Friday, January 22, 2010

‘Whites only' basketball league announced... in Georgia

Tell me it ain't so... There's already a stereotype about the South as being racist, one I don't believe to be fair, but it's there. You can argue with me on the unfair stereotype thing, but I won't budge. I've lived all over the world, lived in the South, lived in the North, lived in California, Europe and lots of places in between. I have family in places I haven't lived... The worst, the absolute worst racial prejudice I was ever exposed to was when I was living in New York.

Anyway, the last thing we need in the South, particularly in Georgia, is any organization that excludes any group.

I'll give them points for being open about it I guess. Usually groups manage to be all black, all white, all female, all male, or all whatever in sneaky, underhanded ways.

I wonder though what would happen if they'd announced they were starting an all-black or all-Japanese or all-female league? Or what about a gay-league?

It's funny now that I think about it... I was appalled, and still am, when reading about a group that excludes anyone. But I don't think it would have made any headline at all if they'd started a league that excluded Caucasians... or was made up of immigrants only... or you get the picture.

This one is more of a thought provoker than I initially thought as I started typing. Why is it OK to have all women, all men, all black, all gay, all Hispanic, all this or that, but not OK to have all white? I know I'm gonna get blasted for even thinking such heretical thoughts, much less daring to put them in a blog. But why do we have all the divisions in life? If it's good for the goose why not the gander?

I was raised a military brat. I didn't think race, never crossed my mind that black was different than white when it came to people until I got older and started hearing the comments, reading about the issue. In fact, the very first time I ever experienced racial slurs was when I lived in New York. I moved from the Atlanta area to North Carolina for three years, then to New York for around the same number of years, maybe a few more. I was embarrassed by some of the comments I heard from New Yorkers and related friends from Ohio while living there. It opened my eyes to what prejudice meant.

I've had many friends from different ethnic backgrounds through the years. I've been brought to tears by a friend talking about what he felt he would need to share with his son as a black man. I was the only white face at his mother's funeral.

I've always pretty much judged a person based on character, although I admit to not being perfect in that regard. The older I get the easier it becomes to make initial impressions based on dress and location, sometimes incorrectly but all in the name of safety.

I don't know about this all-Caucasian basketball league. I know in my gut that it's wrong. I could never support or endorse anything that was all white. However, I'd sure like to see a world where we had equality on both ends of the spectrum.

Oh, and one other thing... just how are they going to make sure that the players have Caucasian parents? Are they going to ask for DNA documentation? What about if someone was adopted and can't provide proof that they're 100% bon-a-fideee cer-teee-fied Caucasian? How do you define Caucasian? Most of us are mongrels... what if we have a bit of American Indian in our background? What if we're pure American Indian? Whew, there are a lot more questions than answers I'd think. Someone's gonna sue sooner or later, that is assuming this thing even gets off the ground.

By the way, it's a league and it's not just Georgia I gather... they want to be in other southern states, also. I guess they're going to garner a whole lotta publicity! Maybe that's the goal, get everyone in an uproar and then back down. Only ones who know the reasoning behind this one are those in charge of what seem to me to be a fiasco in the making.

‘Whites only' basketball league announced

Is a new professional basketball league announced this week for real, or is it all just some sort of joke or publicity stunt by former pro wrestling promoter Don "Moose" Lewis?

The Augusta Chronicle reported on Tuesday that the All-American Basketball Alliance plans to kick off its inaugural season in June and hopes that Augusta will be one of 12 cities to host teams.
But here's the kicker: According to a press release the newspaper and other Augusta media outlets received from the new league, "only players that are natural-born United State citizens with both parents of Caucasian race are eligible to play in the league."

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Tiger-gate as Cultural Ritual

As a weekend golfer who is also an anthropologist, I've been struck by how well Tiger Woods' recent travails fit into one of my profession's standby concepts: the "social drama."

According to this model, developed by the great Scottish anthropologist Victor Turner, every society undergoes crises that unfold in a culturally ritualized form. Turner identified four typical stages: breach, crisis, redressive action, and reintegration.

Even though Turner's scheme was based on his study of traditional African tribes, it applies surprisingly well to the world of the Internet and the 24/7 news cycle, including its celebrity scandals.

In the most recent example, Tiger Woods' alleged affairs breached our culture's conventions. Crisis followed: The headline-grabbing SUV crash, followed by allegations of his involvement with a cocktail waitress and other women, and then by another late-night ambulance visit to his home. Both the real life of Tiger Woods the man and the bland corporate profile of Tiger Woods the brand seemed to crumble almost overnight.

Then came the third stage, an attempt at redressive action. A Woods Web site posted a statement apologizing for "transgressions" and the harm done to his family.

And now we approach the potential fourth stage in this anthropological drama: reintegration, or repair of the breech that has opened between the star golfer and his fans.

It's a sequence we've seen before with other sinning superstars, such as Alex Rodriguez. A-Rod's confession of steroid use, followed months later by his strong performance in the postseason, seemed to lead many fans to embrace him with real affection for the first time.

However, as Turner and other anthropologists have noted, social dramas can also end not with the crisis resolved, but with a permanent schism.

It's already clear that Woods will not easily regain his place as one of the planet's most ubiquitous pitchmen and a cultural hero. Nowadays, redressive action seems to work only if one is willing to squirm and suffer a bit in front of the cameras. As much as it goes against the control-freak personality of the man who named his yacht "Privacy," Woods may have to face the ritual humiliation and penitence of a Barbara Walters interview or a teary news conference to refurbish his brand.

For now, Woods occupies the space we anthropologists call liminality - the wilderness between one status and another. He is no longer the role model whose triumphs on the golf course seemed to be matched by his rectitude and familial bliss off of it. But as he remains secluded from the public eye, neither do we know just what he will become, much less whether he will save the marriage apparently endangered by his caddish behavior.

During my research for a forthcoming book about golf's role in American society, I followed Woods around at the U.S. Open several years ago. A crowd of 30,000 kicked up dust while it trailed this man as if he were Gandhi or some other prophet.

Woods radiated charisma, but I also felt something icy and almost selfish about his capacity to shut out the world in pursuit of the low score. And I was struck by the nervousness within the gallery - the fear that Woods might direct his withering displeasure at someone who coughed or moved during his swing. Woods was like Apollo - a brilliant yet frightening god.

I understood then how important Woods' intense focus was to his success, and I hope today that he will continue to thrill us with his athletic genius. But the anthropologist side of me also hopes he will find a way to let us in a bit more.

The great golfer would not be lessened by stopping now and then to slap the hand of a little boy or smile to the crowd. As his aura of otherworldliness diminishes, in other words, perhaps he can find a way to replace it with something that will better integrate him into society. The rest of us mortals know he's human now, and I'm rooting for him - not only on the golf course, but in life.

By Orin Starn

Orin Starn is a professor of cultural anthropology at Duke. His blog, "Golf Politics," is at

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