The NBA Could Use a Few Tweaks But So Could Fans

This “rest and scheduling” issue is the talk of the NBA right now. Powerful moneyed interests are feeling threatened and have responded in their usual way: like a 5 year old going limp in a grocery store checkout line. Still, if you can get through all the blubbering, hyperventilating, and slobber, they–and I’m talking national TV networks here–have an actual point. We know the economics. The big networks (esp. ESPN/ABC and TNT) pay the NBA for broadcast rights. They make their money by charging advertisers insane prices to peddle their wares to the nation. The prices are based on ratings, and the league’s broadcast model is heavily star-dependent.

Nevertheless, as ESPN’s Tom Haberstroh points out, the rest issue cannot be ‘bah! humbugged” away. A lot of the belly-aching about how lazy these millennial NBA stars are, and how their bodies really don’t need that much rest is rhetoric we can trace from the plantation to the plant floor, and safely ignore. The truth is that professional basketball is labor of the high repetitive stress variety. It may lack football’s explosive brutality, but it is hell on soft tissue, ligaments, and tendons.

So you can see the problem. When a star-driven broadcast model fails to deliver stars you best believe advertisers won’t keep paying premium prices. Revenue stability is of course in everybody’s long-term interests, but grinding up players’ bodies is not.

So, how to solve the issue? Well, I have one big thing and a few minor suggestions.

One big thing: NBA fans are just gonna have to learn to love the non-stars.

Basketball is improvisational art. As an NBA consumer, whether your taste is for Steve Kerr’s Warriors or Chuck Daley’s “Bad Boy” Pistons, aesthetics are a big part of what you are consuming. A game with Lebron James’ artistry is not the same product as one where he rests, even if the final score is identical. Yet artistic brilliance is a finite resource. To regularly produce it the artist needs time to recover. That’s just part of the deal.

But NBA fans in particular are spoiled rotten on this point, which is part of why the broadcast model has crept away from being star-driven to being star-obsessed in recent years. NBA fans are simply not habituated to times when their favorite players are not available. Baseball has its “getaway day” lineups on Sunday afternoons and its September call ups. In the NFL, the 30-carry RB is a thing of the past. Everybody has a “committee” now. Hell, in weeks 14-17 you don’t even know what you’re getting because teams are resting players.

Those fans don’t always like it, but they are generally habituated to players resting to treat or prevent injury. As a consequence they pay a fair bit of attention to non-stars and so-called role players. I’d wager that the typical NFL fan can tell you the backup tight end on his favorite team, because that guy plays regularly. The typical baseball fan knows the fourth outfielder (and probably at least one minor league prospect he’s never even seen). In sharp contrast, many, many NBA fans are so casual that they don’t even follow any particular team. They may know Russell Westbrook’s triple-doubling and James Harden’s beard, but they can’t name any other OKC or HOU starters (much less backups). I’m not saying this is most NBA fans, but way more than some insignificant portion, and far more than other sports.

THIS REST ISSUE CANNOT BE RESOLVED WITHOUT FIRST ACKNOWLEDGING THAT NBA FANS MUST CHANGE. I’m a marketing guy, and the marketing orientation is fundamentally about giving the people what they want. But, this is one of those moments where playing to the casual fan’s star-obsession is enabling a tragedy of the commons. Fans have to learn to want something else, or at least live with something else. Thing is, the league is so deep right now and the product is so good this shouldn’t be hard.

What the NBA can do.

  • Alter the schedule to accommodate regular season series play — This to me is low-hanging fruit. Teams should play 2-3 game series across non-consecutive nights in the same city to cut down on the insane every-road-game-in-a-different-city travel. You could see real benefits to player health before having to entertain cutting games. Teams already don’t play every other team. So if you lose a few inter-conference matchups each season, big whoop. You rotate inter-conference games by division like the NFL. Apart from cutting travel, it also cuts down on the complaint that “Lebron is only gonna be in city X once this season. Therefore, he must play.”
  • Play more 10-man rotations — Too many coaches are grinding star players down with 30+ minutes of high-intensity, high-stress basketball, in part because the league is so deep with athletes. It’s way past time to see more 10-man rotations. For all the talk of how playoff seeding doesn’t matter because one road win wrests home court advantage away, it’s amazing to me that more coaches don’t institute more minutes restrictions to get to the playoffs rested.
  • Expand rosters at the start and close of the regular season — Insert two call-up periods during the season for D-Leaguers and free agents, one pre-Christmas and one in March, where rosters expand to 16 players.
  • Promote teams AND stars — The NBA’s own marketing reinforces the “stars-and-scrubs” bias of its most casual fans. So, it is routine, for example, to see TNT/ESPN promos where the team names are never stated in the voiceover; only the names of stars. The NBA could be more diligent about having at least some product promos that mention teams and standings.
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2016 Presidential Election: What The Hell Just Happened?

This quote tells you everything you need to know about what went wrong.

This summer when visiting my folks in St. Louis, I said, “I don’t think Trump can beat her, but she could lose. There’s a difference.” In the aftermath of what really ought to be the final death knell in the would-be Clinton political dynasty, this quote attributed to Chuck Schumer makes it plain to see how awful the political instincts of these Democratic centrists really are.

schumer-quote

Though it is possible that someone has misquoted Schumer, the sentiment expressed here was unmistakably at the heart of the Hillary Rodham Clinton (HRC) campaign. To be clear, it almost worked. Clinton got enough votes to win the popular, but lost the Electoral College based on Trump’s clean sweep of Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin. She lost those states on a quixotic chase after so-called moderate Republicans, who would never, ever vote for her. I told my mom the Friday before the election that Trump had to win the tossup states and flip two that usually go blue to win. He did just that.

So, what happened?

Again. He really didn’t beat her. Her losing is the story.

As I see it, there’s two parts to this: (1) the votes Trump won; (2) the votes HRC didn’t. There is some overlap, but she mostly lost votes from people who opted out.

The alt-right racists and the “never-a-woman” crowd got Trump a lot of his vote totals. Based on the data I saw (and always take early exit polling with a huge grain of salt) he dominated on White voters. But for all the talk of blue-collar “angry White guy” revolt, Trump’s staunchest support came from the $50k-and-up small business owner types. One area you have to give him credit in is beating her with the White people who are the apple of her eye. To her credit, she did okay with less well off Whites.

Here’s the thing though. Trump’s level of support shouldn’t have been enough to win the White House. In fact, I actually wonder how far off the models were about his performance (if at all). The models didn’t think he would be impressive, and he wasn’t. As I understand it, he slightly underperformed McCain’s and Romney’s respective totals in 2008 and 2012. (Remember. Those two performances prompted all manner of “woe-is-me-soul-searching” among Republicans about whether they could ever win the White House again.) It’s hard to imagine ANY Republican nominee–Jeb, Rubio, Cruz, etc.–performing considerably worse than Trump just did.

Record low voter turnout is why she lost. In no way do I mean to minimize or discount sexism and racism or the weight of the faux-scandals in this election. But those factors mostly explain the votes that Trump got. They are less compelling explanations of the votes she didn’t get. The most compelling explanation for that is catastrophic strategic failure. Put it this way. In the waning days of the campaign, she was running ads featuring prominent Republican endorsers here in South Carolina. “Goldwater girl” to the last, I guess.

The Clinton team made it abundantly clear in the 2008 primaries that a 50 state door-to-door campaign to GOTV was old-fashioned. She would win, they said, with record-breaking fundraising and by sticking to the urban and suburban areas with high strategic value in the general election. They believed that right into 2016. HuffPo has a piece out today saying the HRC team relied on “small organizing,” which includes micro-targeting via text/direct, mail in lieu of traditional boots on the ground. Of course, all modern campaigns use micro-targeting. It’s an issue of emphasis.

When you put micro-targeting at the heart of your GOTV strategy you are running a low-turnout campaign. As Meredith Rolfe shows, candidates have a decent amount of say over whether an election has a “high” or “low” turnout in the aggregate. They control the presence of environmental cues that signal to people that others are (or are not) voting. It’s the lawn signs, the campaign buttons, the door-to-door canvassing, the buzz — all the stuff micro-targeted campaign messaging, by definition, does not provide.

The much disparaged Podesta emails also appear to show that the DNC (far too often in the role of surrogate, or at least inappropriately ardent supporter, of the HRC campaign) has spent considerable effort disciplining and de-funding the state and local party volunteers most responsible for mobilizing actual voters. If that is too conspiratorial for your taste I’ll put it another way. Republican voter suppression–an entirely predictable matter, given a gutted Voting Rights Act–worked in a number of states that Clinton needed, Wisconsin among them. The governor has declared open warfare on election-day registration and student voters. Surely, the GOTV efforts there were the most sophisticated given the level of Republican opposition. I mean, voter suppression in Wisconsin doesn’t even have to be framed as a race issue. Nope. As I understand it, Clinton never even campaigned in Wisconsin post-convention. That is face-to-palm, head shaking stuff. Evidently, the organizing principle of the campaign was that the corporate types in White Fish Bay and Appleton would more than offset any suppressed votes in Madison and Milwaukee.

Uh huh.

Whether through its callousness or incompetence (does it really matter which?) the Clinton campaign convinced scores of the party’s base voters that their votes didn’t matter. (Of course, the only ones the national talking heads give a rip about are blue-collar White guys.) Not shockingly, many stayed home. Her loss was not so much a matter of blue-collar White guys flipping to Trump. They picked him, not the other way around. As always for the Democrats, the loss really came down to who stayed home. Clinton needed a high turnout election by playing to the party’s base rather than to its power brokers. She got record low turnout and was running ads featuring Republican endorsers into the final week.

Today I Lost My Twitter Troll Virginity

Ahem…

See. What had happened was…

I follow @SonofBaldwin on twitter. He’s a writer who pens insightful stuff on racism, queer issues, and TV/movies/comics. He’s one of these people where even when I hold a contrary position, he challenges me to re-visit it. He wrote a piece on October 6th. Short version: it’s about a Black friend in a gentrifying Manhattan neighborhood who got a snarky note on his door about being too loud from White neighbors.

I don’t know how loud he was. But, this wasn’t about music or instruments. This was about talking. We’ve all been in scenarios where we thought people were being too loud. I lived in apartments as a kid and as an adult. I worked in residence life for five years on two different college campuses. I can assure you. The way to NOT get a noise issue resolved is to leave a snarky note. That’s really opening things up at Defcon 3. So rather than say, “Can we chat later?” Mr. Snarky Note lead with a version of “and next time I’ll call the cops.” Who thinks that making a criminal complaint for something that is annoying but almost certainly not a criminal trespass is a thing that you do? And, that it’s likely to work?

Dude’s response letter to Mr. Snarky Note was, to put it mildly, hilarious. Read it, seriously. The brother just returned his neighbor’s snark with extra hot sauce. I replied thusly—on October 6th: That was some hilarious ish right there. It was. I do not apologize nor regret putting it in print. I continue to chuckle about it, even until this very day. That’s all it ever needed to be.

So, you can imagine my surprise when, on the morning of October 12th, as I sit for breakfast at a local eatery, minding my own business, scrolling through my twitter feed while biting into some buckwheat pancakes (one of which was not done), I see the following (NOW EDITED) tweet.

racist-troll-query

 

 

The original tweet added, “You can use a sports analogy since that may be intellectually easier for you.” That bit is now gone. 

Now, see. They done already messed up my pancakes. (I ain’t mad at ya, Eggs Up Grill, but I do NOT like doughy pancakes.) But, Laura got me straight. They were making me some new ones, so cool. I’m like, “Okay. We can do this.” You can see a series of my tweeted replies in the image below (start at bottom) that went to Mr. Makone (blue underline), Son of Baldwin (red underline), and the author of the response letter (yellow highlight).

 

racist-troll-replies

The table includes his comments and my remarks about them with numbers to the corresponding tweets.

Numbered Tweet (red box) His reply and my commentary

1

The first part of my two-part reply addresses why I found the reply letter funny. It was a classic case of someone taking unwarranted liberties, then getting what was coming to them. It’d be different had Snarky Note come to the guy personally and been rebuffed. Nope. He chose to issue the cop threat. Then he got one-upped, like nobody else can call the doggone police to issue a nuisance complaint. Evidently, the butthurt inspired someone to step forward in defense of Snarky Note’s honor, you know, lest the heavens fall. Enter Tony Makone.

2

In response to my query about whether he had any Qs, he wrote:

racist-troll-query2

Even though the guy took a shot at my intellect, my response in tweets 1 & 2 is, I think, measured.

3

I continued on #3 because dude is determined to issue some intellectual challenge, all while assuming as fact the very thing he came to me to discuss—whether police presence is warranted. This is of course begging the question or circular reasoning. He not only offers no proof of his faulty premise, he directly undermines it by asserting that the law in NYC needs greater clarity. Then he presumes to tell me what I should think? So, I checked him by pointing out his fragility (for coming at me with the sports quip that he edited out).

4

He mad now. So I must be drunk.

racist-troll-query3

I had to set him straight in #4. Man, if you don’t get the hell outta my mentions and let me eat these pancakes…

5

That was exhausting. I know some of our people out here, like Son of Baldwin, Leslie Mac and Feminista Jones, Bomani Jones and Mina Kimes at ESPN, Talib Kweli, and others, spar with these colorblind racist Twitter trolls everyday. I got love for ‘em because I’m quite confident that like Sade said, “It’s never as good as the first time.”

 

 

Quick Thoughts on Kaepernick and Ellison’s Column at TheRoot.com

Charles Ellison’s Aug. 31st column at the Root.com came across my twitter feed today. He looks to make the “pro-Black” case for standing during the national anthem. To say the least I am disappointed in the column, because rather than do much to convince us that standing is right Ellison mostly tries to convince us that Kaepernick is wrong.

Not that I have any readers, since I so rarely write on this blog, but if I did they would surely know that Black folk will be all over the map on Colin Kaepernick’s ongoing refusal to stand for the anthem beginning during the 2016 NFL pre-season. (How long he remains on an NFL roster, frankly, is an open question.)

Here’s my take. Refusing to participate in a ritual is a *personal* form of dissent. By definition one size does not fit all. At the extreme, few of us, for example, would hunger strike. Had Ellison left things at “here’s why standing is what’s right for me,” I’d have no problem.

But nope. Ellison went for the speculative and disingenuous hit piece on Kaepernick. There was a point to be made, but ultimately the column devolved to respectability politics scolding some other presumably more “divisive” politics. Ellison effectively “All Lives Matter”s Colin Kaepernick. I wouldn’t question the man’s #wokeness because he stands for the anthem. I question it because pulls from the standard bag of cheap shots when writing about Black athletes.

  1. He plays pocket watcher. Despite clearly not know how much money Kaepernick has contributed to whom, Ellison gives us the salary details and the insinuation that he hasn’t or won’t write a check to “the cause.” If that weren’t sufficiently gratuitous, he followed it up with the already tired trope about Black athletes as mere Twitter activists. Ellison’s blurb says that he’s a “veteran political strategist.” I won’t inquire about the size of the checks he’s writing, or exactly to which causes, but I do wonder who he’s worked with and what they’ve done for the people.
  2. He lies by omission. This is part of a larger “Kaepernick doesn’t have an end game” critique. Kaepernick has stated clearly that he is considering additional actions and will announce them. Ellison could have easily said he doesn’t believe that, but was either not competent enough or honest enough to mention it. That was weak, but even that obscures a fundamental problem with this “no end game” line of criticism. Personal protest is supposed to be limited in scope. Hunger strikers aren’t trying to convince masses of people to hunger strike. They use an act of personal dissent to–at best–inspire others to engage in their own. That’s it. That’s all it has to be.
  3. He tries to own the legacy of Black protest. Ellison does exactly what we’ve seen conservative pundits do a million times when discussing race issues. Rhetorically, they are quick to invoke the iconography of MLK and try to make it mean whatever they want. Let them tell it, if King were alive today he would definitely be an immigrant-hating, gun-toting NRA member, and a reliably Republican voter. I’m not comparing Ellison’s politics to their’s, just his rhetorical device. Kaepernick is obviously now part of a long legacy of protest among Black athletes, yet Ellison blithely hand-waves away any such notion. Kaepernick is of course doing EXACTLY what Jackie Robinson claimed in his own autobiography to have done himself–refuse to salute the flag or participate in the anthem ritual. (Perhaps Ellison should actually read TheRoot.com.) John Carlos–of the “iconic” fist pump–has supported Kap’s protest without reservation and placed it in the very legacy Ellison would deny him.

There is mild tragedy in the missed opportunity. The pro-Black case for standing for the anthem is NOT because Kaepernick is wrong. He’s no more wrong than Frederick Douglas about the Fourth of July. But, neither are those who stand for flag or celebrate Independence Day. I stand for the anthem at sporting events, not out of any exaggerated sense of patriotism or even belonging. Like 99% of those at sporting events, it is purely perfunctory. Yet I am in no way troubled by this because there are lots of ways to express dissent. Within fairly broad ethical boundaries, the rightness or wrongness of any particular form is not something we can know straightaway. Sitting through the anthem is a perfectly legit form of dissent, but it’s only one. So is singing it as a long baroque love song, even though its not, like Whitney Houston and Marvin Gaye have done. As Sterling Stuckey reminds us, the rich and deep legacy of Black anti-racist resistance encompasses too many forms to count. It is patently silly to fall into the trap of declaring any one form THE right or wrong one.

 

 

Quick Thoughts on Wilbon’s Mission Impossible: Bruh

Thankfully, any /number /of folks /have stepped forward to refute Michael Wilbon’s unfortunate column at the new TheUndefeated.com, “Mission Impossible: African Americans & Analytics.” (No. I’m not linking to it.) I’m not sure I have the time or energy to dig into everything that’s wrong with that column. So I’ll try to contain it to one sentence and a caveat. The column is reliant on worn-out, essentializng tropes about Black folk (at the barbershop, no less), about analytics, and oddly about the business of sports itself. (Is there anyone out there who honestly believes that these billion dollar franchises are going to refuse to use math and instead rely on some romanticized “eye test?” Or that they should? I mean…) The caveat here is that Wilbon’s take is in most crucial respects still the industry standard among columnists and broadcasters. Wilbon just happened to be focusing his lens on Black folk, so, let’s not put him out on curmudgeon island all by himself.

Let’s also note that people transform on this issue. I am a lifelong Mets fan. If you go back 4-5 seasons ago to any Mets broadcast on the SNY network with the award-winning (and mostly excellent) crew of Gary Thorn, Ron Darling, and Keith Hernandez, they basically just took turns screaming NNNNEEEERRRRDDDDSSS!!! into their mics. But they have actually softened over the years to where they include a number of rate/efficiency concepts directly into their broadcast. This should surprise no one. So much of the “anti-analytics” position is not a substantive critique so much as a dissociative rhetorical positioning strategy. It’s like a cowbell for the threatened and vulnerable. “We don’t wanna be like those guys, blogging from their mother’s basement.”

Having said all that, although I am disappointed with Wilbon’s take, I don’t feel a need to dog him out. The man is a pioneer who has long operated in the tradition of the late Ralph Wiley.  And hey, when you make your living with words, if you do it long enough, you too will swing and miss. I’m just miffed that his, “Good God, Lemon!” moment came on this topic at this time. It’s an important moment for analytics. Much of the low-hanging fruit has already been picked. Many fans, even if not a full-on majority, now intuitively get that efficiency trumps volume, that pitchers don’t really “win” games, and that you must distinguish between context and performance. They may never talk about specific stats, but big whoop. But now, many of the latest techniques being imported from multivariate statistics are good at highlighting very subtle (but crucial) distinctions. It’s not easy to craft insights about subtleties though. This is an issue that the billion dollar businesses that make widest use of these techniques struggle with mightily. In other words, the new frontier for analytics is less about new techniques. It is about finding new stories and new storytellers; people skilled at taking the distilled observations these statistics provide and crafting stories out of them. Insights always reside in stories. So, this is a moment where analytics and storytelling approaches to crafting insight need each other.

In the words of Ye, “We sayin’ the same thing like a synonym.”

Native American Mascots: It Ain’t About Who is Offended

Jacqueline Keeler, a Navajo/Yankton Dakota Sioux writer, just published a piece in The Nation on the Washington, D.C. NFL club’s mascot. You know the one. The piece is worth a read. It is both passionate and thoughtful, which for me hits a real sweet spot.

Native American mascots must go. I’m all in, but this May 19th article by John Cox, Scott Clement, and Theresa Vargas, about a Washington Post (WaPo) opinion poll of 504 Native Americans should engender some thoughtful reflection by those of us who oppose Native American mascots. The poll, problematic in its own right, lays bare core weaknesses in how mascot opponents have framed the issue. Though I agree with Keeler in broad brush strokes, I think her analysis also displays some of those weaknesses. The most damaging is that, like many mascot opponents, she falls into the “personal offense” trap. Although taking offense is not trivial, it obscures a fundamental problem with Native American mascots: White supremacy. Native American mascots enact White supremacist ideology, which is unjust on its face, regardless of who takes offense to it.

Keeler’s critique of the poll doesn’t amount to much and manages to obscure a far more important point.

To be clear right up front, I am not Native American. So I’m definitely not here to “Redsplain” (if that’s a thing) Native American mascots to somebody who is. I am here to take Keeler’s points seriously and offer counters where I disagree. (At one time, we used the term “discourse” to describe this practice of responding to public statements.)

An important point on which I wholeheartedly agree with Keeler is that Native mascots do psychological harm to Native American people. (Peer-reviewed research establishes the effects.) In fact, I wish Keeler had simply chosen this point as the basic rejoinder to the WaPo poll. On this basis alone, school boards, state athletic associations, the NCAA, NAIA, and NJCAA, and other amateur and professional sports leagues ought to choose to retire them. Removing these mascots harms no one. Perpetuating them does. Within the limits of social science, this is a pretty inescapable conclusion. This is why the American Psychological Association called for their retirement in 2005.

Unfortunately, Keeler leads with a criticism of the poll itself that obscures this more fundamental point. I have no idea about her background in survey/polling methods, since she does not reveal it in the column, but I have taught undergraduate and graduate research courses in marketing at the University of South Carolina for 13 years. I’d state with some confidence that most of her objections to WaPo’s sampling methods are quite minor. They are not necessarily wrong, but they do not explain away the poll’s results. Additionally, I can’t see, based on her column and my own reading of the poll, anything to justify the claim that WaPo allowed a narrative to drive a specific set of results.

Let me reiterate, the poll is problematic. And, I do not think we should interpret it’s results at face value. Sampling wasn’t the problem though.

So, let’s talk about problems with the poll and move on to what’s important.

From a methods standpoint, it’s a pretty orthodox poll; not problem-free, mind you, because no poll is. People far too often wish to invalidate poll results they don’t like by pointing out minor, insubstantial flaws. Every flaw is not fatal. For example, Keeler raises a legitimately interesting criticism of the sample’s high age relative to Native Americans nationally. The sample appears to skew older and more male. But even considering that, WaPo wouldn’t have to add many more young people to a 500 person sample (a reasonable size, so let’s not go there) to lower the median age. Adding a few more young people  would indeed lower the age, but seems very unlikely to substantially change the results.

With that out of the way, let’s get to what’s really wrong with the poll. The reported results are very much open to charges of “social desirability bias.” On matters that may be controversial, people often respond to survey/poll items in ways that are consistent with how they want others to perceive them. Just like in real life, we may lie or exaggerate so we don’t look bad. On polls, we may tell a pollster what we think s/he wants to hear. Or, we may respond in ways we think we are “supposed” to when that’s not how we really feel. Social desirability just happens. It’s not necessarily something the researcher creates with bad form. When researchers ask questions that tap into people’s experience of vulnerability social desirability is an obvious potential problem. People will always be highly motivated to guard against feeling vulnerable. As you might imagine, social desirability bias looms large in survey-based research on sensitive topics, like experience with racism (see linked abstract). Again, researchers don’t create the bias. Nor can they make its effects disappear entirely. They can, however, take steps to minimize its effects.

With that in mind, read the WaPo poll item that’s driving all the talk on this topic.

WaPo mascot poll

Now I’m not one to gossip, but I wouldn’t let one of my undergraduates send out this item (or any of the others) on such a sensitive topic worded this way. This poll doesn’t just fail to minimize social desirability bias, it practically begs for socially desirable responses. The Washington Post or their research agency basically called up 500 Native Americans and asked them, “Well, are you some kinda punk sissy or not? If you are, how badly have you personally been wounded by this cartoon figure?” I’m only being a wee bit tongue-in-cheek. That is NOT an unreasonable interpretation of the item, particularly from an older, male-heavy sample.

Academics probably worry about social desirability bias more than pollsters, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a problem for pollsters. Ultimately, I feel comfortable saying the WaPo poll results are probably driven by desirability because they failed to do even the simplest things that would suggest any awareness of a (potential) problem. Frankly, to see near unanimity on ANY topic, much less a controversial one, really ought to have arched a lot of eyebrows at WaPo. Add to that, numerous statements from elected tribal councils and some other polling data. That kind of context suggests that the WaPo poll results don’t really deserve benefit of the doubt, not when the WaPo poll has zero–no–indirect items. That’s standard practice when social desirability may be a problem. Nope. Every question is about “you, personally.” Even WaPo admits to being surprised by the consistency of their results in Keeler’s column. Well, WaPo, I have an explanation for why your numbers look the way they do but doesn’t take them at face value. You can’t rule it out because you didn’t even try.

Even socially desirable responses can be meaningful. What do these mean? 

WaPo kinda sidesteps social desirability bias by adopting the language of anti-mascot activists to frame their questions. They are not wrong in this. It just doesn’t solve the problem. Nevertheless, this is where the anti-mascot crowd (mostly us liberals) need to own our contribution to this, and use it as an opportunity to grow and get better.

Liberals have helped frame the mascot issue around “personal offense,” largely, I think, as a way of avoiding any discussion of White supremacy. It is difficult to imagine a more disempowering way to frame the mascot issue than personal offense. It must be frustrating for someone doing their best to escape or manage the harm Native American mascots cause, however mild or severe, only to find that the language of those opposed to the practice almost completely mischaracterizes their dilemma. I can see why 90% of Native Americans polled flat out rejected “personal offense” language. And really, can you blame them? Time to move that to the dust bin.

Native American feelings are important, but not central. Injustice is.

The problem you (or anyone) should have with Native American mascots is the same problem you should have with me smacking you (or anyone) upside the head whenever I feel like it. It’s not complicated. My actions are ipso facto unjust. There is no moral or ethical principle that entitles me to take liberties with your person, or your extended self (which includes your stuff and your likeness). “Me and my friends don’t mean any harm. We’re just having a good time” does not entitle me to take such liberties. Any harm I cause you would be over and above that fundamental injustice, and it is the duty of clear-thinking people committed to justice to call on me to stop.

Unfortunately, the (American) cultural tendency to psychologize every blessed thing has caused many people to conflate matters of social justice with personal feelings. A consequence has been to obscure the fact that the White supremacist ideology that gave life to Native American mascots is fundamentally unjust. And as such, it is not subject to some “no harm, no foul” proviso. (If 90% are unwilling to admit to being personally offended then the mascots must be okay. Now, back to our war chants and chopping.)

As manifestations of White supremacy go, some undoubtedly have less capacity for harm than others, but they are all unjust. Some manifestations are ground into physical and social infrastructure. The injustices that stem from them are difficult to escape or undo. They are with us. Other manifestations are quite fleeting and ethereal. They are the unexpected smack upside the head. But sometimes these fleeting instances of White supremacy have opt-outs. People of goodwill can simply choose to opt out; to not smack someone else upside the head just because they wish to do so. If nothing else, the Native American mascot issue is an interesting look into who opts out and who doesn’t when given the chance.

 

 

 

PATHS TO RESPECTABILITY: CONSUMER CULTURE AND THE BLACK MIDDLE CLASS (1 of several)

Welcome.

If you just happened upon this post because of some random google search thanks for stopping by. Welcome also if you came here at my invitation, as family, friend, or colleague. I am re-booting my very lightly-used blog as a repository for a project that I’ve been working on the past several years. Generally, this will be a place to for me to summarize and discuss that work and others that I find interesting.

I conduct consumer research generally, and I have a particular interest in understanding anti-racist resistance that occurs in the domain of consumption in some way or another. In other words, given that many people must navigate what sociologist Philomena Essed calls “everyday racism,” I try to understand how they do it. And, I try to answer the question what role does consumption play?

Paul Mullins excellent blog, Archeology and Material Culture, is an exemplar of what I’d like this blog to be–you know, if I had his talent and dedication. I am working on the dedication.

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To any visitors who have been gracious enough to grant an interview, or gracious enough to otherwise allow me to collect data about you and your experiences, a special welcome and a disclaimer. This is my personal blog, but I still follow standard research protocols. Nowhere will I ever use identifying information about you. I also use pseudonyms (and change other innocuous details) to help ensure your anonymity. You need not ever self-identify as a study participant.

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I have recently completed a manuscript that I am about to submit to the Journal of Consumer Research pending some i-dotting, t-crossing, and putting together a viable visual. I am going to summarize the findings of that research in a couple paragraphs in this post for interested readers. Then, in a series of subsequent posts I will go a little deeper into the study.

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Here’s a brief summary of the study and findings. Racial inequality in the United States persists despite areas of meaningful and sustained progress. Longstanding scholarship in the social sciences on the topic has traditionally focused on identifying its scale, scope, and effects, but scholars are now paying increased attention to anti-racist resistance. To date, they have focused primarily on challenges to systemic racism that seek to make life more equal. These challenges occur primarily in the formal political domain (e.g., elections, policy advocacy, protests, and insurrections). By contrast, far less scholarship explores the act of managing everyday racism, which seeks to make life more tolerable but not necessarily more equal. Managing everyday racism is enacted by individuals within the scope of routine social interactions, including consumption.

This study adds much needed theorizing to research on managing everyday racism by examining consumption’s role. The existing research on anti-racist resistance over-emphasizes the role of formal politics and undertheorizes resistance that is embedded in routine social interactions like consumption. This study responds to that problem by presenting a nuanced mapping of a historically prevalent consumption-focused ideology, strategy of action, and specific behaviors used to manage everyday racism.

To deliver on this theoretical goal I investigate Black anti-racist resistance in the USA, specifically Black people’s use of racial uplift ideology and its associated strategy of action, the politics of respectability. Racial uplift and respectability trace their historical origins to the concurrent emergence of a Black petit bourgeoisie and consumer culture during post-Civil War Reconstruction. Racial uplift and respectability emphasized the use of high-status consumption as a critical part of an anti-racist counternarrative to White supremacist discourse in the late 19th century. My analysis of archival data, fieldwork, and ethnographic interviews with a sample of middle-class Blacks theorizes consumption’s role in their efforts to manage everyday racism in the post-Civil Rights Era (since 1970).

In sum, I find that racial uplift ideology mobilizes micropolitical action in routine social interactions, funneling it into what Evelyn Higgenbotham (1993) first called “the politics of respectability.” I show that people think about respectability as either of two related but distinct versions, which I label normative and agnostic. Each version uses high-status consumption to manage everyday racism, but does so differently. Normative respectability emphasizes avoiding stigmatized persons, objects and behavior. Agnostic respectability, which emerged in the post-Civil Rights Era, uses consumption to de-stigmatize persons, objects and behaviors associated with blackness. Actors’ perceptions of how successfully each version of respectability manages everyday racism are contingent on how they implement the strategy in their specific locales. Because places vary systematically by historical and structural features, the perceived success or failure is not just about a person’s skill in implementing. It also depends of the specific features of place.

NEXT: The Persistence of Racial Inequality & Anti-Racist Resistance