Tuesday, October 25, 2005

You can take the boy out the hood...

So there has been a bit of controversy recently over the new league wide NBA dress code. Some say the guidelines have racial overtones, and some say the multi-millionaires should just "suck it the fuck up", and keep getting paid.

Before I get my cultural critic on, I have to say that I really wish I were able to address a weightier issue than throwbacks, oversized white-T's, doo-rags, and 40" cables being banned from the NBA sidelines. But sometimes exploring a small issue illuminates the same societal pathologies that leads to the bigger issues...

Although the dress code may help sell the NBA, it won't probably make a dime's worth of difference in the way the players carry themselves or in truly changing the image of the league. And we are losing something here. Hell, knowing that the players are being forced to wear suits/business casual attire will rob us of the benefit of separatigng the good negroes from the bad ass stag-o-lee types. At least we knew to keep an eye on Allen Iverson all these years, and not let our kids worship him, right? Now we will be forced to judge players strictly on the merits of the way they play the game. Without the context of seeing gawdy jewelry on a player, how will we be able to dismiss him as having no heart and passion for the game, calling him squandered talent and a freak of raw unthinking athleticism?

But seriously, my problem with the dress code, is that the league is not interested in the well being of these young men that make them so much money. The NBA works like any other corporate industry in that they try to keep the talented people as clueless about their real worth and yet extract as much profit from their abilities as possible. In my estimation, the league simply wants to control these young men that are the key resource in making money, the same way the Cheney-Rumsfeld cabal wants to control oil reserves. Just like America claimed to be liberating the Iraqi people, the NBA is preteneding to be doing this for the betterment of the players, the sport and society.

So you don't want the league being represented by a bunch of rebellious 20 year olds? Your best solution is to try to make them dress up...no way Ron Artest is going to lose his temper if he has an Armani to throw over all that internal conflict. Why not make counseling sessions with a specially trained therapist mandatory for rookies? You can even include financial incentives. Why is some kind of professional development program not enforced if you really want to exude professionalism in the first place? If the NBA is really interested in conveying an image, why not come up with more creative ways to foster the development of character in these men? Nah, don't want to educate them or they might end up outspoken and keenly aware of how much power they do have. We just want the big bucks to make us some bigger bucks by dressing a little better and doing a better job of fooling the world about the true nature of their character. Is that it David Stern?

I have heard a lot of people speaking about how the players shouldn't complain about having to wear a uniform because of all the money they make or something to the effect that it is a condition of employment, like all jobs have. I love how we like to point our fingers at these guys unsympathetically and call them a bunch of whining, ungrateful multi-millionaires, but the majority of the people reading this post are probably in the richest 1% of the world population or will be once they become professional wage earners. These NBA players are still young men who may be talented and have access to resources, but they are also human beings under a lot more scrutiny than any of us at an early age. All of us know that dignity and individuality are hard to give up for any amount of money so why are we so quick to assume these guys should not gripe and express their dissidence, even if it isn't very articulate dissidence. Forcing these guys to accept more mainstream (and WASP-y) image guidelines might just stir up more resentment by illuminating the hypocrisy of America every time they get dressed. It might anger me more if I have to put on a tie/noose everyday, and I am constantly reminded of how much my identity goes unaccepted by America even if my athleticism is lauded. It might arouse even more anti-social and misanthropic behavior in me just to re-establish my sense of pride and self estem. And lets be real here...the NBA brought this forward just as the season is getting under way and the players have other issues to deal with. They don't have time to organize and really come to some group conclusions. So the players will comply, but why shouldn't they at least be vocal and express their dissidence? It seems that they are being good role models for a democratic society by not simply caving to power without at least speaking out about it.

On a personal note, if my company enforced a dress code on me, I would be highly upset...why? Because as a professional, I like to be left to my own decision making about what kind of image I put forth and how I go about earning the trust and respect of my customers. True I could wear a suit every day or be more formal and professional in the way I carry myself, but it is not a sign of immaturity if I would rather be informal and express who I am through my attire. As a professional, I am glad that I am given the room to choose the balance between being myself and being consistent with expectations. And besides, if i know what the hell I am doing, I do it well, and I do it with an expertise that cannot easily be replaced, my appearance becomes less and less important. You deal with a surgeon based on how successful he has been in the operating room. You deal with a lawyer by how successful he has been in the courtroom. Who gives a damn what they present if they get results?

The sad part about this is that the mainstream American public has never been good at discerning those with character from those who lack character, so we get caught up in dumb things like appearance, religious affiliation, etc. I cannot understand why in spite of knowing a book cannot be judged by its cover, that a society we still continue to harvest mostly fools who cannot see through image. Some of the people with the most integrity and professionalism do happen to wear doo rags from time to time. Hell, I have on one as I am writing this. At the same time, the truly criminal and sociopathic knows to exude a conservative professional image so as to go unsuspected for as long as possible. All those Tyco, Worldcom, Adelphia, and Enron fellas probably wore suits every day. Maybe Tom Delay got away with so much bullshit because he knew the secret to being an extraordinary criminal was to not look like a common one. So next year when some NBA player in a suit gets caught up in some criminal or unethical behavior, remember that it was the NBA that suggested a cosmetic approach to changing the image of the league. Maybe it is a good start, but they have a long way to go.

One final thought. If they stop with this dress code, it will probably backfire on the NBA anyway? Don't underestimate the ability of urban black men to look completly unorthodox within the supposedly conservative guidelines put forth...or have you not seen Steve Harvey. They will continue to express their unique identity within the framework of any dress code.

mr. wilson


Mr. Wilson said...

incidentally, i have long locks and i work for a defense company that has never made a comment about them. last winter, i tried to get a part time job teaching snowbboarding at a resort, and i was told that i would have to cut my hair to comply with the employee guidelines. wow, snowboarding instructors have to look more professional than engineers dealing with important decisions on defense projects? i guess people know i cannot be a thug or a criminal and still do my job as an engineer, but there is a need to fool the public into thinking that a snowboarding instructor is clean cut when everybody knows 75% of those guys are stoners...it seems the dress code comes into play when there is something to hide, and namely what they are hididng is a lack of true professionalism.]

mr. wilson

Intellectual Insurgent said...

What irritated me about that story was a player's claim that it is racial. My point to another blog on the same topic was that the NHL does it and that is not racial. Misguided, but not racial.

Mr. Wilson said...

sorry insurgent but just because they have an image to protect in the NHL (also thought to be a bunch of unprofessional brutes) does not mean that the new dress guidelines in the NBA don't have racial overtones. It isn't that simple. There are overtones of classism and ageism in the dress code too, but that doesn't change the fact that race maybe coming into play. Just because the guidelines are not a black and white issue (no pun intended) doesn't mean there is no legitimacy to the argument that race is involved. Its kanye west's "george doesn't like black people" statement all over again. its easy to attack the inarticulate players, but it doesn't mean they are completly wrong. They just don't have the benefit of perspective.

But here is a more articulate question for you to ponder: What is the specific rule about banning neclkaces and medalions worn outside of the clothes about? If you want to ban bling, do it in a way that does not go right after the very urban hip hop style of being gaudy? why not ban chunky bracelets or ear rings (michael jordan wore ear rings and since he is one of the good negros maybe we let that one slide). nobody goes after kept white women for wearing tennis bracelets that are essentially just as showy. (oh you could call them more understated, but all diamonds are meant to signify the same thing: affluence. there is nothing tasteful about the differences betweeen how they are worn. at least these young brothers aren't tyring to rationalize that a diamond can ever be tasteful and they wear it in its true spirit, not trying to claim it is a symbol of love or a romantic gesture).

Intellectual Insurgent said...

You surprise me sometimes. Assuming I read your previous posts correctly, Bennett's statements weren't necessarily racist and Kanye was being simplistic, but the NBA has racial overtones. I am sorry, but Bennett was far more offensive than the NBA.

This is where we diverge. It's great to have an employer who doesn't make you dress up, but I don't understand the big deal if an employer does. Most law firms are "business casual" but, inevitably, some dumbass shows up in spandex shorts or looking like a tacky slob and they get militant about the dress code.

If the NBA decides that enough is enough because some dumbass looks unprofessional, what's the problem? Plenty of employers require uniforms, from Starbucks to Wal-Mart to law firms and they require it for a multitude of reasons. Does the reason matter?

My neighbor works for a tire shop. He is really good at what he does, but he has a mohawk and tatoos all over. His manager won't let him where his hair up and makes him wear long-sleeved shirts. You could make the argument that the requirement disproportionately affects young white males, but does that make it racial? I don't think so.

Mr. Wilson said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Mr. Wilson said...

I am the devil's advocate. I think people took Bennett's comments too far. I think people who attacked Kanye, found tecnhical fault with his statement, but did not address the sentiment that resulted in black people reacting the way he did. I almost always share perspective with both sides on any issue. I am less concerned with establishing right and wrong and other binary conclusions. I agree that the NBA guidelines are a step in the right direction, but they just don't go far enough so I still criticize them.

I am glad I surprise you from time to time. We shouldn't think a like on all things...that would mean one of us was a student of the other, and we both know neither of us could sit at the other's feet for long.

Your points and questions are valid, but I think they address whether race is the central issue with the NBA dress guidelines and wheter they should have to submit to them. I never said race was central, but merely that there were overtones of a racial nature. I never said they shouldn't have a dress code to improve their image, but only that image is still going to be tarnished by misadventures to come from having young men unprepared to deal with the life of an NBA star scattered throughout the league.

I think people who want to say race is not involved at all are just not being realistic, but maybe I am too subjective on the issue because I am a black man who loves hip hop. Maybe I am apt see racial overtones in everything, but the key for me is having the perspective to establish how important the racial components to an issue are. Perspective is far more important than truth, and I hate for people to just assume because you can show how dress guidelines are enforced in situations where race doesn't come into place, to think that means race is not involved in the case of the NBA.

So what about the NHL. So what about the dress code at Hewlitt Packard.

The central issue with the guidelines is power and money...we can probably agree to that. The owners have the power and want to make more money and even most of the players understand that it is in their best financial interest to do whatever it takes to keep those checks coming. However, I still feel that race is clearly involved. If it had been a bunch of assistanct coaches in suits that had run into the stands to fight fans at an NBA game then this dress code thing would be moot. But the NBA realizes that America likes to place blame and they blamed the NBA for letting thugs in. Guess what the thugs are still in the NBA and now they are well dressed thugs who cannot tip us off about their misanthropic ways with their attire.

Here is the truth. The NBA is full of very young men who excel at a skill that requires no maturity or character to develop. A crazed murdering pedophile that can dunk might make it to the NBA if he can keep his character flaws more or less hidden. As the NBA has made more and more people rich, everyone has looked further and further away from the character issues. Its nice that LeBron is a good kid, but if he wasn't a good kid would it have made much of a difference to an NBA scout? I think the NBA did a good thing when they suspended Artest for the rest of the season. But generally speaking you aren't going to see rape accusations, drunk driving charges, and the litany of other problems reduced by a dress code. All it addresses is the image and the perception mainstream America has that the NBA is full of thugs. And mainstream America is racist so appealing to that perspective brings race into the picture. It might not be the central issue, but it is there, and I still believe that.

mr. wilson

Intellectual Insurgent said...

Even if race is playing a part, why does that matter? The argument that the suit requirement is racist requires that one equate being black with dressing like a thug/bling/rapper (whatever you want to call it). And the two are not the same. It is not racist to say pull up your pants, wear a belt and take off all that silly-ass jewelry. Being racist may mean you have a disdain for the thug/bling look, but there are plenty of non-racists who equally find it repugnant. And if everyone has to wear a suit, then a few immature apples have ruined it for everyone. It is irrelevant whether the number of rapes and drug use will be reduced.

Going back to your post about playing both sides of the field, with all the injustice that is out there, it is ridiculous that this is even an issue. Boo hoo - my boss who is so racist that he pays me millions of dollars each year is now racist because he makes me wear a suit. Puh-leez!