23 September 2016

Cup of Oh nO's: Thoughts on Steve Clevenger's Racist Charlotte Tweets

After a gruesome four game misery fest against the Red Sox at home, it is often a good time to disengage for a bit and think about other things.  Those other things tend not to be charged up issues like the question over the lingering presence of racism in this country.  But, sorry guys, this is about race relations.  It is everyone's favorite subject where we typically discuss the feelings of white people and the life and death issues of black people on a one-to-one comparison.  Yay.  Hopefully this unedited rambling is coherent.

This current thought was spurned a little bit by former Orioles Steve Clevenger's comments on Twitter and some Facebook entry screen captures from his account that have been making the local blog rounds.  It is obvious that Clevenger's tweets were not a case of beer rabbit hole adventure with a cell phone too close by.  It appears that these thoughts are long lingering thoughts and, lets be frank, these are very common thoughts in society.

The general idea is that once the very unpopular Martin Luther King Jr. (In 1966, two thirds of America did not like him and, guess what, an overwhelming amount of that dislike came from white people--not all of us have a father who walked in Washington and other locales) had his ideas become more manifest in the Civil Rights Act that the hundreds of years of active oppression came to an end and brought in a new era of black entitlement.  This is much more feeling than fact and Clevenger is someone who seems to fall in line with this thinking if the Facebook entries are accurate.

In one of the captures, Clevenger rants about "Obama phones".  This is the mistaken belief that somehow President Obama took office and then began handing out free cell phones to black people.  This is a very commonly thought idea.  In fact, this was a program that began under Ronald Reagan's oversight by the FCC in 1984.  It is called the Lifeline Program and its intent is to subsidize phone use for poorer communities because communication is vital and is often one of the first services that the poor go without when finances start getting beyond tight.  The Lifeline Program expanded to cell phone use during the second Bush administration.  The program is open not just to welfare recipients, but for anyone who is on a social program like Medicaid.  Furthermore, it is paid through FCC fees as opposed to general taxes.

I have no interest in going through all of the minutia of false issues laid at President Obama, but simply to show how an obviously wrong idea becomes a detail in a greater narrative.  That narrative as expressed in Clevenger's tweets and alleged Facebook posts show a dehumanization of black people as well as a desire to ignore any institutionalized racism.  In one alleged Facebook post, he claims that Black Lives Matter is a racist group on par with the Ku Klux Klan.  And this might be where things get sticky in the mind of Steve Clevenger and this is conjecture.

I imagine it is true that when he says he would be appalled if someone thought him to be racist.  He almost assuredly does not see himself as a racist, but more someone who is a speaker of truths.  From his perspective, some blacks take advantage of weak liberals and mooch off the system.  In his alleged post, he calls liberals who empathize with Black Lives Matter as trash and a problem.  And perhaps this is where we get to Charlotte.

Black Lives Matter is not racist.  Black Lives Matter is coined that because of the perspective they have that their lives are not being viewed as equal to white lives.  It is not about Black Supremacy, which is what the KKK is.  It is a false comparison.  Facts are mushy because we tend not to spend money to evaluate programs, particularly programs that judge the government, but it is pretty certain that police activity has racial bias.  This has been studied to a great degree.  Being black (when controlled for neighborhood, income, etc.) means you will be stopped more frequently by police than if you are white.  Beyond that nugget, things get more complicated.  But that kernel is not really deniable and people should look at this issue with an open mind and show an open heart for people who think America has chosen that they as a people, as a product of their skin, are not considered equal citizens in America.

Maybe Clevenger is racist, maybe he is not.  Maybe Clevenger is classist, maybe he is not.  Clevenger did express racist thought and his alleged writing combines that racist thought with classism.  Words like racist and other classifications are often too broadly applied.  The reality is that we all are prejudiced to some degree.  It is a product of how our brain works and it is how we deal with anxiety about unfamiliar situations.  Where the problem comes in is when you shut off your ability to process logic and fully embrace your prejudice without challenge.  Racism is not the issue, really.  What is the issue is the acceptance of racism.

That acceptance of racism is what has brought about such horrible terms from the past as "Good German" in reference to those who went along with the Nazi Party because it personally did not impact them.  A society, a great society, is one that is cognizant of those most vulnerable and is concerned with their well being.  A great society is one that will listen to those who scream of oppression and, with an open mind, try to find resolution.

Over the past several years, I have found that people settle on an idea and then supplement that idea with a foundation that is in agreement without trying to figure out if their newly found foundation is actually true.  People often connect the worst aspects of this cry to justice with Black Lives Matter without the self awareness of how they would appear if they were defined by the worst turned events produced by white people.  Blacks have experienced this for centuries, this double standard.  Muslims experience this here, too.  Hispanics experience it.  Most of our forefathers experienced it when they emerged from cramped ships full of lice to settle down in cramped Nationalized urban centers full of dismay.

I do not comprehend this lack of empathy.  Regardless of what you think the solution is, people are calling out for help and evidence gives credence to their call.  If your response to these people is to call them animals, think hard about what that says about you.

36 comments:

Anonymous said...

This is a thoughtful response to Steve Clevenger's messages. Your distinction between the man's basic character (unknown and so not to be judged) and the positions he's taken, your clarification of the history and rationale of the long-standing cell phone distribution policy, your argument against the equivalence of Black Lives Matter and KKK white supremacism, and, above all, your empathetic recognition of the cry for help that underlies the BLM movement are both discerning and generous. This is all very helpful.

Anonymous said...

Bravo. When I heard yesterday about Clevenger's tweets, immediately I thought of two things: 1) Chris Rock's brilliant video essay on the white-ness of baseball today, 2) declining attendance at Camden Yards, even in the midst of a playoff run. I was reminded too of the racist taunts by white Cardinals fans of Black Lives Matters protesters outside the stadium in St Louis. The MLB and its players need to be enthusiastic supporters of civil rights movements. Clevenger's tweets should earn him a nice vacation (re: suspension).

Pip said...

The greatest human virtue is Empathy. The Lord wants us to feel others' feelings; even their unreasonable anger is more understandable -though certainly not more acceptable-when we can feel the driving force behind it, and if we could feel the pain, frustration or helplessness of others, how much easier would be to offer meaningful help!
I wish that Clevenger, and many others on both sides of every aisle, could develop the skill of feeling as others feel and understanding why.
Well written and well thought, Jon. I'd be pleased to know you in real life.

Anonymous said...

I wrote above that "Clevenger's tweets should earn him a nice vacation (re: suspension)." On second thought, that's not enough. Apparently he's been suspended without pay for the rest of the season. Given that there's only about a week left in the season, this seems a bit ridiculous. USA Today's Bob Nightengale suggested he should be released and no longer employed by MLB, and I'm inclined to agree. (I'm sure ESPN will snatch him up and put him next to Curt Schilling to provide "color.") I love baseball; it's sad that it's no longer that sport that is at the forefront of civil rights. As Adam Jones noted, baseball has become "a white man's sport."

Anonymous said...

The feelings of white people? It's cold, hard reason. White privilege is a myth and so is racially-motivated police brutality. Since you're all such big stat guys, why not check out interracial violent crime stats, most recent available is 2013.

http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/harford/forest-hill/ph-ag-sheriff-deputy-shooting-0821-20130818-story.html

That unarmed 19 year old white kid was shot to death by a police officer a mile from my house and no one gave a shit. White people don't record these incidents and flip out when they happen...if they did, the competing narratives would cancel each other out.

Matt Kremnitzer said...

Curt Schilling no longer works for ESPN, and I think we can all agree that that's a good thing.

Jon Shepherd said...

(1) feel free to research racial bias on pubmed or Google scholar.

(2) The existence of racial bias does not mean police flawlessly in other scenarios.

Jude said...

"White privilege is a myth and so is racially-motivated police brutality." Don't you love it when white people whitesplain to black people that racism doesn't exist, that they've hallucinated their own experiences with law enforcement?

vilnius b. said...

Amen to this column. I'll admit that I too often take refuge in things like baseball so that I don't have to ponder the depressing ignorance I see in our society. But there are times when I just have to get my head out of the sand and Clevenger's tweets are just another reminder that the battle against ignorance (which, along with our tribal nature, is at the core of racism) is one that never ends.
Thanks for reminding me I can't hide from this issue.
Is it possible that Clevenger's opinions were known to the Orioles before he was traded? Perhaps that was a contributing reason for his being traded to the Mariners?

And to anonymous I say: everybody should give a damn when any unarmed kid is shot by police, black, white or whatever their color is. But the statistics still show that a disproportionate number of citizens killed in encounters with police are black not white. According to an article in 538, 30% of all encounters that end up with a citizen being killed by cops involves blacks, even though they make up only 13% of the population. That's a problem that needs to be addressed, as does all poor police training that results in needless deaths.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous says that blacks are not unfairly targeted by law enforcement. He may want to tell that to the Department of Justice, whose findings have lead to the opposite conclusion. From the Wash Post: `Investigators determined that in “nearly every aspect of Ferguson’s law enforcement system,” African Americans are impacted a severely disproportionate amount. The report included racist e-mails sent by police and municipal court supervisors, repeated examples of bias in law enforcement and a system that seemed built upon using arrest warrants to squeeze money out of residents.' 'For years, Ferguson's police force has meted out brutality, violated civil rights, and helped Ferguson officials to leech off the black community as shamelessly as would mafia bosses.' The DOJ's report on the Baltimore police reached similar conclusions: "Baltimore police routinely violated the constitutional rights of residents by conducting unlawful stops and using excessive force, according to the findings of a long-anticipated Justice Department probe... The practices overwhelmingly affected the city's black residents in low-income neighborhoods, according to the 163-page report. In often scathing language, the report identified systemic problems and cited detailed examples" (Baltimore Sun).

Anonymous said...

Read Heather Mac Donald's books...they provide good insight on this issue.

Roger said...

Good rant and I agree that what Clevenger said was wrong (not to mention unnecessary and illadvised). However, I am not sure words or any form of speech merit someone losing his livelihood. Speech is protected and baseball players are not employed for the quality of their mouths or, really, their brains. If we really believe in equal opportunity employment then those protections extend not only to skin color or religious groups but people with unacceptable viewpoints. Do his viewpoints affect his job performance? It is not baseball's or football's place to police speech (re: Colin Kapernick and others, there should be no controversy - they should be allowed to do what they want as far as the national anthem is concerned). If Clevenger is severely punished then so should Kapernick and any others who protest the anthem. I believe Clevenger should be denounced but not punished. We may not want him in our lives (or any other people like him) but he should not be denied the ability to make a living at his chosen occupation. If you really want to change minds, you do not punish but you accept and re-train.

Anonymous said...

Re: Roger

And just to play devil's advocate even further, punishing players for politically incorrect opinions has another negative side effect:

They might simply stop overtly expressing their prejudiced views altogether, which makes it difficult to identify who the racists, etc. are.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous wrote, "I am not sure words or any form of speech merit someone losing his livelihood." Actually, you're wrong. For one, federal and state employees cannot spout racist rhetoric. Imagine a teacher writing racist rants on social media. If an employee writes racist things that are harmful for their employers, they may fire him. MLB has every right to fire a racist. Major League Baseball is an equal opportunity employer that should not tolerate racism among its employees; rather, it should shield all its employees from abusive rhetoric.

Roger said...

To Anonymous. Civil employees are different because they represent the government. They have restrictions on speech from the beginning of their employment. Plus, if someone commits a felony, any employer can terminate them. However, poor choice of words is not a felony. Teachers are also a different case because "speaking" is part of their job and what they "speak" is a controlled part of their job (i.e. a curriculum). Maybe teachers should be punished for advocating liberal policy positions as opposed to being apolitical. Schools do an awful lot of propagandizing. A baseball player is paid to play baseball and, if the Mariners release him for any reason other than poor performance, then Clevenger will have a legitimate civil rights lawsuit. However, I'm sure Clevenger's performance will have enough holes to avoid that, but the principle plays. And what the other Anonymous says remains true. Speaking his views or not doesn't change whether he has them. Baseball has a long history of racist players for 100 years some of which are in the Hall of Fame. We have not kicked them out of the Hall of Fame for expressing theirs views and we should not do the same to Clevenger. His views are abominable but they are his and he has a right to them without losing gainful employment in a profession where speech has no impact to the job.

Jon Shepherd said...

Speech is protected, but that has no bearing on employment status beyond a contract. That is true for most businesses. You can be fired for how you handle yourself outside of work.

Jon Shepherd said...

that said, I would prefer rehabilitation over firing people.

vilnius b. said...

I agree with Jon Shepherd's comment.
His speech is indeed protected by the First Amendment (he can march in a Ku Klux Klan rally if he wants to) but if his employer or any employer for that matter finds that his or any employee's remarks go against company policy or merely cast a bad light on the company, you can be fired.
But now that he has expressed contrition in his latest comments on the subject, hopefully he will be permitted to rejoin the team, assuming the Mariners want him back despite the lack of any discernible skill set.

blackliesmatter said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Jon Shepherd said...

If anyone is so moved as to comment on this article, then follow generally expected level of decorum for public discourse.

Jon Shepherd said...

To address the meat and potatoes of the deleted response. I believe the "Princeton study" he referred to is actually a study by a Harvard researcher. That column did not prove anything. It did largely two things: (1) prvoided more information showing that there is racial bias with police decision to interact with people and (2) provided contention by finding no racial bias on choice to use lethal force. In other words, one the interaction begins it seems to progreys equally but racial bias is present when choosing whether to engage. That second finding if I remember correctly was based on a much smaller data set than the first finding. It is important to remember that one finding that goes against the flow of existing research does not prove the alternative. Instead, it increases the skepticism. Also...the data is often poor because police interaction and shootings are not well evidenced and categorized for researchers.

Anonymous said...

If things were as cut and dry as you kind folks make it out to be, we would be operating under a one party political system currently. Thank goodness, that is not so. You mentioned MLK in your blog. That man did things in a peaceful manner. Too bad BLM does not. Everywhere they go looting, fires, assaults, tear gas, and arrests follow. If they truly cared for the black community, why do they leave such devastation in neighborhoods that can ill afford these things happening nor have the money to rebuild it? How are these city's where these things happen going to attract any new businesses which would make things better for those who live in these locations? The Department of Justice couldn't find any wrongdoing by the police officer that killed Michael Brown. If they did, he would have been facing a trial. Hands up don't shoot didn't happen either. Look at Charlotte. Once again, a black police officer shoots a black perpetrator with a gun and the narrative is all the perpetrator had was a book. While what Clevenger wrote was was wrong, especially while hitting .221, he has a right to say them. Just like Colin Kaepernick has a right to kneel for the National Anthem, just don't agree with the manner or the place where he did it.

Jon Shepherd said...

What DoJ did was not find civil rights violations in those cases. DoJ has found many civil rights violations around the country...like in Baltimore.

Anonymous said...

So what Clevenger said was wrong because he is hitting .221? Colin Kaepernick, is a washed up second or third stringer who is only on the team because the team is the 49'ers. So he gets a free pass? Clevenger should know better because he plays in Seattle.

Athletes, Actors and Reality TV idiots need to shut up and not talk about things they know NOTHING about. I am not watching the NFL, NCAA Football or the Mariners for that matter.

Kind of amazing the timing of all of this. Two very bad choices for president. The people who could do something about this are the .01 percent who will use this to ultimately change the country to one similar to the hunger games.

Anonymous said...

So, you truly believe that all of these police forces did this solely about race? Do you not think that the highest crime areas in major city's, like Baltimore, are also the poorest? The demographics of the races that are populating prisons closely resemble the demographics that are living below the poverty line. When the cops put out a directive of "arrest all of the black hoodies" in a neighborhood, they didn't mention anything about the color of the individuals wearing the black hoodie. If it was so racist of an environment to work in, why are there any black or hispanic cops? Nobody mentions another fact that in these same community's, "no snitchin" plays a direct result of whether people who commits crimes don't get caught. MLK said it best when he said judge not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.

Anonymous said...

No, it's not that Clevenger was wrong because he was hitting .221. What I am saying is, for example, say Kris Bryant of the Cubs made the same comment. The Cubs have the chance to win a World Series for the first time in over 100 years. Do you think the Cubs would suspend Bryant for the rest of the regular season and the playoffs? I think not. I mean Clevenger should have realized that he is an expendable piece. Kaepernick is a washed up 2nd or 3rd stringer. However, the NFL has been VERY MUCH standing behind him and his comments. I don't know what would've happened had the 49ers had cut him and how the league and the union would've reacted. Hard to say. In my opinion, Colin may only have a spot on the team because of his comments. Can you imagine the coverage on TV that he only got cut because of his comments, clearly disregarding his actual on field performance which has been pretty bad?

Jon Shepherd said...

Racial bias does not mean one is gunning for black people.

Jon Shepherd said...

I think part of it is due to the NFL having much more of a population that supports BLM than MLB does.

Jon Shepherd said...

Getting back to the point though, I think practicing more empathy is needed.

Anonymous said...

Jon, I agree with you that the NFL does have much more of a population that supports BLM. However, it has already been noted that the NFL's ratings have been down so far this year. It remains to be seen if that will continue and if it will hit them where it hurts the most, their pocket books. I do also believe more empathy is needed, however that is a double edged sword.

Jon Shepherd said...

I wonder why empathy would be a double edged sword. Better understanding why a large group of people are very upset helps understand the situation. It may well be that the answer is better communication but keep the current approaches in place. Or it may mean an overhaul of current general practices. Empathy helps bring those to the table who think they are not allowed at the table and, perhaps, assists in developing the conversation that a future path can be taken.

Paul Nichols said...

Clevenger spoke his mind. He's paying for it. Maybe he'll learn that expressing a politically incorrect viewpoint (whether correct or not) will get you in trouble.
I wouldn't advocate that anyone lose their job over their opinion, no matter what that opinion is.
Those people ARE acting like animals. As is anyone who loots, burns, and riots. Remember the idiots who rioted after the Terps won the the Title in 2002? Those stupid whites should have been curb-stomped. They were animals.
Civilized people don't act like that. BLM is stoking fires of racial animosity.
MLK remarked that riots were the symbol of the voiceless (if I'm paraphrasing correctly), but he never advocated for it. He knew that destroying your own community serves no purpose, ultimately.
The Left and the media creates a narrative, and whosoever deviates from it will be brought to heel.
Adam Jones spoke the truth. Some people tried to discount what he said because it made them uncomfortable. He was wrong in his assessment that he'd face backlash if he did what Kaepernick did. He'd get a little, I'm sure, but I think most people would cut him slack simply because Jones is viewed as a good guy. That counts.
If Kaepernick did this back when he was riding high, he'd probably get a little more slack cut as well.
Kaepernick says what he says. A lot of people don't like it. I would disagree with his tactics, but in no way do I think the 49ers or the NFL should punish him.
Freedom of expression is a one way street these days; if conservatives don't like what you say, they'll argue back. If liberals don't like what you say, you need to be sit down and lose your job.
How very tolerant of those who claim the mantle of "most tolerant".

Jon Shepherd said...

(1) I have difficulty understanding the whole political correctness argument. There is an oversensitivity when racial tinged statements are spoken. I would not call that a taboo. A taboo would have had much stronger consequences for Clevenger.
(2) Literally, no. Animals do not loot, burn, or riot as you are discussing.
(3) I would fear a country that ignores the constitution and is OK with executing rioters without due process.
(4) Indeed, MLK said that people should empathize with those who riot and try to understand how to make that productive.
(5) Everyone creates a narrative.
(6) Re: Jones' comments. His view is on line with what the execs I know say would happen. Baseball is less welcoming than football according to them.
(7) The freedom of expression line is silly. Extreme elements on both sides go hard at things. Dixie Chicks getting banned from Clear Channel because they did not respect George W Bush. Etc. etc.
Empathy and pettiness are expressions that neither "party" holds a monopoly over.

Renaissance Man said...

"Freedom of expression is a one way street these days; if conservatives don't like what you say, they'll argue back. If liberals don't like what you say, you need to be sit down and lose your job"

As if conservatives don't want Kaepernick and other others who have joined in his protest to lose theirs...

No single group of people have the monopoly on intolerance...

Joel said...

Congratulations once again Mr. Shepherd, you've managed to write another mindless blog about nothing! Maybe your next keyboard dribble should include global warming quotes from Kim Kardashian.

Jon Shepherd said...

Dr. Shepherd and I have actually worked on a climate study. No idea what Ms. Kardashian says but hopefully she listens to a climatologist. That issue is settled. What to be done about it has not been settled.