Press-Republican

April 12, 2013

In My Opinion: Shaping the American identity

By J.W. WILEY
Press-Republican

---- — What an interesting time to be an American, especially considering the construction of the American identity.

For example, the controversy over the word “nigger” in the movie “Django Unchained” is ridiculous. How could it be overused in a film that depicted an era where whites in power could say and do whatever they wanted to their property? Even whites without power could improve their status by saying what they deemed necessary to avoid being at the bottom of the barrel.

In defense of black identity, Spike Lee must realize that if he is truly an admirer of Martin Luther King Jr. then Dr. King’s adage “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” must be considered relative to his challenges of Quentin Tarantino’s usage of the word in Django.

Spike claims that Tarantino, as a non-black, has no right to use language that often disparages black people, even if it is historically accurate. However, Lee, as a male, must realize that he can’t logically avoid applying the same rationale to his own projects. To avoid hypocrisy, he couldn’t excessively use the word “bitch” in any of his films, right?

From my perspective, the only controversy justified around “Django” was the timing of its release in light of the Newtown tragedy.

Campbell Brown’s April 3 Wall Street Journal article challenging President Obama about the pass he has given Hollywood film violence while chastising the National Rifle Association speaks truth to power.

The necessary conversation can’t just be about the NRA’s role in contesting gun control. If America is to create a culture where our children are safe, everyone must be present.

Obama’s identity as the first social-justice president is in jeopardy. He must challenge Hollywood’s power brokers or leave them looking like Wayne LaPierre and other soulless politicians selfishly trying to spin what just can’t be spun to hold onto their constituencies or jobs. It just can’t be about the box office on this one.

Where is the discussion on recently terminated Rutger’s basketball coach Mike Rice’s privilege? Beyond him posturing a false identity during negotiations with parents, there is no doubt many of the men on his team have family members and/or friends who are gay.

Six degrees of separation is always in full effect. However, his use of the terms “fairy” and “faggot” were an affront to gay people and their allies as well.

What is also worth mentioning is that Rutgers, a NCAA Division 1 program, is not a basketball powerhouse. Many of the athletes playing for this unsophisticated coach did so with insecurities that may have had them enduring his abuse for lack of better options. Being dismissed from the squad could mean an end to their basketball dreams and college careers, at least on scholarship.

What Rice did do was bring to light a behavior that many people may have thought ended with Woody Hayes and Bobby Knight. The question, “Would he do what Woody did?” is rhetorical because we know that any given night people in power sometimes, unfortunately, act like Bobby Knight.

I wasn’t just steamed but fried by Rice’s actions.

Rice’s homophobic rhetoric brings to mind the nature vs. nurture debate relative to same-sex identity. Robert Downey Jr.’s character in the film “Tropic Thunder” posed something profoundly provocative for us to consider when responding to a gay rapper’s denial of his homosexuality. Downey’s character replied, “Everyone’s gay once in awhile.”

What if both nature and nurture are wrong? We all could be born bi-sexual and be moved to our sexual predilection by the unceasing perpetuation of heterosexuality over homosexuality modeled everywhere in our society. If so, those who gravitate toward bisexuality have ceased fighting their nature and won the battle over their nurture while everyone else living heterosexually or homosexually are waging a never-ending war against ourselves.

This should have you curious about how these actions and other actions and decisions taking place in our so-called land of the free are a result of our identity rules — and just how much our identity rules.

J.W. Wiley, PhD, is director of the Center for Diversity, Pluralism and Inclusion at SUNY Plattsburgh.