Put on your thinking caps and open your minds as I try to explain to you how the corruptive forces of America’s illicit drug war and mass incarceration can be seen in ESPN’s morning debate festival First Take.
The show has been in the news the past week because its part-time clown, Rob Parker, gleefully swallowed Skip Bayless’ bait and discussed Robert Griffin III’s “blackness” in the most racist way possible. Among other things, Parker insinuated RG3 was a “cornball” brother not “down for the cause” because he’s engaged to a white woman and there are rumors Griffin is a Republican. To the delight and entertainment of his puppeteer (Bayless), Parker did this on national TV.
ESPN was originally so pleased with the segment that it re-ran it during its daily 30-minute best-of show. The Worldwide Leader did not recognize the inappropriateness and unfairness of Parker’s commentary until the blogosphere and social media exploded with an angry backlash. Within 24 hours, Parker was suspended indefinitely. Six days later, Parker apologized for his stupidity and racism. And on the seventh day, ESPN announced Parker’s indefinite suspension would last 30 days and First Take would receive additional editorial oversight.
What took so long? And why the wrist slaps for something this grossly unfair?
Previously, I’ve explained that First Take is a black barbershop conversation. “Black enough” conversations are a frequent topic in black barbershops. President Obama’s “blackness” is dissected on a daily basis, as is President Clinton’s (I’m not joking). Unless you’re covered in tatts, have more than three baby mamas or are currently working regular shifts selling bean pies and Final Calls for the Fruit of Islam, your blackness can and likely will be questioned at some point inside a black barbershop.
For decades — even centuries — intelligent human life forms were able to distinguish the difference between conversations appropriate for the barbershop and not appropriate for mass broadcast distribution. There’s a lot of sex talk inside the barbershops I frequent. Brothers lose it when Josina Anderson appears on ESPN. Should this be a segment on First Take?
Our public conversations are being dumbed down. Why?
Because there’s a growing mass of American humanity demanding a dumbed-down conversation they can access. In the week since Parker unleashed his stupidity, I’ve heard from countless black men via Twitter and email who believe Parker did nothing wrong and was only bringing up an issue that the black community is discussing. Gregory Lee, the president of National Association of Black Journalists, told the blog TheBigLead.com that he understood what Parker was trying to say but Parker’s “execution was poor.”
Yeah. There’s a right way to publicly question the blackness of a 22-year-old kid quarterback? OK. This kid excelled academically and athletically in college. He carries himself in a spectacularly classy manner. But these aren’t “black enough” qualities? OK. Griffin has the characteristics that would’ve made him beloved by black folks in the 1960s and 1970s, but now he’s a target of Black McCarthyism.
The mass incarceration created by our immoral war on drugs. Mass incarceration corrupts the values of a free society. We wrongly think our world-leading incarceration rate makes our society more civil and safe. It is rotting our core, polluting our values, unleashing corruptive forces that powered the Wall Street mortgage crisis, the urban warfare we read about every day and all the other forms of greed-induced fraudulence plaguing America.
It’s not just the prisoner who is corrupted by the degradation of incarceration. It’s the jailer, too. It’s the community that houses the prison. It’s the loved ones of the prisoner and the prison employees. It’s society as a whole. Our love of guns and paranoid preparation for a race war are fueled by the paranoia and race tension found within prison walls. The unfairness of the drug war and mass incarceration breed a bitterness and cynicism throughout society that undermines our ability to see the characteristics that bind us, to see the good and necessity of working together.
Despite the myths spawned by Grover Norquist and other Ronald Reagan groupies, the Soviet Union collapsed from the internal wounds of mass incarceration not because of Reagan’s military might and foreign policy. The Soviet Union couldn’t withstand the pervasive corruption. We can’t either.
Let me take this back to First Take, the show that features barbershop conversation. A common trade learned in prison is barber. I’d estimate that a good 10 to 15 percent of black barbers have been incarcerated. Who sits around at a barbershop talking all day? Who frequents barbershops selling colognes and hot clothes? Ex-cons. The unemployed.
Who is at home with the free time to watch First Take at 10 a.m. every weekday? Nightshift workers and the unemployed. The unemployment rate for black men is around 13 to 14 percent. I’d think that number is significantly higher for black male ex-cons.
First Take is catering to a growing demographic. Rob Parker at one time owned a barbershop in Detroit — “Sporty Cutz,” I believe, was the name. He knows the demographic well. He knows what they talk about and what they want to see talked about on TV.
He and ESPN are not trying to elevate the conversation and uplift the victims of America’s mass incarceration crime. Parker and ESPN simply want to make a buck, no different from the corporations building prisons all across America.