Disbelieving abuse victims

November 4, 2014

Apropos of a conversation I had re: Jian Ghomeshi, we really should, as a goddamn civilized culture, stop defaulting to disbelieving victims of abuse, of any kind. Honestly, we make up our minds without literally all the evidence all the time, but it’s shameful that we need 500 forms in triplicate before taking the word of a woman over a powerful man. Instead of immediately going “she’s doing it for the money/attention/because he’s rich and famous” and making excuses for a powerful person we don’t know, maybe consider that the powerless have much less to gain by speaking out than the powerful do. I will always, even if you’re my friend and accused, default to believing the victims of abuse, every single time. Put simply, Jian Ghomeshi is a terrible person. I liked his interviews, just like everyone else. He’s still a terrible person. Don’t make excuses for him.


I taught a class once focussed on globalization and the sociology of sport. I made this list you are about to see to show immigration patterns and globalization as reflected in the game. Obviously, black players are no yardstick of immigration per se (see: Brazilian-born players playing for countries like Qatar, which doesn’t really have a history of immigration in the legal sense) but they certainly speak to globalization. You will find that the big colonial powers played black players earlier. That’s the legacy of colonialism and how it precedes modern globalization. Former Communist nations didn’t really open up to immigration until recently and that’s reflected here. If you’ll notice only Croatia and Ukraine have yet to field a black player on the international level.

Please don’t infer anything about the relative merits of countries, or the racism contained therein from this list. It is a tool to understand globalization, not a hammer to beat people with. It does not take into account ethnic diversity in any country, only when the first player played. Poland, for instance, has a growing Vietnamese minority, but it seems unlikely that we shall see a Vietnamese-Pole play for Poland soon. 

Group A

Russia– none (though Odemwingie almost did)
Greece-Daniel Batista (1994-1997)
Poland-Emmanuel Olisadebe  (2000-2004)
Czech Republic– Theodor Gebre Selassie (2011- )

Group B

Germany-Erwin Kostedde (1974-1975)
Holland– Humphrey Mijnals (1960)
Portugal-Guilherme Esperito Santo, not, as I thought, the legendary Eusebio  (1937-1945)
Denmark-Carsten Dethlefsen (1993)

Group C

Spain-Vicente Mate (1998-2000)
Italy-Fabio Liverani (2001-2006)
Ireland-Chris Hughton (1979-1991)
Croatia– none

Group D

Sweden– Martin Dahlin (1991-1997)
France-Raoul Digne (1931-1940)
England-Viv Anderson (1978-1988)
Ukraine– none

The Ukrainian coach, Blokhin, said something awhile back that speaks more to the current racism kerfuffle than Polish/Ukrainian excuses of “oh, those nazi salutes are just people pointing in the direction of the opposing team fans” or “they’re just protesting the exclusion of Krakow (excluded in part because of racism).”

Blokhin said and I quote:

 “The more Ukrainians that play in the national league, the more examples for the young generation,” he said. “Let them learn from Shevchenko or Blokhin and not from some zumba-bumba whom they took off a tree, gave him two bananas and now he plays in the Ukrainian League.” 

Sheva is a god so let nothing be said about his character from this quote but really, Eastern European football’s exposure to black people comes from the nigerians and Brazilians the oil billionaires imported to play in their post-Soviet teams. They didn’t really vet them because there was a belief that African players are naturally stronger and more skillful. So what they got instead was a ton of mediocre-ish players exposing political and class divides. The training regimes needed to be updated for the modern game. What did the players do? They blamed black players for it. Ultras have an outsized power in Eastern Europe. You’ll see a thread of anti-semitism in this too if you look closely enough. In Hungary, MTK are the second most successful club historically yet you’ll find they had the lowest attendance figures pre-relegation and you run the risk of getting beaten up if you dare to wear their shirt. I mean, they were a legitimately great team. But alas, MTK are considered a Jewish team. Are the players Jewish? They aren’t. But Jews have come to symbolize something, just like black players have. They serve as a reminder of power that rests elsewhere, of cultural change that is tangible yet imperceptible, of being left behind.

It is a complete and utter false equivalence when people say racism in, say, England, is even comparable to Eastern Europe. England has black people in their national team and a very high proportion of mixed-race people so the racism is less virulent, less hostile. I root for Sweden. One of the reasons why (the primary was that they were the first trading card I found for Euro 92 and also WC 94) was Martin Dahlin. An Afro-Venezuelan Swede! It helped that he also owned in 94 but 94 was important for the debut of the greatest Swedish player ever, Henke Larsson, a Cape Verde-an Swede. I rate him higher than even my idol, Zlatan, a Bosnian-Croat Swede, who will win Euro 2012 for Sweden. My point is that football is a microcosm of the culture of formerly monocultural countries. Football is one of the ways cultures are exposed to other cultures. My impression of Sweden was very different before I saw Dahlin and Larsson. But it’s not obviously easy for nations to seem like a multicultural ideal when demographic transition is such a difficult ask. Sweden struggles to assimilate its Bosnian/Serbian/Muslim/Arab population, seen in miniature by Swedish attitudes towards Malmo, Ibra’s hometown. Ibra talks in his book about the systemic pressures acting on him and others like him. His very presence in the national team is a negotiation of identity. Millions have to support him and that’s a negotiation too. Some countries have an easier time of this than others. This is why France’s WC-winning team was to be such a watershed moment. A French team that’s mostly black and Algerian? With a Basque standing in for white people? By and large, Europe is negotiating the assimilation of its Muslim population. Some of Europe’s biggest stars are Muslim, which will make the job possible. Benzema, Ozil, Ribery, Dzeko, Henry. When this is made clear in Ukraine/Poland, the idea is that they will see and appreciate the diversity that they don’t see in their home games.

Mario Balotelli is obviously one of the first players people who are convinced that football in Europe is racist will invoke. I submit that he is not a good example and yet at the same time, his saga is a model for how cultural attitudes evolve. Remember, football is both a “civilizing process” and “an antidote to civilization,” which is part of what makes it so intertwined with nationalism and ethnic pride. Balo is one of the most talented players in the game. Strong, lethal and blessed with incredibly vision, Italy’s hopes at the Euros rest on his often disinterested shoulders. He has been heckled more than any other black player in recent memory in Italy, a nation that has idolized Rijkaard, Weah, Thuram and Kanu, to name a few. His crime is not just being black but being Italian to boot. He is the first major black Italian player to represent Italy. Liverani, the first black Italian, was never good enough to conjure up this hysteria. Juventus fans claim that they’re not booing him or making monkey noises at him because he’s black but because he has a bad attitude. While he does have attitude problems, his blackness gives Italians permission to rain abuse on him that they wouldn’t on other players with bad attitudes like Vieri, Cassano or even the despicable Matrix. Ultimately, the abuse is part of Italy’s growing pains. They are forced to reconcile the fact that there are now black Italians with the fact that their hopes rest on someone who is other. To their credit, they have made peace with it to a large extent. Poland and the Ukraine haven’t had reason to. When the time comes, if it does, football will find a way to expand the meaning of what it means to be Polish or Ukrainian or what have you.

I was very cynical when UEFA decided to host in Poland/Ukraine because of their longstanding issues with racism and anti-Semitism. But on reflection, I think I believe more in football’s power to show people a new way than I do in the wages of racism. Football has a responsibility as the world’s most popular sport, something you find kids playing on dusty fields in every forgotten part of the world. Football unites because it is so primeval. We all get it. If anything can make a difference in Poland/Ukraine, it’s football. I trust it more than any political process or any recriminations.

I hope you go to Poland/Ukraine if you get the chance. Football will conquer all.

RIP Jack Layton

August 22, 2011

This is tragic. Jack Layton was awesome. It feels like only yesterday I wanted him for Starship Captain/Prime Minister and now he’s dead? Goddamn. Cancer sucks. He was exactly the kind of man we need in these times: idealistic and energetic and wry, forceful but not disagreeable. The kind that does not consider hope and compassion to be things one shies away from, no matter how jaded the populace (oh America, how jaded you have become). A joyful politician, that’s a rarity, one I hope we see more of in the future. I’ve never seen him in person–I wish I had during the last election when he sprightly campaigned with a walking stick–but even on TV, he always seemed a man deeply alive. L’espoir/hope is the most beautiful word in any language. It needs its defenders. It’s so goddamn easy to be nihilistic about the economy and politics. It’s easier still to be angry and bitter, full of resentment. It’s so tempting to think society and government aim to serve everyone but you and yours. These are troubled times to be sure but that’s why men like Jack Layton should exist, to remind us of the better angels of our nature, and to coax us into justice and compassion. Us modern humans, we don’t ever go quietly into our better nature.

It’s fitting, I guess, that Jack’s last lines (as expressed in his deathbed letter) were “My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world.”


May 26, 2011

I hate walking past the newark Public library now that there are signs that tell me it’s only open 3 days a week. I’ve never been a frequent patron of that particular library yet somehow, it irks me that it’s no longer an option. Sure, no one needs libraries anymore unless you’re poor and need internet access. Sure, they typically don’t have the books you really want.

My first time at this particular library was on my campus visit. Mike Turner and Ryan McIlvain were on hand to show me around the library building. I didn’t think the layout was particularly impressive, especially compared to the bustling modernity that is the Vancouver Public Library. newark’s Public library could, instead, double for a cheap vintage hotel with its central rotunda and spiralling staircases. There was a book sale on the third floor. We dug through stacks of old paperbacks and made fun of their titles and cover art. The elevator was dirty. On the main floor, the stacks were ugly and utilitarian. Even so, it was, unmistakably, a library, and made me happy.

That’s not why I’m sad about its eventual closing. It isn’t nostalgia but a notion of nobility that has me willing to donate money to a cause no one seems to care about. A library is like a forest in a national park, a relic perhaps, but beautiful and worthwhile in and of itself. We don’t go to parks to see ourselves. We go to parks to be among those not ourselves, the birds and the trees, the rivers and the trails. Libraries are like that. Unlike the internet, where the pages talk back, in a library, all one has is one’s yearning presence. We’ve gotten great at searching but not seeking. We search on the internet, and that’s well and good and worthwhile, but we really only seek at a library.


May 23, 2011

I was drinking at the time but I thought this was hilarious and the best comeback ever to someone saying feminism was evil and wrong because “everyone knows men and women are exactly the same and are thus affected exactly the same by all this patriarchy bullshit.”

“You’ve got nipples, yes?” I replied. “So do women.”

So zen, drunk me. Awesome.

After Bin Laden

May 2, 2011

In the shadows of tall buildings
The architecture is slowly peeling
Marble statues and glass dividers
Someone is watching all of the outsiders

-Jump Little Children, Cathedrals

They told me via text message. They told me to check my twitter. The twitter isn’t mine but I use it anyway. It reminded me of how they told me via text message then too, on 9/11. I was with my buddy Yazir then. I was his wingman, and vice versa. We were picking up a girl. Did we score? Did we fail? I don’t recall. When we heard the news, he said “they deserved it” and danced. He was born in Saudi Arabia. I jokingly called him a terrorist. I told him it was all downhill from here. He’s over all that now. He has a job and significantly less rage. 10 years will do that to anyone. These days, I take the PATH in to World Trade every week. I could have been there, celebrating with the others, if rehearsal hadn’t been moved up to 7 pm. It would have been an excellent excuse to drink and party with strangers. Things would have come full circle.

It’s strange how I’m of a generation that’s defined by coming of age in the post-9/11 world. It must be somewhat like being an Eastern European coming of age behind the Iron Curtain. That same reckless feeling, hollow. We lived and loved and all the while, folks were telling us there were bad people about to kill us, ghosts, basically, with impossibly long claws, prehensile tails and a stick of explosive clay. We went along, apathetic, while enhanced security, enhanced interrogation and enhanced screening were normalized. Three wars. We were kids. All we could do was grow up a little. To tell the truth, I can’t remember a time before this. I fucked my first girlfriend shortly after 9/11. I watched tens of people die, swept away by a flood in the years after. I had a gun pointed at me on the near side of that day. I graduated high school, college and grad school in the post-9/11 world, grew a metal beard, started a rock band and two metal bands, took up smoking, drinking, learned to cook but never to clean, all of this…life, for better or worse. Funny, I wasn’t even in the US in 2001, and new york was just where all the Christmas movies were set as far as I was concerned, but I wonder what it would have been like to have smoked my first cigarette in the pre-9/11 world? Would it have felt any different? This is the sort of thing that defines a generation. I’m glad it’s over.

I’ve felt like we’ve been living in Don DeLillo’s world for 10 years. Mao 2, perhaps, because that’s my favorite. That’s the book where he talks about how when the artists cede their place as the vanguard, that space is taken over by terrorists in the popular imagination. These 10 years have been a foolish time, hollow and electric. Things could happen at any minute, theoretically, though they never would, not the way we were told, but we prepared anyway. We gave up so much for so little. You’d feel cheated, if you were anything like me, young and determined to be hopeful about the world. 9/11 set up a static charge that hung in the air, infecting everything, that is only now finally finding release. In the days before today, all the passersby’s hair stood on end as they passed each other on the street.

The beginning of all this was a symbol. The beginning of the end, also. It’s okay to celebrate.

In defense of the TSA

December 31, 2010

I flew halfway across the globe twice in the last two weeks. At least ten TSA agents have seen my bones. Two have felt my nipples. One told me they liked the band whose shirt I was wearing. All because I said “Happy new year, man.” Those bodyscanners people talk about, pretty cool in an unnecessary sci-fi way. I half-expected to see the engineer Scotty on the other side. I didn’t even have to take off my shoes which was nice. In the middle of this, I misplaced my US paperwork and had to deal with TSA and immigration trying to figure out if I was legal. That turned into a discussion on literature, home, mothers and Ireland while we waited for the printer to work. I semi-flirted with a lovely immigration agent who gave me a card to fill out commenting on her service today. While asking me if I was importing alcohol or cigarettes, she warned me that smoking was injurious to my continued wellbeing. Best service ever.

I’ll gladly admit I carried an apple paring knife in my laptop bag through Amsterdam Schiphol a month or so after the underwear bomber. Also, an apple. Another time, I brought a ceremonial dagger into Canada as a present for my friend Morgan, without getting flagged. TSA is security theater. Anyone who flies with any degree of regularity probably knows this. It’s the illusion of safety that we’re paying for in the nanny state.

I look fairly Middle-Eastern, can speak enough Arabic to talk to lost Arabs at airports but I’ve been searched only a few times. I think that’s a credit to the ideal of fairness that is at the heart of modern civilization. It also helps that I usually walk around wearing a metal T-shirt that says Satan! or some such and have two braids in my beard. It’s pretty obvious that no religious nutbag would want anything to do with me. The border guard at the Bellingham border crossing asks me somewhat leerily every time if I’m a Satanist. Every time I tell this story though, I’m greeted with some variety of surprise. “Really?”, “I knew the TSA were incompetent but not that incompetent” or “no offense, but you were born in the Middle East, if they don’t check you, who will they check?” These are not stupid people I interact with, but fairly ordinary well-intentioned folk who are the sole reason we have a TSA in the first place. Because they need to be placated. For them to feel safe, I have to be searched.

The scanners do this. There’s no way a guy like me’s carrying anything onto a plane anymore. Cool. The outrage, it occurs to me, is because these folks are being subjected to the same pointless scrutiny that any brown person can expect at an airport. And not just there. Hell, a few months ago, I was meeting a date at the subway station in nyc. It was cold as fuck out and I had some bright yellow flowers I didn’t want to expose to the cold so I sat down on the ground, listened to some Afro-Cuban Allstars because for once in my life, I was early and my date was late. This random old lady checks me out, goes up the stairs, comes back again 5 minutes later to make sure I’m still there and then leaves. Five minutes later, the cops are there asking if I saw any suspicious activity and the alarm’s ringing. I had no clue what was going on. I had my headphones in so it’s not like I even knew anything was up. The cops looked frustrated but complimented my taste in flowers and wished me good luck. They went away muttering how this always fucking happened. And me, obliviously singing Habana Del Este, in my nicer clothes, carrying yellow flowers. I think it’s hilarious.

On this trip, I saw a woman, apropos of nothing, tell a TSA dude that “my grandmother has an artificial leg. I’ll bet you bastards will make her take that off too, huh?” Most folks in line for Amsterdam were more resigned and tired than anything else. Most of the TSA agents looked about the same. I’m pretty sure no one wanted to be feeling up strangers or being felt up by strangers for Christmas. Who knows how much abuse they’ve got to take from people concerned about their own civil liberties? I’m pretty sure that cops and immigration folk aren’t stupid. They’ve been doing their job long enough that they’re at least competent. With competence comes the capacity for good judgment. Judgment’s knowing which fights to pick. They were doing okay before all this hysteria about nothing caused people to force them to overreact.

This is what happens when much of the noise-making public’s driven by fear and wants something, anything to be done by a government they don’t believe in. It’s a quaint little paradox of “we don’t trust the Government but we’d love for it to be more active in everyone else’s lives but mine.” In such an environment, it makes perfect sense that security theater is necessary PR. The untrustworthy government must cater to the whims of people who don’t understand much about flying or airplanes or security. The people won’t trust them anymore but at least they’re doing something and the alternative is even less trust.

It’s not pleasant. I don’t much like this security theater business but you know what, it’s seriously not the worst thing in the world. I barely have the capacity to be outraged about everyone being made to feel ridiculous. To change this will require rollback of the very way we perceive ourselves, our expectations of government and risk. I don’t expect that will happen so until then, enjoy being Middle Eastern, Middle America.

In the meantime, you might want to do what I do. Smile, joke, flirt. It makes some poor hack’s life slightly less miserable. I’ve gotten through so many bureaucratic loopholes simply by being polite and charming. Better that than screaming about civil liberties.

ps: yes, I consider myself to be politically libertarian. So what?

The Rutgers University community is mourning the death of first-year student Tyler Clementi. We grieve for him and for his family, friends, and classmates as they deal with the tragic loss of a gifted young man who was a strong student and a highly accomplished musician. Our community is preparing to hold a candlelight vigil on Sunday evening at 7:00 p.m. at Brower Commons on the College Avenue campus. This silent vigil will be an opportunity to come together in this difficult time to reaffirm our commitment to the values of civility, dignity, compassion, and respect for one another.

Rutgers has a strong history of social activism on behalf of diversity. It was here in 1969 that the second gay college student organization in the country was founded. In that same era, student protests led to expanded opportunities for students of color at Rutgers. In the 1980s, our students spoke out forcefully and effectively against apartheid. We also have a proud legacy of world renowned research on women and the preparation of women for leadership.

By its history Rutgers University is thus committed to the moral imperative of an open and egalitarian community. That work continues today. Last year Rutgers opened an LGBT resource center and established our first LGBT scholarship fund for undergraduate students. And while we are working toward the creation of additional safe spaces in response to student concerns, we must make every space at Rutgers safe. Accordingly, I pledge that we will work even more closely with our student leaders to make certain that our campuses are places where students of all races, faiths, cultures, and orientations feel accepted and respected.

Let me also urge your participation in Project Civility (projectcivility.rutgers.edu), a two-year conversation on our New Brunswick campus about the meaning of respect and how we treat each other. The critically important issues of personal privacy and the responsible uses of technology, which have been brought into sharp focus this week, are among the timely topics that Project Civility will examine.

Rutgers is an imperfect institution in an imperfect society, but we are always striving to find better ways to make every student feel comfortable and fully empowered. We have the opportunity and the obligation to be a model for universities across the country. Let us work together to make that happen.

I’m going to have to go through my syllabus and again and do a little unit on LGBTQ literature. I think it’s one way to move forward. We’ve already worked on a unit on the Iraq war and Muslim narratives in the wake of all the hysteria of the past few months. After reading those works, I’ve found my students demonstrated more empathy towards their Muslim and military brethren, and hopefully, after this, they’ll do the same towards their LGBTQ counterparts. This isn’t to say that my students aren’t already accepting human beings but the way I see it, if it helps them be more active in seeing other people’s humanities, we’re all better off.

I think Project Civility is an extremely worthwhile effort. You should check it out. I’m extremely proud to be part in some small way of Rutgers’ mission.
Dan Savage’s It gets Better project is another extremely important effort. In the wake of all these incidents of bullying and bigotry and hurt, it’s important that kids realize that they aren’t alone and that it gets better. The It gets Better project is basically all sorts of people talking to queer youth and telling them to hold on. I can’t imagine how difficult it must be to grow up queer but it’s so important that these kids don’t feel that they don’t deserve to exist as they are. Even if you aren’t queer, you should watch those videos. We’re imperfect but we’re getting better. I swear.

Tyler Clementi’s suicide

October 1, 2010

This story made me sick. I’m a Rutgers grad. I teach here. I care a lot about Rutgers and Jersey. That this sort of thing still happens, where a kid ends up killing himself over his sexual orientation because some idiot roommate outed him over twitter and ichat is just…ugh. A real loss. I’d hesitate to call this murder or even manslaughter but it’s certainly more than just a prank. Dead because a couple of dumb kids thought his pain would be funny. Poor kid. It’s not that you were a good musician or gay or bi or whatever. Even if you weren’t any of those things, you don’t deserve this. RIP.

It’s okay to be you, kid, whoever you are, whatever you are. Don’t let anyone tell you different and if they do, don’t believe them. Your sexuality’s only a part of the larger organism of love and that’s what we spend our lives realizing. Pain goes away. You’ll feel differently a week from now.

I wish someone had told me that growing up. These weren’t my particular demons but they’re not far off. I wish someone had told Tyler that and the kids who led to him dying, Ravi and Molly, them too. We are all brought up so imperfectly, without belief in our right to exist.