Charge it to the Game: Plantation Culture and White Privilege Converge in the NBA to Thwart Black Self-Determination

Neo-plantation sensibilities grounded in the reactionary notions and functions of white supremacy have been on full display this past week in the NBA playoffs. Whether guised as an arrogant sports fan or a franchise team owner that will disparage a black mother, the pervasive agenda of white privilege packaged in the unassuming builds of white men has dwarfed the gigantic black bodies that they have bought and paid for. Respectively, both Kenyon Martin and Glen “Big Baby” Davis, proved their inability to assert their manhood when affronted by white machismo steeped in 5 centuries of imperialist terror perpetuated on the minds and bodies of black folk. While Martin and Davis are listed (translated: paid) as power forwards, their ineptitude at advancing an agency of self-determination proves them to be the tragic antithesis: weak and backwards. Unfortunately, this prescribed condition of dependence and cowardice for black men will persist as long as the sports-industrial complex is rooted in plantation and slave culture.

In his seminal work, Forty Million Dollar Slaves, William Rhoden brilliantly demonstrates how the sports-industrial complex is the modern-day plantation founded on the labor ethics and power dynamics of chattel slavery. When explaining the irony of the title and the impetus for the text, Rhoden poignantly advances,

 

This title cuts to the chase in describing the white wealth-black labor condition that has merely changed forms from generation to generation… The power relationship that had been established on the plantation has not changed, even if the circumstances around it have… Do the players see themselves on a plantation? I think they do in that all of the owners are white. That creates the dynamic: The owners are white, the coaches work for the white owners, and the industry is run by white commissioners. Anyone who exercises power over them is white…  The elevated compensation of some players obscures the reality of exploitation and contemporary colonization. Black players have become a significant presence in major team sports, but the sports establishment has tenaciously resisted that presence percolating in equal numbers throughout the industry in positions of authority and control.

 

The key thing to note here is the psychology of the players themselves. Despite the millions of dollars that their lucrative contracts and endorsements generate, the players still see themselves as impotent field hands on a plantation lacking true autonomy and agency. The league’s “big brother” wherewithal and ability to obliterate the distinguishing lines between the public and private spheres of their lives add to the players’ sense of powerlessness. Every word and move can be (and ultimately is) policed to ensure that the players (translated: purchased labor) are not guilty of some arbitrary infraction of self-determination. The league (NBA, NFL, MLB, etc.) moves with absolute impunity to crush any notions that affirm individual autonomy that supersede the league itself. The league levies penalties, technical fouls, ridiculous fines, and suspensions until we watch gargantuan black men shrink inside themselves. In an attempt to avoid what the players see as analogous to massa’s whip, black men become mousey, bow bashful heads, flash toothy grins, divert timid glances, shuffle in and out of press conferences on invisible feet, address microphones with moderated tones, and shuck and jive for debasing commercials. The league propagates high-flying, slam-dunking, crossover dribbling, suit and necktie-wearing, United Way fund-raising, sanitized Fiddlers while the Kunta Kintes of the league are marginalized and castigated for their “perceived” pursuits of self-determination (e.g. Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, Latrell Sprewell, Ron Artest, Stephon Marbury, Rasheed Wallace).

 

While Kunta Kinte is often better received than Fiddler (at least among Hip Hop practitioners and black folk who generally consider themselves to be progressive), one must not forget that both were slaves and were subjected to a vicious dehumanization and emasculation project. Although Kunta resisted and mustered some self-determined will to reimagine/reposition/recast himself within this plantation economy, he was inevitably forced to be a dismembered slave named Toby. Massa’s (translated: David Stern’s) tyranny, through unchecked punitive force, ensured that Kunta (despite his futile protests) would share the same bastardizing and docile station as Fiddler.

 

Consider Allen Iverson in this context. Understanding that the NBA is just a microcosm of a white supremacist, American plantation economy, it should come as no surprise that while still a teenager, 1.) Iverson was maligned as “socially deviant” and imprisoned for defending himself from being called a nigger.

 

2.) In 2000, under pressure from Massa Stern, Iverson was forced to abandon his rap album that had nothing to do with the NBA… and this was the problem. The league has the right to market Iverson as an “urban” phenomenon, but the moment Iverson asserts himself within a resistant cultural context of Hip Hop (which the league deems dangerous and criminal despite their willingness to exploit the culture via their incessant Hip Hop marketing campaigns), he must be shut down.

 

3.) Think back to 2005 when Massa Stern mandated the new NBA dress code which banned Hip Hop fashion sensibilities and negated young black men of the agency to culturally express themselves through dress. Iverson openly criticized the dress code, saying that, “associating hip-hop styles of dress with violent crime, drugs, or a bad image is racist.” But when the dress code kicked in, Iverson traded his throwbacks, baggy jeans, tims, fitted hats and conspicuous jewelry for the more conservative and “respectable” (translated: less threatening/less black/more white) business casual attire. I guess even Kunta can be dolled up as he smiles in front of the camera exclaiming the NBA tagline, “I love this game!” Somebody please slip a Bruno Magli over that deformed foot before the camera pans down.   

In closing, before I bounce to catch Game 6 of the Boston-Orlando series, allow me to turn my attention back to Glen Davis. Glen “Big Baby” Davis (this nickname seems more appropriate than ever now) was compelled to apologize to a 12 year old boy whom he accidentally bumped while cavorting down the court after hitting the game-winning shot in Game 4. In an email the boy’s father, Ernest Provetti, sent to the NBA league office, he called Big Baby a “raging animal.” He went on to say that the NBA makes it clear to not cross the sideline and that if he {a fan} crosses the sideline, then the NBA will take his tickets. Provetti feels that this is a double standard. Imagine that!

 

Mr. Provetti, beneficiary of white priviledge, is now ready to cash in on his cultural inheritance. He has purchased the right to be entertained by Big Baby’s body and thus will dictate how close that black body can encroach upon his family’s personal space… a space that happens to be located at Big Baby’s place of industry (the Hardwood Plantation) nonetheless. Now this is the epitome of racist arrogance that Big Baby obliges with a groveling apology. Not only does Big Baby apologize for accidentally bumping into the boy, he articulates how sorry he is for his colossal size and girth. How pathetic is this?!! Only on the plantation will a black buck apologize because his impressive stature offends his oppressor. This is another tragic story of a baller with no balls… and yall thought Michael Jordan was the only rich eunuch! 

 

So where do we go from here? Nowhere if we’re not prepared to dismantle the status quo political economy of imperialism. As long as our communities are being colonized to feed the insatiable marketplace demands of black bodies for their demeaning auction blocks (e.g. prisons, the armed services, prep sporting arenas, collegiate sports arenas, professional drafts/free agency spaces, professional sporting arenas, strip clubs, Hollywood, etc.), then we can expect this debasing, emasculating and spirit-crushing reality to continue to be the epicenter of the American plantation economy.

14 Comments to ‘Charge it to the Game: Plantation Culture and White Privilege Converge in the NBA to Thwart Black Self-Determination’:

  1. Dmc Beloved on 15 May 2009 at 11:36 am: 1

    I had no idea that Glen Davis had to apologize for anything. Reading something like this makes want to devise a plan to burn all forms of currency used on this planet up in smoke! Would there really be a state chaos if human beings can start a civilization without the notions of economy and a governing form? If Glen Davis bumped that kid at a local rec-center, that same white kid would have apologized to Glen Davis for being in the way! It’s sad, as long as we as citizens anywhere have to get paid to live, we will forever perpetuate the cycles of comformity.

  2. Cameron Denson on 15 May 2009 at 3:46 pm: 2

    Peace Brother, great discourse although I would have to say that though I agree with the majority of what you have written, I would like to respectfully disagree with others. We have had and do currently have Black owners whether they are in the majority or minority (i.e. Bob Johnson, Usher Raymond, Jay-Z, Nellie and Michael Jordan). Although I agree with the analogy of comparing the NBA to the neo-plantation, I have a hard time sypathizing with multi-million dollar athletes who since they were discovered to be a talent have received preferential treatment throughout their life. These modern day gladiators are paid workers but they leave little room for sympathy because of their privileged attitudes. Yes the Iverson case was a trajedy, yet I wonder what happened to the other black men who were involved in the brawl who weren’t immensely talented. Iverson got a get out of jail card from John Thompson because of his talent. I totally understand that an astronomical salary cannot compensate for the pertetual subjugation that these athletes have to endure but it does help. We all experience conformity in some way or another, whether it’s working at a call center that has a dress code or at McDonalds where you have to where a uniform with grease stains on it (pardon the irreverence). I was in the army once and almost got kicked out because of my refusal to cut down my hair even though it was within regulations. I refused to do so and backed up my cause with literature, unfortunately, not many people will even care of my taking a stand because who wants to write about a black soldier who gets paid below the poverty level and can’t dunk a basketball.

  3. Z on 15 May 2009 at 5:07 pm: 3

    “the players still see themselves as impotent field hands on a plantation lacking true autonomy and agency”.

    “In an attempt to avoid what the players see as analogous to massa’s whip, black men become mousey, bow bashful heads, flash toothy grins, divert timid glances, shuffle in and out of press conferences on invisible feet, address microphones with moderated tones, and shuck and jive for debasing commercials.”

    Do you have any sources for the claims you make? I didn’t think so.

  4. Elijah Moore on 15 May 2009 at 5:18 pm: 4

    Great Post sir! Although you felled to offer your opinion on Kenyon Martin, or why he is a “Weak Backwards” instead of a powerforward. Kenyon offered (better yet promised!) to see Mr. Cuban offline to discuss his problems concerning the disparaging remarks said about him to his mother. I think we’ve clearly seen where using force gets you. i.e Latrell Sprewell, Ron Artest, Jermaine Oneal…and so on. Probably the only edgy Black Athlete that ever had cross over appeal, but somewhat manages to keep his African American Express pass is Sir Charles Barkley with, his white wife. And drunken late night exploits after white woman(nightmare food) for fellatio. Your post again reminds blacks that until you own your rights, we will never experience autonomy. We all are truly slaves, some just are better compensated it would appear. Mr. Denson don’t make me laugh, NBA athletes are not overpaid! They posess a skill and talent that is marketable to what this country thrives on Entertainment! Save your overpaid argument for the Owners, the broadcasters, the vendors, and everyone else pocketing off of unbelievable black talent! If a damn Nascar driver can race a car and use no physical exertion, and be a multimillionaire skip me with your bullshit about NBA players and their Astronomical Salaries! They only recieve a fraction of what the slave owners decide to pay out..TRUST THAT. And you, Mr. Black Soldier as I am wss never above poverty level. Do you expect to join a plantation and prosper? No you utilize the resources readily available to one day experience autononmy and commerce i.e free education, health care, and the many benefits not currently offered to the rest of our struggling slaves. And to be frank, you’re right..no one cares about a nonconformative slave on a Big Plantation such as the US Government..cut your hair nigga!

  5. Olokun Shangol Olugbala on 15 May 2009 at 8:09 pm: 5

    Z,

    I appreciate you taking the time to engage the article. Though I sense the sarcasm/animus in your tone, I will ignore that and answer your question assuming you really want an answer and are not just here to antagonize people invested in serious discourse. That said, please check the source I referenced in my post, “40 Million Dollar Slaves” by William Rhoden. If you’re up to it, also feel free to check the following texts by Dr. Todd Boyd: “Basketball Jones: America Above the Rim” and “Out of Bounds: Sports, Media and the Politics of Identity.” I hope this helps your quest for clarity.

    Love and Struggle…Work and Study,
    Olokun Shangol Olugbala

  6. Z on 15 May 2009 at 9:47 pm: 6

    Olokun Shangol Olugbala,

    I enjoyed reading your article. You are clearly an exceptional writer. I mean that by the way.

    I appreciate you providing the reading material. I have read Bill Rhoden in the ny times for a number of years and have listened to him on ESPN. He is an excellent reporter/columnist. With this thought it mind, his writing is HIS opinion. Not the almighty truth. Reading your article/post lacked a certain amount of objectivity. The quotes that I took from your article in my previous post provided an example of your writing that makes statements that simply cannot be supported. They are in fact your opinion. Are they not?

  7. Olokun Shangol Olugbala on 16 May 2009 at 6:46 am: 7

    Peace Z,

    My writing is a reflection of how I interpret the world, so yes, there is a degree of subjectivity there. However, I would advance that my post is beyond conjecture. I’m not sure if you are a sports fan, but if you have seen any number of press conferences, you can definitely observe how athletes (generally and not absolutely speaking) become very meek and diffident when fielding questions… especially if one juxtaposes that to their on the court/field persona where they are audacious and virile! Now those are the facts, how someone interprets those observations does leave room for debate which is why this discourse is so value added. Once again, if you haven’t read “40 Million Dollar Slaves”, start there. Rhoden’s book is laden with examples that will do a much better job of what I can do here in this limited space to explain why these athletes are like slaves on a plantation.

    Love and Struggle…Work and Study

  8. Slik on 17 May 2009 at 3:55 pm: 8

    I aggree with the logic of this article. The NBA is a plantation; a plantation not to different from Kentucky Fried Chicken or Bank of America.
    There is a theme within these plantations that you touch on and it is the myth of the intelligence of the white man who utililizing the animalistic physical strength of the black man. This myth has become somewhat of a reality because of the different environments that we have all evolved in.
    I believe that we all have to be revolutionaries in our own personal revolutions. At KFC, a cook should refused to cook outdated chicken when his manager demands it, though he may lose his job. At Bank of America, an employee should stand up for another coworker when they have been done wrong by company policy. And an NBA player should tell the world the truth in a press conference when the white power force rears its ugly head. Most dont, but a few will. They are the Guveras, the King, The Xs, and the Linens.

    Your article was thought-provoking Olugbala. Peace

  9. Pierce on 17 May 2009 at 11:46 pm: 9

    Thought provoking and eye opening.

    The days of the Black athlete with agency are long gone. Their rights have been bought, traded and controlled like their wardrobes and, indeed their lives. Current “owners” like Stern learned from threatening tactics of revolutionaries like Muhammad Ali, Kareem Abdul Jabar, Tommie Smith, John Carlos, Jim Brown and Rubin “Hurricane” Carter – and adapted. Now we have family friendly, marketable “icons” like Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods. Try putting Ron Artest or Latrell Sprewell on a Cherrio’s Box. Ain’t gonna Happen. That’s like putting Nat Turner on the Cherrio’s box.

  10. Cameron Denson on 20 May 2009 at 1:35 pm: 10

    Elijah Moore,

    Sorry for responding late but it hopes this reaches you in good spirits. To rest assure, at eighteen years old I did join the army at the behest of my pops but left soon after. Truth be told, you say you don’t care about nonconformative slaves on a plantation but you defend athletes who are nonconformist on the NBA’s plantation. Seems a bit contradictory. Because this country thrives on entertainment doesn’t validate crazy salaries for “entertainers”. I am an educator and have an issue with the undervaluing of education and the overvaluing of entertainment. Since Ali, when have we had an athlete that really rode for the people or a worthy cause? Even Ali was a puppet who was controlled by the Nation so he rarely uttered anything that was an original thought. Nonconformity is essential at all levels, not just when thousands of white people are sitting courtside waiting for the show. Your comment about sitting quiet until we get “our benefits” doesn’t really push a people to autonomy. Change only comes when there is discomfort. So yeah, not cutting my hair was revolutionary. If only I could dunk that basketball.

  11. Elijah on 21 May 2009 at 2:06 am: 11

    Not cutting your hair was nonconformative. We are throwing around Revolutionary too often. The Great Ali was willing to deal/dealt with the ridicule and sanctions of white supremacy, stripping him of his tittle, threating prison terms, death threats, livelihood in jeapordy. Risking your life for a cause excuse me, risking your life for an appropriate cause is Revolutionary. The salaries are not crazy they are paid proportionate to the plantation these athletes earn a living on. The NBA owners (slave masters) can afford to feed their workers, better. I’m sure you can attest, that even on the education plantation, depending on what you’re teaching, you are a direct conduit for what White America wants relayed to students seeking a piece of the American Pie. (I say that with Facetious intent) I mean most people gain an education to advance for capital purposes. Very few attend college to change the world, it just sounds good on paper. Your Actions speak louder than any lesson you can prepare. We must continue to challenge each other through our discourse, so we can relay something meaningful that pertains to us (our heritage and culture) to our children, wives, loved ones, and those willing to listen. Mr. Denson I appreciate your support of this website, and even responding to me. We must have this type of passion for the same common goal, just because we are slaves doesn’t mean we can’t think free. Remember you don’t a job or an education you just have an acquiescence between you and the white man that deemed you worthy!

  12. vëega on 23 May 2009 at 10:07 pm: 12

    Fantastically well-written piece.

    I would only add that this type oppressive logos/pathos/ethos is evident in 98% of corporate settings.

    All arrows of blame point squarely at the monetary system. Perhaps the shrewdest trick ever played on humanity was this: to make us believe that money (made of 2 STOLEN natural resources..silk & cotton,nonetheless) is worth any more than the proverbial paper it’s printed on.

    The world’s population has succumb & buckled under the weight currency (and debt, subsequently) have placed on it.

    The sole proven way to TRULY to end the continuation of this true & metaphoric slavery is to END the currency/debt system as a whole. For those unwilling to quit their job, move to the woods, & go the Grizzley Adams route, no worries. lol.

    We can sidestep the shackles through economic self-reliance. Own your own biz, grow your own food, etc. Little by little, we can get free NOW!!

    Be Good. Do Work.
    vëega

  13. Olokun Shangol Olugbala (better known as D. Noble) on 24 May 2009 at 7:58 am: 13

    Word! Right on point, Veega. Sounds like you have watched Zeitgeist… have you? Also, along these same lines, check Ishmael by Daniel Quinn… Thanks for weighing in with such poignant commentary.

    Love and Struggle…Work and Study

  14. fred on 31 May 2009 at 2:44 pm: 14

    Lots of words, not much sense.

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Published on May 15, 2009 at 9:52 am. 14 Comments.
Filed under black image,entertainment,men's issues,sports.