Starting tomorrow—THE MODERN AMERICAN NOVEL: When the NBA season resumed, players were allowed to have social justice messages on the backs of their uniforms.
Somewhat discordantly, the NBA and the Players Association created a list of permitted messages. At Bleacher Report, Tyler Conway listed the 29 messages NBA players would be allowed to convey:
CONWAY (7/8/20): "Equality" and "Black Lives Matter" are the two most popular phrases NBA players will use on the back of their jerseys when the 2019-20 season resumes in Orlando later this month.It's a bit like cable news! Performers are allowed to say certain things. But the performers aren't allowed to say anything else!
NBPA executive director Michele Roberts told Marc J. Spears of The Undefeated that 285 of the 350 players expected to be in Orlando have chosen to have social justice messaging on their jerseys in place of their last name. Seventeen players will keep their last name, while the league is still awaiting word from the remaining players.
The players had their choice of the following options for the back of their jerseys: Black Lives Matter; Say Their Names; Vote; I Can't Breathe; Justice; Peace; Equality; Freedom; Enough; Power to the People; Justice Now; Say Her Name; Sí Se Puede (Yes We Can); Liberation; See Us; Hear Us; Respect Us; Love Us; Listen; Listen to Us; Stand Up; Ally; Anti-Racist; I Am A Man; Speak Up; How Many More; Group Economics; Education Reform; and Mentor.
(Apparently, LeBron James won't be wearing a message. CBS reports that here.)
Admittedly, the NBA's restriction on speech is perhaps a bit discordant. That said, some of the officially permitted messages are perfectly sensible, even highly admirable. That's even true if such messages may perhaps resemble bumper stickers or pointless political slogans.
Players were given 29 options. As we glanced at some NBA games, we were struck by players who chose the slogan, "Say Their Names."
Whose names are they talking about? we wondered. Also this:
How many such names have they heard?
This brings us back to the two disproportions we wrote about last week. At issue is a very important topic: fatal shootings by police officers, and other such deaths at the hands of police.
Again as a matter of basic fairness, we start with an important disclaimer:
In all likelihood, most such incidents do not involve misconduct by police. Wesley Lowery even seems to say as much on page 16 of his book, "They Can't Kill Us All"—a book whose title may suggest that someone is trying to do so.
Most such incidents probably don't involve police misconduct. That said, other such incidents plainly do.
Presumably, it's the names of the victims of those incidents which we most need to hear. But how many such names have NBA players, or anyone else, been permitted or encouraged to hear?
With that question, we reach the first of last week's disproportions. We refer to the vastly disproportionate way such events get covered by the upper-end press corps at the present time.
At least since early 2012, such events have been very heavily covered—if the victims are black. But if the victims are white, Hispanic or "other," such events don't get covered at all!
(We're using the taxonomy of the Washington Post, from its Fatal Force web site.)
George Floyd died facedown in the street as part of what can only be seen as a heinous event. Everyone has heard his name, as is completely appropriate.
That said, Tony Timpa died facedown in the street, and crying, in Dallas—and no one has heard his name! That includes all those NBA players—and we feel sure that most would care if they ever heard Timpa's name.
That was the first disproportion we discussed last week. A second disproportion was accurately stated by Matt Stieb at New York magazine:
STIEB (7/14/20): As CBS News’ Wesley Lowery noted in 2016, the most recent census data shows that there are almost 160 million more white people in the U.S. than there are Black people. White Americans make up around 62 percent of the population, but 49 percent of those killed by police officers; Black Americans make up 13 percent of the population, but represent 24 percent of those [shot and] killed by police officers. According to a database compiled by the Washington Post, 1,301 Black people have been killed by the police since 2015, while 2,495 whites were killed. But because of the vast demographic differences, Black Americans are killed at a rate more than twice that of white Americans.Some of Stieb's numbers weren't quite right. Beyond that, he didn't mention the very low rate, as a percentage of population, at which Asian-Americans are shot and killed by police officers.
That's part of this serious story too. Such information might even help us think our way through the causes of these disproportions.
That said, Stieb accurately stated a second disproportion. After adjusting for population, black Americans are indeed shot and killed by police officers "at a rate more than twice that of white Americans."
We'll guess the disproportion would drop a bit if statisticians made further adjustments for population—if statisticians adjusted for age, for example. But there's little doubt that black Americans are killed by police at a disproportionate rate.
This leaves us with an important question:
What is the cause, or what are the causes, of this second disproportion?
We'll return to that question after we explore a related topic this week. When we do, we won't be able to answer that question definitively. That said, the current approved message is this:
That disproportion reflects the racism—indeed, the systemic racism—within American police departments.
The NBA would approve that message, as does anti-Trump cable news. But to what extent is that statement true? To what extent can it fully explain that second disproportion?
That would be a difficult question to answer. Below, we'll link you to two analysts who have offered other possible reasons for that disproportions—reasons which move beyond misconduct by police.
We'll return to that topic next week. For today, here's one of the reasons why that question matters:
Somewhere in California, a 7-year-old boy is "terrified" because of the things he's been told. His mother says he actually wants to leave the country, she's managed to frighten him so.
It sounds like his mother is very scared too, and it sounds to us like she may have ingested some misconceptions. That said, it's easy to ingest misconceptions when our upper-end press corps engages in one of its many Storyline-driven stampedes.
Back in the say, people developed a misconception about Candidate Gore being a psychologically disordered liar. People developed misconceptions about Hillary Clinton, and about Susan Rice.
We develop misconceptions all the time. We do so based on the novelized content served to us by the remarkably unimpressive people who sit at the very top of our national "press corps."
They spread misperceptions all the time. In our view, they're doing do now.
If you massively cover one set of deaths, but completely ignore all other such deaths, people will inevitably form certain misconceptions. You may end up with terrified children, and with Hopkins philosophy professors who are afraid to leave their homes.
The New York Times will rush to publish such assessments. Those assessments are straight outta Storyline—and papers like the New York Times routinely run on such fuel.
The NBA is full of decent, impressive people. But, like everyone else, they don't always hear "the whole truth."
We offer this obvious observation as an anthropology lesson—as an overview of the way our species conducted itself in the years before the global conflagration despondent anthropologists already describe as Mister Trump's War.
As a matter of anthropology, the behavior of our upper-end journalists tends to illustrate a very important point. Our war-inclined species, Homo sapiens, was never "the rational animal," as advertised down through the years.
Instead, we were always the tribal animal. We were the animal which worked from preapproved Storylines, repeating preapproved scripts.
At present, the press corps' Storyline is designed to tell us how much they care about matters of racial justice. We've never seen the slightest indication of any such concern in the past.
You can't believe what these creatures tell you, not even about those deaths. They'll cover some deaths, then disappear others. Routinely, they'll invent and recite phony facts about the deaths they do cover.
NBA players don't know these things. If somebody told them, they'd care.
Starting tomorrow: The modern American novel (Franklin County jail)
Sharpton and Cobb plus two more: Should journalists report all deaths which seem to involve police misconduct?
Putting it another way, is it possible that all deaths matter? That's what Reverend Sharpton recently seemed to say:
SHARPTON (7/17/20): The real question you have to ask yourself is, why are whites or blacks being killed unjustifiably by police?...[President Trump] shows no concern about the accountability of why police are killing anyone if it is not justified.Sharpton almost seemed to imply that all deaths matter! Meanwhile, is the problem of policing confined to the policing of people who are black? Back in June, Jelani Cobb went on TV and said this:
COBB (6/10/20): One other point that I have been making a lot, I have been making all the time, is that one of the reasons that this problem has been allowed to persist is that people have the perception that this is a black and brown problem.Professor Cobb seemed to say that the problem with policing extends beyond the cases we're currently permitted to hear messaging about. Is it possible that we should hear all the names from all the cases cases where police misconduct occurs?
But if you were to discard all of the incidents involving black and brown people, what you would find is, there are a heck of a lot of white people, unarmed white people, who are killed by police each year.
We have a fundamental problem with policing in this country, whose most extreme violent forms are witnessed in how we see black and brown people treated by law enforcement.
Finally, we'll link you to a pair of analysts who think the current Storyline is either 1) too simplistic or 2) just plain wrong.
The first just person is Professor McWhorter. You can read his analysis here; he even says Timpa's name.
The second person is Heather MacDonald. Yes, we know—she's a racist and one of The Others! That said, we think she made some basic points in this recent column for USA Today.
Your limbic brain will tell you we're wrong. You'll have to decide for yourself.
The Post and the Times sell Storyline. So does cable news.
Sharpton and Cobb and McWhorter oh my! Is it even dimly possible that current Storyline could be wrong? Could it even be doing significant harm, for instance to 7-year-old boys whose mothers have formed misconceptions?
Please understand that we're just asking! Above all else, we fully agree:
Storyline is our species' great god. Recitation will always be all.