Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Finding Racism: It's In Vogue

    Talk show hosts and conservative commentators built entire careers unmasking bogus claims of racism while dismissing legitimate discussions of racial injustice and inequality as mere political correctness or reverse racism.
              -Sen. Barack Obama
Well the Bogus Claims Police (who, as Obama intimates, are just as strident and annoying as the Racism Police) will have a field day with this one.

LeBron James is on the cover of this months Vogue Magazine, along with model Gisele Bundchen, for what is apparently an annual "shape" issue. Some members of the Racism Police apparently don't like the shot Vogue used for the cover because LeBron looks "aggressive" and "savage."

People paying attention to Obama's speech last week were reminded that, above all else, race is complicated. The difference between benign and racist depends on history and context and above all else, intent.

In this case the "savage" LeBron is, well, LeBron. Anyone who has been a Witness recognizes the look immediately. It's that LeBron intensity we love. As he said, he was "just showing some emotion," and it's that emotion (along with crazy skills and preternatural court sense) that makes him great. I recall seeing a pre-betrayal Carlos Boozer slam a put-back, and LeBron rise from the bench, with that exact look on his face, to chest-bump his teammate. LeBron doesn't play every game like it's the NBA final. He plays every game like it's the high school regional final against Walsh Jesuit, which is far more important.

Criticizing LeBron for looking "savage" carries the troubling implication that a black man can't look intense -- or for that matter can't be himself -- just because he's black. That's not the post-racial goal we should be striving for. What we hope is that someone can see LeBron be LeBron and understand that it's LeBron, not Every Black Man.

While the racial message isn't troubling, I'm less sanguine about the gender message. The issue is supposed to be about "great bodies," but the man's body is great because he can do great things with it. The woman's body is great because it makes a pretty ornament.

During some catchup blog reading between marathon grading sessions, I recently ran across this from comic, blogger, erstwhile Clevelander and Bill Callahan daughter Carrie Callahan,.
    I have a joke where I ask the audience to call out a female celebrity who is known for having a great body. I've told it three times, once someone said Jessica Alba, the other two times people said Angelina Jolie. The joke is designed for anyone you call out, but I have been tempted to respond to that suggestion specifically. Angelina Jolie has a good body? By what measure? Her body has to get surgery every 7 years to replace her implants. If you met Angelina Jolie in a dark alley, the temptation to knock her over and take her purse would be insurmountable, because her body doesn't give the slightest physical suggestion that it could defend itself. She's too tall to run fast, she's too thin to withstand a blow, and if she fell off a bike her hip would break. I don't know what kind of sex she and Brad have, but I expect it's exceptionally gentle.

    Look, I have known very very skinny women who were beautiful. Skinny is not ugly. But skinny and weak-looking and surgically enhanced is weird. If she's the ideal, I'm done with you people. My body is way better looking than Angelina's.
Gisele isn't as emaciated as Jolie, but I bet Carrie could take her too.