Please enjoy this guest blog from @AkrobatikMC regarding the overtly racist reaction on Twitter following the Bruins loss on Wednesday night.
“Sorry, Timmy. I guess that one was for Obama.” That was my initial tweet after watching the Washington Capitals’ Joel Ward become the first black player to score the decisive goal in a 7-game NHL series, ending my beloved Bruins’ reign as Stanley Cup Champions. My jab wasn’t so much about Ward’s race, but about Bruins’ goalie Tim Thomas’ snub of President Obama when the B’s were invited to the White House a few months back. The fact that “the black guy” scored the game-winner did add even more poetic justice to how Thomas and the B’s had their season ended on Wednesday night.
What I had anticipated in the back of my mind (and then had clearly revealed to me the next day) was that the same footnote that gave me something to chuckle about relating to my team’s loss, would cause some significant racial backlash from hockey fans, especially fans of the black and gold. And that it did, with a slew of hateful racial tweets going out toward Ward, some even wishing for Ward’s death by lynching, and almost all of the hateful tweets referring to Ward as “nigger.”
After all of the initial talk from major media, the NHL, and even some players, I want to give my take on this.
A year ago I was in the hospital recovering from open-heart surgery as a result of an aortic dissection, something from which most people who suffer are not fortunate enough to survive. As I lay recuperating, there were two things going on in the world of sports that helped keep me motivated to get through to the next painful, hallucination-filled day: the NBA Playoffs, which I only really cared about because of how bad I wanted to see the Miami Heat lose (my Celtics had already been eliminated by the Heat), and the Boston Bruins’ Stanley Cup run. I will never forget rejoicing quietly as I watched Chara, Marchand, and the rest of my beloved B’s skate around holding the Cup over their heads. I never once was conscious of the fact that I was watching a bunch of white guys play a sport, although thanks to Vicadin they may as well all have been purple.
Fast-forward to 2012 – I’m out of the hospital, fully recovered, and getting back to normalcy in my life. A local clothing company in Boston came to me with the idea of making a Bruins theme song around the Wu-Tang Clan classic “Wu-Tang Clan Ain’t Nothin’ To Fuck With.” I loved the idea, decided to expand on it, and turned the song into a full-fledged EP entitled Enter the 63 Chambahs.
The project featured me rapping as the Bruins, but using the voices of the Wu and covering other classic tracks to put it all together, giving each Wu personality a Bruins counterpart. For instance, Johnny Boychuk is Johnny Blaze, a nickname Method Man uses. Meth also refers to himself as Hot Nicks, which was perfect, as Boychuk is #55. As I went along I realized how many players actually fit with Wu-Tang counterparts, so I took the whole thing and ran with it. The group’s main character is Nose Face Killah, the counterpart for Marchand, who is actually under contract with the clothing company. The Bru-Tang Clan was born. Even Tim Thomas, who I wasn’t completely happy with after the White House fiasco, became the ODB (Ol’ Dirty Bruin) of the group. Needless to say, my support of the Bruins and knowledge of its history was at an all-time high.
I took it a step further. Towards the end of the regular season a good friend took me to my first ever Bruins game, ironically against the Washington Capitals. I went expecting a completely rowdy and hostile crowd, and to be the only black guy in the arena. I was surprised to find out I was only half-right. The atmosphere was certainly family-friendly, and although the crowd got rowdy at times, I never felt uncomfortable, much less unwelcome. I was, however, the only black person I saw until I was filing out with the masses after the Bruins’ shootout loss. Regardless, I’m glad I went and couldn’t help but think that more black people would enjoy this if they came out to check the B’s.
But I knew it. As soon as I realized that it was in fact Ward (who’s family, like mine, migrated from Barbados to North America) who scored the decisive Game 7 OT goal to dethrone the B’s in this season’s playoffs, a lot of people would be thinking (and saying) “nigger.” There are many reasons why this doesn’t surprise me.
First of all, we live in a country that is in denial that it contains a post-racial society. Racism in America has not dissolved; it has evolved. And the world of hockey is one of the few places in sports where white people who harbor racial prejudice don’t have to see much that’s not white. But this same apparent comfort seems to cause malicious outbursts when a black player does something of note. It lies dormant within the racist’s psyche, like herpes, until something triggers an ugly breakout. A game winning-goal against their favorite team, or maybe a bad play for their home team, makes bigots even madder than they would normally get at the presence of a black person. It’s almost as if the presence of black people in hockey throws a glitch into the Matrix for those who have a distaste for people with brown skin.
Many of the Tweets found on Twitter have since been deleted or apologized for, and in some cases the accounts associated with them have been deleted altogether. But that doesn’t change the dynamic that the Internet brings to this so-called post-racial society. Many people’s first instinct is to bash people for exhibiting hatred under the cloak of anonymity, but that doesn’t even seem to always be the case anymore. People are usually not completely anonymous on Twitter, and the hatred is outright and blatant. Other folks have said that most of the tweets were made by “stupid kids” and should be dismissed. In my mind, the fact that there are so many “stupid kids” who have clearly been taught hate at a young age is far more alarming than if it were a bunch of, say, 70 year-olds. It means that this is being perpetuated.
At once supporting the “cloak of anonymity” argument and the NHL desperately needing an anti-racism campaign has been my experience playing NHL 12 on my Xbox 360. I love hockey, it’s a beautiful sport. The grace and coordination necessary to pull off the feats that NHL players do is nothing short of awe-inspiring. Since my ankles would probably snap if I even laced up a pair of ice skates, I enjoy emulating these guys’ talents in the video game. Unfortunately, almost without fail I encounter bigots who immediately start me calling “nigger” once my dreadlock-wearing defenseman takes the ice. I can never enjoy more than one or two games with a group without being reminded that “niggers” are not welcome in hockey and that it’s a white man’s sport.
As crazy as that seems in 2012, it is very real, and has been my experience while trying to enjoy a game I have a huge amount of respect and admiration for. Now, these guys are people that I probably see on the MBTA during my commute to the studio, and maybe even fans of mine. It’s hard for me to quantify with words how disheartening that is for me.
We have seen this before. How many country clubs still have policies that make it so certain people have very little chance of being able to join? Who can forget some of the comments made about Tiger Woods over the years? Here’s the problem: people hate what they fear, and fear the unknown. Black people seem to pose a threat to certain insecure white people, who see integration as takeover. But if something is fun and potentially lucrative, and takes place in America, why wouldn’t people of all backgrounds eventually want to be involved? And why would anyone have a problem with that?
There is not enough honesty in America when it comes to race. People shouldn’t have to feel like they need to be anonymous to express their bigotry. It’s a free country, free speech. I will at least give the racist tweeters that much. They said what they said, and (for at least a little while) put their faces behind their words. This is more than I can say for the financial hoarders who control the wealth in Massachusetts. Institutionalized racism is much more of a threat to our society than social bigotry, although they are both disgusting and need to be eliminated.
FIFA had a very visible anti-racism campaign, and although it may be hard to gauge how successful it was, at least they showed they care. The NHL needs to do this, NOW. I have seen firsthand how comfortable some hockey fans have gotten with racism, and there are many real-life implications of that. It should be stopped before there is an on-ice racial issue that goes beyond a black player having a banana thrown at him during a shootout (yeah, that happened).
We are all aware of race, hell – even my tweet after Ward’s goal had a hint of racial awareness, and I don’t think there is anything wrong with that. But when Brian Scalabrine pulls off a monster dunk, it’s more something to celebrate with perhaps some surprise than it is an invitation to say something bad about white people or call him a bad name, right? There’s certainly no hate involved. Why can’t a black hockey player get that same respect for making history and having his greatest moment? Even if you’re mad at him for ending the Bruins’ season, what part does disrespecting his entire race play in that?
Any discussion that involves race in America could go on and on ad nauseum, but the long and the short of it is this: People need to evaluate why they hate others, and should really consider that the problem may be within themselves. Passing racial bigotry from generation to generation is stifling and is a huge factor in the decay of our society. At the very least people should have enough class to keep their bigotry out of sports, which is supposed to be a family-friendly atmosphere. Everyone who is there earned his spot, and that should at least be worth something. Unfortunately, in trying to squash racism, we may be trying to climb a mountain that is impossible to scale.
The whole post-Ward tweet conversation may not be completely about the Bruins, their fans, or Boston and how segregated it is; it may not be about the whole hockey world being racist; but it certainly brings up some issues that need to be discussed honestly both in and out of the NHL, and amongst Bostonians, Americans, and Canadians.
My love affair with hockey is coming to an end. It’s really too bad that people still have not gotten past their ignorance and insecurity. But I guess it’s a good thing that there is still a realm that bleeds out the racism that still exists deep within the hearts of so many people, particularly Americans. All I can do is walk away confused.