The Conversation: Let’s Talk About Race, Again

Andrew Cotto and Damon Young continue their wide-ranging discussion about race, America, and the NBA.

When we left off, Andrew Cotto and Damon Young were exchanging ideas about the role race plays in the perception of the NBA. As a thread to the next conversation, this closing question was posed from Andrew to Damon…

As far as next topic goes, allow me to suggest an assignment, and its somewhat related to what we’ve discussed already, omitting any direct connection to the NBA:

What is the inspiration and meaning (if any) of “Thug Couture?” 

Damon: I might be the last person to give any advice about rooting interests. I’m a basketball mercenary — I make no secret of the fact that my “favorite” teams just happen to be the ones that my favorite players are currently on. Right now, those teams would be the Heat (Lebron), the Clippers (Chris Paul), the Spurs (Dejuan Blair and I have a history), and, surprisingly, the Cavs (Kyrie Irving = Rod Strickland with a jumpshot and character). With that being said, I’d suggest you jump on the Heat bandwagon. Sure, they’re Darth, but they’re the most fascinating sports team ever assumed, and this fascinating-ness is in part due to the fact that they’re actually one of the boringest teams in the NBA to watch. The things that make the Heat the Heat and the context behind them are much more interesting than the sum of those parts. I guess they’re the league’s version of U2.

As far as “Thug Couture” goes, its inspiration and meaning is tied to outcast culture/peacocking more than anything else. The kids who intentionally wear pants hanging halfway off their asses do it because it’s a conspicuous way of telling the world (and by “the world” I mean “young girls”) that they’re too cool to give a fuck. Most of the time this is posturing — the kids who truly don’t give a fuck probably aren’t going to scour Macy’s for a $75 pair of three sizes too small Levi’s — but as long as being too cool to adhere to societal norms is attractive to young women, blatant acts of cognitive cultural dissonance will continue. Basically, they’re just running game.

You know, Andrew, I have to say that I’m a little disappointed in that question. I would have assumed that a person teaching and living in New York City would have noticed that the “Thug Couture” — the cornrows, the dark colors, the baggy clothes, the bling, etc — that was so prevalent among young blacks in the 90’s and early aughts has actually given way to a hood/hipster hybrid where frohawks, colorful kicks, and skinny jeans have become the gear of choice. The legions of Beanie Sigel pseudo thugs have been phased out by Kanye doppelgangers who look and act like they’re much more likely to tweet about you than rob you.

Hmm. Perhaps this pool is a bit deeper than I thought it was.

♦◊♦

Andrew: Thanks for the advice on which team to root for this season, though I think I’ll just start thickening my skin for the Nets transition to Brooklyn. And, sorry to disappoint on the “thug-couture” question, but it’s still alive in NYC, though, I’m aware of the hood/hipster hybrid you so wonderfully described, and while it’s trending strong, it has not, yet, by any means, eclipsed the existence of the psuedo-thug look in NYC. And that’s too bad because, aesthetics aside, it’s been around a long time and possibly had a negative effect.

With this in mind, I’d take issue, at least in part, with your assessment of the inspiration behind this style. Agreed on the tail-feathers-to-impress-the-girls. Boys will be boys everywhere, and this involves a certain amount of posturing against society. I’d argue that what we have in “the cornrows, the dark colors, the baggy clothes, the bling, etc.,” look, at least in part, is a more defiant gesture towards society as a whole, something more akin to bikers of the 60s / 70s or punks of the 80s / 90s than the run-of-the-mill rebels just running game. The thug style evolved out of prisons (and gangs) and there is a generally accepted association, fair or not, related to that. I’d also add the abundance of tattoos, aggressive posturing, and brazen profanity to this characterization. So, yes, while these young men may be telling the young ladies via demeanor that they don’t “give a fuck,” they may also be telling society at large, intentionally or not, the very same thing.  Your comment about young men who “look and act like they’re…about to rob you” speaks to this point.

I know…people are free to behave and act how they choose; and, yes, I know…shame on those who judge; still, perception matters because people judge and then people believe and then people act. We are all victims of ignorance in this way. And this particular pattern of judgment-belief-action reminds me of our previous conversation about the post-Jordan NBA, where a negative image, promulgated by a few, hurt the league as a whole. My concern is that the negative image we contemplate here has potential ramifications far more serious than the reduced revenues of a professional sport.

I wrote before about the factions of government and conservative society who are so opposed to President Obama and all that he symbolizes. This movement is now in full effect and wide open thanks to the Republican candidates for president just losing their shit in order to impress certain conservative voters who fear the loss of their American identity. The target is no longer just the black President, but minority America. Negative stereotypes and ignorance only add to the false narrative about American minorities (particularly of the lower and middle class), and it is one that could have some serious ramifications for the lower and middle class citizens (of all races) of this country (and this country as a whole) if this false narrative compels enough voters as they approach the polls. Remember how much play Obama’s “Hip Hop Barbeque” got on Fox and company? These people do not need any additional fodder for their ignorant cannons.

Maybe I’m out of my mind. And maybe I’m connecting dots that aren’t in the same vicinity.

What role could today’s baggy clothes and bad language play in a country complicated by race since its inception? I don’t know. I know that negative impressions can have real consequences (look at the NBA). And I know negative stereotypes can be used to frighten and inspire (look at the GOP). It causes me enough concern to bring it up (despite the shit I’m about to take). And though I don’t hear this come up often as more than a prosaic concern, I did hear it broached by President-Elect Obama back in 2008, who might have had a bigger picture in mind when he publically pleaded: “Come on brothers. Pull up your pants.”

He might have been on to something.

What do you think?

♦◊♦

Damon: I don’t deny that the very conspicuous actions of a few very conspicuous individuals does have a way of clouding our perception of reality. And, in the case of the bad-language spewing and boxer-bearing urban jabberwockies, their behavior annoys everyone, not just the people who don’t happen to share their complexion.

With that being said, I also can’t deny that confirmation bias is real. Anyone who allows their feelings about such a small part of a population have such an effect on how they feel about the entire population is just looking for something, anything, to reinforce how they already want to feel. And yes, I believe it’s a conscious want. It takes less energy to write people off than to tackle your own biases and prejudices, and I think the vast majority of people who think this way do it because it just makes things easier. To be perfectly honest, I can’t begrudge them too much for doing that. I mean, aside from angsty-ass motherfuckers like us and the people who’ll read this, who wants more shit to think about?

My point? I’m not going to lose any sleep over people who already believe in the negative stereotypes and just need a kernel of evidence to support what they already want to believe. It’s a waste of time to race someone who doesn’t feel like running.

Ok, enough with that. Harkening back to the NBA (you know I couldn’t leave it alone), I can’t help but wonder how much of the visceral distaste some seem to have for the league is completely insincere. Basically, it’s not so much that they hate the sport (or even care enough about it to hate it.) They just know that saying “I hate the NBA” says something about them, and what type of person they want to be perceived as. Also, you can substitute “rap music,” “Black people,” “New York,” “Trader Joe’s,” “Kim Kardashian,” and “Kim Kardashian’s ass” and the statement still rings true.

What percentage of our hang-wringing over race do you think is just posturing? 7%? 13%? 50%? (I’m guessing somewhere between 24% and 42%).

Andrew Cotto is a teacher & writer who lives in Brooklyn, NY. His coming-of-age novel, THE DOMINO EFFECT, is now available on Amazon.com. Outerborough Blues: A Brooklyn Mystery will be released in 2012 by Ig Publishing. Learn more about Andrew at his website, and follow him on Facebook and Twitter @andrewcotto.

Pittsburgh native Damon Young (aka “The Champ”) is the co-founder ofVerySmartBrothas.com. Their first book Your Degrees Won’t Keep You Warm At Night: The Very Smart Brothas Guide To Dating, Mating and Fighting Crime is available at Amazon.com.

—Photo via The Platform

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Comments

  1. Richard Aubrey says:

    Is it possible to oppose Obama’s policies without coming from a place of racism?
    You will note I did not ask if it were possible to oppose Obama’s policies without being accused of racism. Easier to believe that, to write off people, than to do the work of considering their views. Heard that somewhere.

  2. PursuitAce says:

    If he were a repub, he would be getting ready to run against his own democratic version now. The extreme voices that lead the political discourse in this country have run off the rails. And they’re taking everyone else with them. Divide and conquer…a time tested strategy.

  3. Very interesting discussion-especially as it relates to the “saggy pants” phenomenon.

    Heres the thing for me-ive noticed that, when i actually ask brothas why they wear their pants in suich a manner, that im met with an extreme degree of defensiveness; partly due to the fact that the saggy pants wearers cant give a cogent answer. While i hear what champs saying im inclined to disagree with his “peacocking” assessment-because if that was the case the dozens of brothas ive asked this question of would have told me that they did what they do to attract the ladies. None of them did.

    I think the anger annoyance and defensiveness in extremis speaks to a kind of cognitive dissonance taking place in the minds of these brothas; i posit that they know deep down, that what theyre doing makes no good sense, especially when confronted with the facts of such a “styles” origins (gay men in prisons “signalling” etc); and so instead of grappling with that, they instead lash out at the messenger.

    My personal view is that the saggy pants issue is really a kind of cry for help-in this case, a cry for masculine guidance. Lets be honest-the vast majority of the pants sagging takes place among a cohort of men for whom the phrase “true grit” is alien, to say nothing of other masculine values and concepts that champ and i kind of take for granted, because both of us grew up with dads in our lives. Most of these young men, didnt havt any such thing.

    And, it shows.

    Literally.

    Holla back

    O.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] Girls Say” video. Oh, and if still pressed for something to actually read today, check out my on-going “race” conversation with Andrew Cotto at The Good Man Project, “I Suck At The Oscars” — Panama’s latest at GuySpeak, and my interview [...]

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