Dominating the sports news cycle is the Miami Dolphins and the drama between Jonathon Martin and Richie Incognito. Martin, having enough of being harassed, left the team and checked himself into a hospital to address emotional distress. It later came to light that Incognito had sent harassing texts and voicemails which included homophobic and racist language. The Dolphins immediately suspended Incognito, it seemed fairly cut and dry: Incognito is a racist and bully. Yet, I suppose not surprisingly, many have come to the defense of Incognito and have even suggested Martin is to blame. This chaotic mess is all furiously revolving around the ever constant center, the nucleus of so many “scandals:” white supremacy.
First, let’s start with the most obvious: the use of the N word from a European. This is never ok. The fact that we still have to even say that is ludicrous. Yes, Richie Incognito is a racist. He may not even know it, he might not even feel negatively towards African-Americans, but none of that matters because racism is when privilege colludes with power. When white people use the N word they are evoking a history of racism that literally cost millions of black lives. They are also evoking a present day power dynamic that is far from even. Incognito, at the very least, subconsciously knew this, just as Riley Cooper knew this deep down as well. In fact, all whites know, when push comes to shove, if they really want to exert their position over people of color they only need one word.
More disturbing and problematic than this is the reaction of others around the league who have been quick to defend Incognito, including members of the Dolphins (yes, many around the league have spoken out against it, salute to them). It doesn’t matter if these players are white of Black because the line of thought is the same and is consistent with white supremacy. The defense takes on some variation of “he liked Martin,” “he called Martin his little brother,” “he isn’t a racist because he is a good guy.” It boils down to: he didn’t mean it. Again this is shallow and frustrating. But, it also betrays an aspect of how white supremacy functions: white people get to decide when something is racist or not and how people of color should respond. This explains how so many are baffled at Martin actually being hurt by Incognito’s words and actions: he should simply have not felt offended and known Incognito didn’t mean it. This is a fundamental fall back of those who defend the principles that make up white supremacy. What it misses is that intent never matters more than impact. It was not, is not, and never will be the responsibility of people of color to let you know you are being racist; it is always your responsibility to know you are being racist. Period.
Then there is the complaint, voiced multiple times, that Jonathon Martin should have “stood up for himself.” I am not sure what that means exactly, but I know this, by leaving the team and filing a complaint he did just that. Should he have told his teammates? Maybe. However, it is entirely possible that Martin thought, or even knew, his complaint would not be taken seriously and he would be told to get over it. Judging from his teammates response to the situation now I would suggest that is precisely what would have happened. His other option would have been a physical altercation. Can you imagine what the response to that would have been: The black man beating his white teammate. The league would have suspended him. There would be possible legal ramifications, it, for all intents and purposes, was not an option. This response reeks of hyper-masculinity cloaked in white supremacy.
It is a sad day in our society when another human being can be hurting so bad and we don’t notice. When we can make excuses for such hate and anger. When grown men feel so insecure with themselves that they seemingly can’t relate to anything other than brute force and the ugliest aspects of masculinity; when Europeans will come to the aid of someone who so obviously needs to be educated. However, I am hopeful that those few voices who are speaking out will be heeded and we can evolve as a society. It starts with having enough courage to listen and reflect.