Sunday, September 18, 2011

Derrick Mason Isn't Helping

Thursday night, the NFL Network aired part one of Bill Belichick: A Football Life, a two-part documentary of the New England Patriots 2009 season, whose primary appeal is seeing the season through head coach Bill Belichick's eyes and hearing him mic'd for every game, practice and coaches meeting.

During the Week Four game on October 4, in which the Patriots went on to defeat the Baltimore Ravens 27-21, Ravens wide receiver Derrick Mason trash talks at the Patriots sideline, prompting Belichick to fire back in kind: "Oh, fuck you, Mason, just fuck you. Why don't we talk after the game, all right? Just shut the fuck up." Mason laughs and pulls a quasi-"u mad, bro?" face, at which Belichick notes that the Pats have the lead by adding, "Can you look at the scoreboard?"

Here's the thing: none of this mattered for almost two straight years. Nobody commented about it; Mason didn't complain or consider it worth putting on the record in any serious way. So it's seems doubly asinine that he tweeted this yesterday:

I begrudge no one the right to be pissed off, and I'm sure it sucked for him to wake up two years later to find the whole world asking how it felt to have probably the most respected mind in current coaching telling him to fuck off and notice he was busy losing at the time. That said, playing the race card here is foully dumb. If the subtext of that exchange can contain the racialized pejorative "boy," then it's equally plausible that it also included Belichick calling him, "Llewelyn Hitler: The Welsh Ass Nazi." There is zero plausible equivalency between being told to shut the fuck up, prove it on the field and do your gloating after you've won the contest and being likened to a subhuman underclass stripped of and "undeserving" of unalienable human rights.

Maybe Mason's just trolling; he does play for the Jets now, and that team definitely promotes a tongue-in-cheek atmosphere of hyperbolic outrage, victimization and dubiously outsized bragging. It makes the game more fun, and it's definitely a more entertaining alternative to Belichick's clipped, withholding and Sphinx-like attitude toward information, injury, emotion — anything, really. But media gamesmanship and entertainment value hardly constitute an excuse for diluting the dialogue on race with preposterous horseshit.

Racism denialists love baldly stupid claims like this: every rhetorical overreach fuels their narrative of people like Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson as "race pimps," scouring the media for every drop of attention on the thinnest pretexts for racial outrage and manufacturing racism where it doesn't exist. Dog-whistle racism is entrenched in America: Lee Atwater crystallized its applications in national political strategy during his come-to-Jesus moments of self-loathing, and anyone in doubt as to its health need only look at the kinds of email forwards about Barack Obama that keep getting state and local Republican officials fired across the country.

When you code-word racism, when you regularly trade in winking allusion and racial metonym, you absolutely need mistaken and overreaching charges of racism to provide a smokescreen. Because dog-whistle racism isn't absolute, overt and definitive, it has to be gleaned from the context, extrapolated from tone and history. Thus, every time someone mistakenly or disingenuously cries "racism!" it only adds weight to the argument that those detecting its presence merely infer it on their own — that they want to see it — that they have no credible or fair sense of judgment.

Racism yearns for idiots like Derrick Mason, because they provide famous and instantly memorable cover for getting away with racism. When Saxby Chambliss encouraged his predominantly white and conservative supporters to take to the polls in the December 2008 runoff following Barack Obama's unprecedented success in mobilizing black voter turnout, he simply said, "The other folks are voting." He literally othered black people in word while othering them in intent, trying to scare supporters into voting to protect themselves from something frighteningly different from themselves.

But Chambliss was smart. There are no definitively racist words in his statement, nothing that, devoid of context, indicates that this is merely one of the most despicable statements he's made in a career of being despicable. Had Mason's comments recently preceded Chambliss' own, they would have provided those politically or personally invested in racial division an instant get-out-of-implication-free card. Because this kind of racism relies on an interpretive dialogue with its intended audience, every willful and loud misinterpretation only validates racists' claims of persecution and the dismissibility of those who say they heard racism.

Derrick Mason isn't fucking helping, and the worst thing is that he's even being unhelpful badly. If he were somehow beautifully trolling the NFL, you might be able to claim that this was worth it. But check out two tweets he made in a row:

This is some weaksauce shit. He's not replying to anybody in particular but actually thinks that this joke is funny and worth broadcasting to everybody, twice. It's not even a good line. Only the most deluded of Pats fans think Bill Belichik is "the Messiah," and if you really wanted to be funny about it, the second tweet should have been, "Whoops, my bad. The Messiah wouldn't have gone 18-1." If you're trolling, you keep looking for new ways to bust on people; when you resent something, you keep banging away at the same thing. This ain't trolling, which makes it worse.

You know what you are when you make the same complaint twice, go on record with journalists making four-year-old camera jokes, then spend your day repeatedly and loudly denying to anyone interested that you don't care about the thing you kept whining about and the person you kept making digs about? U mad, bro. You're care and real mad.