Nonfiction: I’m a Pro Football Player Now, but I’ll Be Black Forever

Bennett’s worldview and understanding of race has been intensified by experiences like these. Wasting few words and fewer emotions in this memoir (written with Dave Zirin, sports editor of The Nation), he starts by examining the brutal realities of both collegiate and professional football.

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The former Texas A&M Aggie includes poignant descriptions of his undergraduate years, noting that racism was at the center of his college experience. He also explains how post-traumatic stress disorder triggered in high school and college can follow athletes long after the stadium crowds stop roaring. As an Aggie, Mitchell explains, he was “half god, half property,” subject to so many restrictions that he was socked with a one-game suspension for leaving campus to attend his 2-year-old daughter’s birthday party. Bennett still resents going undrafted in 2009, the result, he believes, of his inability to live by the advice given to athletes: “Stick to sports.”

Asking the N.F.L. “to lead on social issues sometimes seems like asking a dog to meow,” he remarks early on. But he’s also found football’s brotherhood invaluable, forming bonds with his former coach Pete Carroll, as well as Russell Wilson, Marshawn Lynch, Cliff Avril, Justin Britt, Albert Haynesworth and the late Cortez Kennedy. At the same time, the physical toll football has taken isn’t an inheritance he wishes to pass along. If he were to have a son, Bennett says, he wouldn’t let him take up football. The fear of dying while playing is very real, something Bennett carries onto the field each Sunday — not necessarily because he’s afraid of death but because he’s aware of the crater such a loss would leave in the lives of his three daughters and his wife, Pele, whom he credits with helping form his compassionate worldview.

Activism is important to Bennett. It’s why he’s involved in eliminating food deserts in black communities. It’s why the death of Charleena Lyles, shot by the Seattle police after she called to report an attempted burglary, tied him to the Black Lives Matter movement. It’s why he’s uncomfortable merely calling himself a feminist, deciding to act on his beliefs by helping provide science, technology, engineering and math programs to young women of color. It’s why he’s adamant about taking inspiration from the June 1967 meeting of pro athlete social activists that’s come to be known as the Ali Summit. And it’s why Colin Kaepernick, still in exile from the N.F.L., has his lifelong support. The conversation Kaepernick’s actions helped ignite, Bennett believes, was more valuable than any of his own paychecks.

That conversation — illuminating systemic racism — is the most important “thing” that makes white people uncomfortable, as his title has it. An admirer of Malcolm X, Angela Davis, Muhammad Ali and many others, Bennett is an agent of change. Faced with apathy from white athletes and fans, he urges them to take action. “Don’t feel guilty,” he writes. “Do something to make it better. Help us heal by standing — or sitting — alongside us.”

By the conclusion of his book, Bennett has delved into all the hot-button issues his title suggests. “I’ll be a football player for just a few more years,” he points out, “but I’ll be black forever. When I’m driving with my family down the street in a nice car in a nice neighborhood and the police see us, they don’t see Michael Bennett the college graduate, the husband or the loving father. … They immediately see a black man who could possibly be dangerous.”

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The Shortlist: Three New Books Illuminate the Rise of Violent White Extremism

He got expelled from school multiple times, once after beating a black kid who refused to move and hurling racial epithets at the principal. He presided over street fights and began to stockpile weapons for the race war he believed was looming.

He also grew up: He got married, had two sons and opened a record store that sold some white supremacist music, but also attracted anti-racist and nonwhite customers who turned out to be real human beings. A friend, a fellow band frontman and father, was killed in a fight. Picciolini began to realize that the movement was no longer for him.

But in the end, there is something unsatisfying about this redemption checklist. In Christian Picciolini’s story, the only character is Christian Picciolini. We don’t hear from anyone he hurt — other than a chance encounter with the former security guard at his high school, to whom he apologizes, he does not seek any of them out. By this time his wife has left him, and though Picciolini worries about what his new girlfriend, who “saw beyond my mistakes to the man I had become,” will have to say about his old tattoos, we don’t actually find out. When a tragedy befalls his family, Picciolini goes so far as to wonder if it isn’t divine payback for his own mistakes.

HEALING FROM HATE
How Young Men Get Into — and
Out of — Violent Extremism
By Michael Kimmel
288 pp. University of California. $29.95.

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There is a vintage piece of neo-Nazi propaganda that is a racist take on an old Charles Atlas ad. After the whiny young protagonist bulks up and punches out a black man who bullied him, beachgoers in bikinis coo and pat his biceps. The cartoon makes Kimmel’s point perfectly: Extremism is fueled by wounded masculinity.

In Kimmel’s astute and, yes, empathetic analysis, he argues that without understanding the gendered aspect of extremism (he looks mostly at white supremacist groups, but also jihadists), we will not be able to defuse it. The young men in this book are enticed not by ideology, but by the powerful draw of camaraderie, belonging and a moral code, not to mention access to women and sex (even if, in the case of jihadis, it’s in the afterlife). Having suffered trauma, abuse, the need to keep homosexuality closeted, loneliness, economic insult or more mundane indignities, they turn to violence to ward off shame, coming to the table with what Kimmel, a sociologist who has spent his career focused on masculinity, calls “aggrieved entitlement.” The racist framework that comes to explain their woes usually arrives later.

Kimmel looks at recovering extremists in four countries — Germany, Sweden, the United States and Britain — and the organizations that help them escape when they become disillusioned. Those groups — EXIT in Germany and Sweden, Life After Hate in America and Quilliam, which works with British jihadis — offer not just safety, as many “formers” face violence when they try to leave, but also counseling, job training and the rudiments of an alternative form of manhood. (Life After Hate was given a $400,000 grant by the Obama administration, but it was later rescinded by Trump.)

Kimmel makes it clear that any approach to recovery lacking in empathy will fail. These men, he argues, have in fact lost something — they have been passed by and overlooked. But, Kimmel writes, they have been delivering their hate mail to the wrong address.

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Kanye West Likened Slavery to a Choice. History Says Otherwise.

By AINARA TIEFENTHÄLER | May. 5, 2018 | 2:43

In perhaps his most shocking statement to date, the rap superstar Kanye West said 400 years of slavery sounded “like a choice.” But history tells a different story.

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Ask a Showrunner: Why the Creator of ‘Dear White People’ Is Doubling Down on Identity Politics

That lesson, and Mr. Simien’s own reaction to the backlash, inspired Season 2 of “Dear White People,” which begins streaming May 4. In addition to online trolls, the show offers up irreverent takes on white allies, the strain of Afrocentric conservatives known as “Hoteps,” and campus free speech, among other hot topics.

Dear White People — Vol. 2 | Official Trailer [HD] | Netflix Video by Netflix

Mr. Simien, who speaks in paragraphs and variously quoted Malcolm X, Eckhart Tolle and RuPaul, discussed why the new season never mentions President Trump by name, what black auteurs owe to their audiences and his upcoming horror film about a (literal) killer weave.

“Any chance you get as a storyteller to make people see something that they never saw before, or to think in a new way — that’s the job,” he said. These are edited excerpts from the conversation.

There was some controversy over the title of the show last season, and this season the Sam character, who hosts a radio show within the show, also called “Dear White People,” deals with her own similar controversy. How did you digest all of the feedback from Season 1?

The backlash stuff was really interesting to me. They were so organized and they didn’t just come after us, they came after anything black — there were campaigns against “Black Panther,” too. I was so curious about it and I did a deep dive and started to try to figure out what were the tactics that they used and how were they so mobilized.

The other big thing that informed this season was that Trump won on the day we wrapped Season 1. And I was just so bewildered by how we got here. I started to really research and not just assume that I knew. I read a book called “The History of White People,” about all of the cultural decisions that led to the creation of the white race and why white is the ideal form of beauty, and it’s so arbitrary. I realized that the reason we can’t talk to each other is because people don’t know where this all comes from. So this season has a lot of history on its mind, too.

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“Dear White People” revolves around the lives of five students at a fictional elite university, including Sam (played by Logan Browning, left). Credit Saeed Adyani/Netflix

When you’re investigating those questions on the show, do you worry that white people will just choose not to engage?

I think the key to the show is making you care about the characters first, because it’s not a thesis. And if we tell the truth about what they’re going through, then maybe you’ll care and think about it.

I think the show has two goals. One is to allow people who don’t necessarily look like us to see themselves in characters they don’t expect to, so that the next time they see a black guy at Starbucks, they won’t feel the need to call the cops on him.

And the other thing is to make people who’ve actually gone through these experiences go: “Oh my God, totally. I’m so glad someone finally put it that way.” I think both of those things allow black folks to feel more human in society.

What do you make of the idea that some of that obsessive focus on identity is inherently divisive, and that minorities would be better served by a politics that focuses on what we all have in common?

I think people who are privileged can say something like that. Because the truth is, I could walk around all day saying: “I don’t identify with being black. I don’t identify with being gay.” But you know what’s going to happen to me? Society’s going to happen to me. I’m going to go into Starbucks and get arrested, or I’m going to walk through the wrong neighborhood in a hoodie.

When you don’t have to have the burden of identity, when you don’t have to code switch every day or constantly be aware of your surroundings, you get to say that. Part of the reason the show is called “Dear White People” is because there’s no way to be black in America without constantly having to explain or protect or defend yourself. Talking about that is not why Donald Trump is president.

The new season doesn’t mention Trump by name. Why not?

I just didn’t want to say his name. I didn’t want to give it that kind of power. I think the underlying issues that brought about the Trump presidency are American issues, and they’ve been around before Trump and they’ll be around after Trump.

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In Season 2 “Dear White People” (whose cast includes Marque Richardson, left, and John Patrick Amedori) offers up irreverent takes on hot topics like white allies and campus free speech. Credit Tyler Golden/Netflix

Being on Netflix, do you get much data about who’s watching you?

They keep things pretty close to the chest, but I know that Brazilians like us and I know that we’re big in Africa. In Africa they really hated [the Kenyan immigrant character, played by Jeremy Tardy] Rashid’s accent last year [laughs].

Is the actor African?

He is African. And his accent is based on an actual Kenyan accent, but people thought it was too sing-songy. So we brought in the woman who was the dialect coach for “Black Panther” to give it some flavor and some nuance. But I’m sure people will still be mad.

Here’s the thing about being a black creator: [Scrutiny] is part of being in the ring. Black folks and the black diaspora are so starved for content that when you’re the only person telling the story there’s all these people that are like, “Well where’s my story?”

I remember reading this article about how “Black Panther” had failed the queer community by not expressing LGBT issues. And I was like, but it did so many things! It’s literally changed cinema for black people forever, and was an all-black cast, and made all the money in the world, and introduced African themes, and is opening in Saudia Arabia … but we didn’t have gay characters. So let’s just throw the whole thing away. That kind of thing can be a lot. But it’s the cost of telling stories in an oppressive society. You have to be prepared to take some of those jabs and you do the best that you can.

Your next movie, “Bad Hair,” is about a woman who’s possessed by a sentient killer weave. Where’d you get the idea?

I always write because I’m really angry about something, and I was so angry that people weren’t seeing how black women are getting it from all angles. [If you’re a black woman,] you’re at the bottom of the totem pole, even though black women are always among the strongest members of our society and culture.

I was also really inspired by Korean horror movies, because hair possession is a subgenre there. I was just thinking, “How would we do this in America?” And of course it couldn’t just be fun — I always have to have something to say.

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Hank Azaria, Voice of Apu on ‘The Simpsons,’ Offers to Step Aside After Criticism

.@HankAzaria addresses the controversy surrounding the character ‘Apu’ from @TheSimpsons. #LSSC#Apu #TheSimpsons pic.twitter.com/pkmYgcX4Il

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Facebook Removes Popular Black Lives Matter Page for Being a Fake

The page, which had 700,000 followers, was run by a white man in Australia and raised at least $100,000, according to a CNN report.

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Kenya Barris, Creator of ‘Black-ish,’ Is Said to Seek an Exit From ABC

More than a month after the network pulled a charged episode of his show, the producer is looking to leave for Netflix, people familiar with negotiations said.

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How Dr. King Changed a Sanitation Worker’s Life

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. came to Memphis in 1968 to march with sanitation workers who were protesting low wages and poor working conditions. Cleophus Smith marched with him. He’s still on the job.

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When Loyola-Chicago Broke a Racial Barrier 55 Years Ago

The Teams

Loyola’s integrated team was the Midwest’s best, in the top 5 nationally all season and 19-2 heading into the tournament. Point guard Jerry Harkness was the star, an All-American who went on to play for the Knicks. Les Hunter and Vic Rouse dominated the boards.

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After defeating Mississippi State, Loyola-Chicago went on to win the national championship, defeating Cincinnati in overtime in the final. Credit Rich Clarkson/NCAA Photos, via Getty Images

Mississippi State, led by Leland Mitchell, was also a top 10 team. But while Loyola played a geographically diverse schedule, Mississippi State stayed in the South, playing only teams without black players. Indeed, Mississippi State had won the two previous Southeastern Conference titles, but it had turned down invitations to the N.C.A.A. tournament because of the probability of facing a team with black players.

Before the Game

By the end of the 1962-63 regular season, things were changing. Mississippi State’s players and coaches wanted no more of the “unwritten law” and planned to prove themselves in the N.C.A.A. tournament. The university president, D.W. Colvard, announced that this time the team was in.

Loyola won its preliminary game, 111-42, over Tennessee Tech, still the biggest margin ever in a tournament game. That set up the match against Mississippi State in the round of 16 in East Lansing, Mich.

Yet there were still plenty of people who did not want the game played. One of them was Mississippi’s governor, Ross R. Barnett. In 1960, he had said of integrated sports: “If there were a half-dozen Negroes on the team, where are they going to eat? Are they going to want to go to the dance later and want to dance with our girls?”

A special meeting of the state college board was called. It voted, 8-3, to let the team play. Segregationists turned to the courts and won an injunction, but it was overturned by a state Supreme Court judge a day before the game.

But the team was still concerned about further legal action, to the point that it turned to subterfuge. The second string was sent to the Starkville airport first, as decoys, to draw out any lawyers wielding further injunctions. Had one arrived, the first team, hiding in their dormitory, would have been spirited away by some other method.

But when the coast was determined to be clear, the team flew to Michigan together. Coach Babe McCarthy had been sent out of state, to Nashville, and joined the team when its plane stopped there.

“It was cloak-and-dagger stuff,” said Mitchell, who died in 2013. “It was almost like cops and robbers.”

The Game

After the intrigue that preceded it, the game was free of trouble. There were friendly handshakes before and after. Loyola got 20 points on 7-of-11 shooting by its star, Harkness, and 19 rebounds from Rouse to win by 61-51.

“There wasn’t one incident,” Mitchell said, “and not because we weren’t trying or trying to be nice.”

Aftermath

Loyola kept it up, beating Illinois and then Duke at the Final Four in Louisville. In the championship game, its opponent was formidable: the two-time defending champion, Cincinnati, which had been No. 1 all year. Loyola, using only five players the whole game, rallied to tie the score on a last-second shot by Harkness. Rouse scored off a missed shot to win it in overtime, 60-58.

Legacy

In 1965, Mississippi State admitted its first black student, Richard Holmes.

College basketball continued to integrate, although slowly in some places. In 1966, a Texas Western team with five black starters beat an all-white Kentucky team in the N.C.A.A. final, a game immortalized in the 2006 film “Glory Road.” The SEC did not get its first black basketball player until 1967.

“The recruiting of Negro athletes isn’t as good as recruiting Negro brains would be,” said Leslie W. Dunbar of the Southern Regional Council in 1963, “but it may be a start.”

Loyola’s championship team was inducted in the College Basketball Hall of Fame in 2013, the only team so honored. It also remains the only team from Illinois to win the N.C.A.A. tournament.

Today

Loyola returned to the tournament in three of the next five years, but times have been tough since. An appearance in 1985 was followed by a 33-year drought that ended this season with the Final Four surprise.

Mississippi State did not return to the N.C.A.A. tournament until 1991, and made a run to the Final Four in 1996. It has not been back in the field since 2009, but made this year’s NIT semifinal.

As in 1963, Loyola continues to have a mix of white and black players. The once segregated Mississippi State had more than a dozen black players on its roster.

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To Avoid More Racist Hoodies, Retailers Seek Diversity

Fast fashion giants like H&M and Zara are hiring diversity managers and using screening technologies to catch offensive designs before shoppers do.

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