men of science and letters to shift the blame for colonialism from the colonizer to the colonized. Named for the unfortunate term coined by the West to describe the Arab world to its East, Orientalism dates back to France’s 1798 invasion of Egypt, when Napoleon encouraged artists, writers, and anthropologists to reimagine the Nile’s inhabitants, or to Orientalize the Orient.
Central to Orientalism is the silencing of an exploited class, or subalterns as they are known in postcolonial studies. Of the famed French novelist’s depiction of a 19th-century dancer, Said writes:
Flaubert’s encounter with an Egyptian courtesan produced a widely influential model of the Oriental woman; she never spoke of herself, she never represented her emotions, presence, or history. He spoke for and represented her. He was foreign, comparatively wealthy, male, and these were historical facts of domination that allowed him not only to possess (her) physically but to speak for her and tell his readers in what way she was “typically Oriental.”
It’s unlikely that either Brown or many of his supporters are familiar with Said’s work, but in the post-Obama era, African Americans are surely sensitive to the growing class divide which has created opportunities for African Americans to rake in cash by pathologizing their own for the benefit of privileged whites. Brown said as much in his assertion that the description of him as a flop was part of an effort to discourage young black athletes from turning pro straight out of high school, which depleted the NCAA of cheap labor.
Brown’s online star turn could also augur the stirring of a black working-class movement to address racial disparities in wealth, health, education and the criminal justice system that rivals apartheid South Africa. Key to these grassroots movements historically has been the answer to a single, decolonizing question: Can the subaltern speak?
Brown suggests that indeed he can.
“I never lost sight of mothafu---s that was struggling. To this day. I’m feeding the kids in Brunswick, the football team, on Monday. But now I know my true purpose. It ain’t to give back during a turkey drive or a holiday. Nig---s go back where you from and stop talking on camera. Go back and make an impact every day.”
A young man that was homeless bought his mother a house, a young man that was in the free lunch program has an action figure . . . a young man that by every statistical category, I wasn’t supposed to make it to college, I was supposed to go to prison. . . I got the key to the city and I’m in the Hall of Fame.
And you call that a bust?”
A former foreign correspondent for the Washington Post, Jon Jeter is the author of Flat Broke in the Free Market: How Globalization Fleeced Working People and the co-author of A Day Late and a Dollar Short: Dark Days and Bright Nights in Obama's Postracial America. His work can be found on Patreon .
This article was previously poste in Jon Jeter’s Patreon site.
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