From a reader:

Check Out Untold: Malice at the Palace, and Listen to and Share Bob Avakian’s Talk, “The NBA: Marketing the Minstrel Show and Serving the Big Gangsters”



I want to recommend that readers take time to watch the Netflix documentary, Untold: Malice at the Palace. That documentary walks through in detail how Black NBA players, and young Black men in general, were vilified as “thugs” in the aftermath of a brawl that was instigated by fans at an NBA game in 2004 between the Detroit Pistons and the Indiana Pacers at “The Palace” in Auburn Hills (a suburb of Detroit which was home to the Pistons).

And... in light of both the reality that documentary shines some light on, and what time it is, I want to really encourage readers to listen to and share Bob Avakian’s talk, “The NBA: Marketing the Minstrel Show and Serving the Big Gangsters” (available as downloadable or streamable audio files: Track 1 and Track 2). This is part of a series of 7 Talks Bob Avakian (BA) gave in 2006.

First, on the Netflix documentary. It examines the circumstances behind the brawl, which led to a barrage of ugly vitriol against Indiana players Ron Artest (who later changed his name to Metta World Peace), Jermaine O’Neal, and Stephen Jackson and that quickly escalated into a societal storm of vilification against “the hip-hop generation.” The way the incident was spun fueled and enflamed white resentment against the tiny number of Black people who had the talent, skill, and put in incredible work to somehow make it through the meat grinder that young Black people in America face and become highly paid (at least for a short time) NBA players.

The Netflix documentary does expose in detail, and on a certain level, the injustice of how the incident was managed. It reveals that while Black players were vilified by the league and the media, it was actually fans who instigated the violence. They showered Indiana players with beer, one even ripped out a chair to throw at players, and at least one ran onto the court to foolishly try to duke it out with world-class athletes. In fact, despite a frenzy whipped up by sports commentators and the media in general against the players, the only people who did anything to warrant criminal charges were fans.

The larger context of white supremacist America is not absent in the documentary. When Jermaine O’Neal talks about the factors that drove him to become a player who would go straight from a South Carolina high school to the NBA, he mentions that the Confederate flag flew over the South Carolina state capitol as he was growing up.

But here’s the punch line, or maybe punch in the gut about what comes through in the documentary, including the painful reflections of the three players in the eye of the storm: They weren’t able to come to grips with the reality that the NBA, a league built on Black players largely from the inner city ghettos, is marketed mainly to white suburbanites in a way that caters to and amplifies racist ignorance and prejudices in the way minstrel shows did in the post-Civil War Jim Crow era (I’ll get to the parallel to minstrel shows in a moment).

What hit me in thinking about this is how emblematic that is of the conditions of those who are the most oppressed in this society and who, not knowing what is behind the ferocious forces that use and abuse them, need to understand what makes this hellish system tick, how the trinkets it offers a few serve to perpetuate the oppression of the many, and how there is a way out of all this madness through revolution.

* * *

Like I said in introducing this letter, in sharing these reflections, I am drawing on and want to strongly encourage readers to listen to and share BA’s talk, “The NBA: Marketing the Minstrel Show and Serving the Big Gangsters.”

BA opens the talk by walking through the role of minstrel shows in post-Civil War America. These were degrading, racist depictions of Black people as simple-minded and subhuman, and were as popular in the North among whites who opposed slavery but not white supremacy as they were in the South. Often the players in these shows were whites dressed up in “blackface.” But other times, adding insult to injury, the performers were actually Black, but forced to put on “blackface” and act out degrading stereotypes.

BA’s talk (as indicated in the title), draws damning parallels between the minstrel shows and the modern NBA, and how the mainly privileged white audiences to whom these games are marketed are conditioned to see themselves as above, dominating, and not feeling threatened by the mainly Black players who they feel they can scream at and insult with impunity. The incident at the Palace was an intolerable disturbance to all that and the NBA’s thuggish commissioner at the time—David Stern—came down with heavy punishments without, as the Netflix documentary exposes, any semblance of due process or regard for the facts of what happened. He imposed a silly and degrading dress code to put the players as a whole “in their place.” And through this all, a “stern” Mafia-style warning came across that players could—at any time—be sent back to the inner cities with nothing.

BA’s talk makes a definitive argument that the NBA is rigged (which is criminal enough!). But related to and beyond that, he explores how the NBA twists and suppresses the talent, beauty, and artistry of the athletes in service of profit, and a system of global exploitation and oppression with white supremacy at its core.

Whether you’re a hard-core basketball fan, or have only the most remote connection to basketball, you’re going to find this two-part talk fascinating, revealing, and you will come away with an intensified urgency to accelerate our work to overthrow this system that turns everything it touches into poison.

And right now, as part of seizing every opening to push out revolution in these rare times, as you listen to BA’s talk find creative ways share it including (but not only) among people impacted by and talking about the Netflix documentary.

Bob Avakian’s talk, “The NBA: Marketing the Minstrel Show and Serving the Big Gangsters” is available as downloadable or streamable audio files:

Track 1 and Track 2.

The talk is one a series of 7 Talks  Bob Avakian (BA) gave in 2006.



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