Football Glorification and Its Link to Domestic Violence

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On December 1, 2012, Jovan Belcher killed his girlfriend by shooting her nine times and going to the football stadium in Kansas City where he met up with the general manager and his coach. He thanked them for giving him a chance to play in the NLF, and then, shot himself. My initial thoughts were, “Damn, another NFL player killing someone? Killing the mother of their child. The next question that comes after these thoughts are, why did he murder the mother of his child in cold blood?

One theory is that Belcher suffered traumatic brain injuries during his football games and practices. Traumatic brain injuries can affect or alter the behavior of a football player. Football, as many would agree, is a very dangerous sport. Why? Well, players are running full speed, slamming into each other with so much force that some players get knocked off their feet, thrown into the air, and crash landing on their backs, sides, shoulders, fronts, and on their heads. It is a violent sport, and even though you would think that football players’ armor protects them, it doesn’t. The speed and the hit of someone running on the field, coming at you, and hitting you is powerful and can harm you in such ways that you may not recover.

It is possible that Belcher suffered traumatic brain injuries where it altered his behavior and made him a more violent man as Derek Flood presents in his discussion, “Jovan Belcher’s Murder-Suicide Raises Questions of Traumatic Brain Injury in the NFL” (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/derek-flood/jovan-belchers-murdersuic_b_2229009.html). Flood presents that Belcher actually was a good guy who was an exemplary role model throughout his high school career. When he graduated from college, he received a degree in childhood development. The traumatic brain injury could explain why he went on a rage and shot his girlfriend and committed suicide.

However, I find this argument problematic, though. What I find more problematic about this traumatic brain injury is that my intuitive impression leaves me to believe that Belcher somewhat calculated or maybe fully plotted murdering his girlfriend. One such argument from BlogMother entitled, “The Crucifixion of Kasandra Perkins: Victim Blaming, Black Maternal Homicide and Stupidity” (http://www.whataboutourdaughters.com/waod/2012/12/3/the-crucifixion-of-kasandra-perkinsvictim-blaming-black-mate.html). This writer argues that Belcher murdered Perkins because he was an abuser. She also wants readers to take note that many African-American mothers are murdered while they are pregnant or after post-pregnancy. She suggests that the media is finding ways to make Perkins look like the one who isn’t the victim and that Belcher is. Initially, I thought that, like Flood, that Belcher did suffered from traumatic brain injury. Yet, the more I think about it, it is plausible that Belcher was an abuser.

Let’s continue to flush this out by starting with football culture to begin with. Our American culture is enthralled with sports. Sports are a powerful culture element in our country, in our society, and in our personal lives. In particular regions, especially in North America’s Southern states, football is our praiseworthy sport. I was born and raised and still live in the South. And let me tell you, Georgia fans get buck wild when college football and professional football season starts. Several years ago, I got a taste of this when I was walking through downtown Athens, and it was decked out in red and black regalia. Decked out. Girls had their faces painted with red and black paint and had black or red skirts and black or red shirts. It didn’t matter because the UGA students emphasis the symbol of what UGA football means: it is the university, and the university is more known for football than its academics.

But that’s what sports mean in our country. We award high school students sports scholarships, and many of these scholarships are full rides to the colleges or universities. I know that the HOPE scholarship I was awarded was not a full ride scholarship. I still had to apply for loans and grants to pay for my housing, books, and other materials I needed for college. The basketball players I know? Everything was paid for, and they didn’t have to apply for any grants or loans. I always wagged my head in how most of these players would shit away their education because all they needed to do was show up for basketball practices and their games and maintain average grades, and they could still get a degree and get a chance to get drafted by the NBA.

Another aspect that ties college sports and academics is the tutoring centers, tutors, and directors who help sport players maintain their usually above average GPAs. I was one of those tutors attending a community college. I would help many of the sport players. A few of them wanted me to actually help them learn the techniques of writing (I tutored English and writing) and improving them. The other plays wanted me to write their essays–come up with the ideas, flush them out, and type them a passing essay. These players’ behavior demonstrated that they believe they were entitled to coax me into doing their work. I would tell these players that it was no way that I would help them cheat, so they could maintain their sports scholarships and get to continue to play on the team. Typically, these players were football players because my community college was predominantly known as a football two-year school (not anymore…many years ago, they actually ended the football program). We had basketball players, too, but the ones I tutored, it seemed, wanted to actual learn how to improve their writings skills. Yet, I did have a few football players like that as well.

This is important to mention because I see this as part of the glorification of sports. We have a history of glorifying sports culture–particularly the dominant sports: football and basketball. Typically, whether a young person is in middle school or high school who is a sports athlete, they start noting right away that they get treated better than the entire student population in their schools. Looking back, all the kids I know who may have been potential geeks may have gotten bully or alienated if they were not in some type of sport. I do not know if some of the academic students did this on purpose, but they were cross-country runners, too. They participate in track and field. These kids were the most popular kids in school. Yes, they were noticed for being smart and in the gifted classes, but it makes me wonder if having that letterman’s jacket helped with their popularity even more.

Some of these sport players were bullies in my school as well. They taunted, teased, and humiliated other students because they were the jocks. They had power because everyone recognized them as being football and basketball players. Everyone recognized them as running in cross country or competing in golf. Sure, there were other students who got letterman’s jackets for competing in academics such as being on the debate team or participating in the band for four years. When they put on that letterman’s jacket, they gained respect for they no longer was gossiped about or bullied. One could argue that it was the JACKET, and the jacket represents students who participated in any type of competition entity such as sports or academics. Competition is an action that can cause dual results. Competition can be good. It can motivate or drive someone to excel and become successful in a positive manner. Or competition can be bad. It can motivate or drive someone to behave badly because they feel superior among people, and they exert their power to manipulate so he/she can gain certain incentives.

However, this glorification continues in other areas. We all (including me) are guilty of it one time or another or over and over again. In sports culture, we, the sport patrons, are willing to fill up stadiums, buy sport brands that athletes endorse, and on the college level, wealthy alumni are willing to pay huge endowments to sit in the boxes to watch their football teams get crushed and “shattered” out on the field so they can make touchdowns to win the games. With football especially, we glorify violence within the sport. All of us. Hell, I am not going to lie. I’ve enjoyed watching live football games and rooting on my home team or favorite team. Many of us have, and many of us will support football and other sports because it is a tradition of entertainment that has continued to be passed down from generation to generation.

But what also has passed down from generation to generation is the entitlement attitude and how we looked upon the image of sports players as well. It starts in middle school or high school. For some individuals, it starts earlier. Competition is within us. What tends to happen is that some of us don’t strike a healthy balance of competition. Depending where we come from and who we are, some of us compete no matter what the costs and could care less about the consequences of who it hurts. Whereas, some of us compete because it brings positivity in our lives and within ourselves like being a team player and showing people a good example of what kind of person you are.

When we discuss football specifically, the NFL, this all comes trickling down and comes back to Jovan Belcher murdering his girlfriend and the possibility that it is not a traumatic brain injury that aided in him killing his girlfriend. Why is this? Well…

Flood writes this about traumatic brain injuries and how they are connected to Belcher:

“Traumatic brain injury can cause emotional, social, or behavioral problems and changes in personality including disinhibition, inability to control anger, and impulsiveness. Additionally, TBI appears to predispose survivors to psychiatric disorders including substance abuse and clinical depression. According to a study published in the Psychiatric Times, suicidal ideation is not uncommon, and rates of suicide after TBI are increased 2- to 3-fold.

All of this fits with reports surfacing in the aftermath by friends of Belcher claiming that the linebacker was drinking every day and taking painkillers while dealing with the effects of debilitating football-related head injuries.

The combination of traumatic brain injury, alcohol, and handguns make for a deadly combination that not only may be behind Belcher’s murder-suicide, but has also been linked to an alarming trend of suicides and violent crime among soldiers returning from combat. Again, we find the same scenario: Good kids who suddenly “crack” and become violent.”

This is how the CDC defines traumatic brain injuries: ”

Potential Affects of Severe TBI

A non-fatal severe TBI may result in an extended period of unconsciousness (coma) or amnesia after the injury. For individuals hospitalized after a TBI, almost half (43%) have a related disability one year after the injury.9 A TBI may lead to a wide range of short- or long-term issues affecting:

  • Cognitive Function (e.g., attention and memory)
  • Motor function (e.g., extremity weakness, impaired coordination and balance)
  • Sensation (e.g., hearing, vision, impaired perception and touch)
  • Emotion (e.g., depression, anxiety, aggression, impulse control, personality changes)

Approximately 5.3 million Americans are living with a TBI-related disability and the consequences of severe TBI can affect all aspects of an individual’s life.10 This can include relationships with family and friends, as well as their ability to work or be employed, do household tasks, drive, and/or participate in other activities of daily living” (http://www.cdc.gov/traumaticbraininjury/severe.html).

So, yes, traumatic brain injuries can alter people emotions. When I heard that Belcher could have suffered from a traumatic brain injury that resulted in him being enraged and taking out that aggression on his girlfriend by killing her, I said that sounds plausible, EXCEPT when I read The Blogmother’s take on it, I begin to think about a few things that do not add up concerning the traumatic brain injury theory as well.

What did not add up is that Belcher only killed his girlfriend and not his daughter or his mother or both. He specifically killed her. Now, there is another well-known sports figure who killed his wife, his son, and himself: Chris Benoit. Benoit drugged and killed his wife and his son; then, he hung himself after he murdered his family. There were findings that he did suffered from massive traumatic brain damaged:

“His family now believes that new test results on Benoit’s brain explain his vicious actions.

The tests, conducted by Julian Bailes of the Sports Legacy Institute, show that Benoit’s brain was so severely damaged it resembled the brain of an 85-year-old Alzheimer’s patient.

Bailes and his research team say that this damage was the result of a lifetime of chronic concussions and head trauma suffered while Benoit was in the wrestling ring” (http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/story?id=3560015&page=1).

I do not know if the same tests will be requested with Belcher, but Benoit suffered extensive head trauma for 22 years. However, because of traumatic brain injuries, abusing drugs, and his failing marriage, he committed deadly actions. Belcher did wrestle and play football throughout high school and played it throughout college and signed up independently to the Chiefs in 2010. Belcher had physically engaged in sports half the time that Benoit did. And yes, one could argue that traumatic brain injuries affect different individuals because everyone’s physical makeup is different. However, there are striking differences between Benoit and Belcher.

They both killed their partners, but Benoit killed his son.

They both competed and was a part of professional sports except Benoit had been wrestling for 22 years, and Belcher had been playing football for 11 years.

They both killed their partners at home, but Benoit did it while there was no one there, but his wife and son, which he killed both; Belcher killed his girlfriend in front of his mother. He also did not kill his mother and daughter or either one while he was there.

Benoit killed his wife and kid, and their bodies were in their homes for days until he decided to hang himself. Belcher shot his girlfriend nine times, went to the football stadium and was confronted by the general manager and coach where they tried to talk him out of killing himself.

Benoit, in my eyes, seemed to have really suffered traumatic brain injuries over a long period of time. I can see traumatic brain injuries causing him or influencing him to kill his wife and son. What he did seemed insane. However, Belcher’s actions seems more calculated or clearer than Benoit’s. He murdered his girlfriend and did not harm anyone else in the house. He drove his car directly to the football stadium (I think because he idolized the sport, and it was the one constant in his life that proved he was an achiever in) and shot himself in front of people he respected. All his behavior does not seem out of the blue.

One may argue that he took his life because he didn’t want to go to jail and serve his crime. One may argue he took his life because he did not want to face his family in a court battle with the media branding him as a murderer. One may argue he didn’t want to get executed and wait on death row to think about what he did to his girlfriend. Maybe one would argue that he killed himself because he didn’t want to deal with shooting his girlfriend in cold blood and having to think about leaving his daughter motherless.

Whatever the case maybe, Belcher decided to drive all the way to the football stadium and kill himself. So, isn’t it legitimate to also argue that Belcher wasn’t as good as Flood writes in his response? That there is a strong possibility that Belcher had a dark side. A very dark side that he was hiding from all expect his girlfriend, Kasandra Perkins saw his dark side. Is it possible privately that he had control issues concerning Kasandra? He didn’t want her to go out and had a problem that she wouldn’t “obey” him?  It is also interesting to note that Belcher killed Kassandra while his mother and daughter were in the home. Couldn’t one say that…or argue that he has no respect for women at all? If he loved his mother, why would he shoot his girlfriend in front of her? If he loved his daughter, why would he take away her mother?

Chris Benoit’s motivations and actions make more sense with the traumatic brain injury diagnosis. Yes, again, it depends on genetics and what kind of individual you are, but I cannot ignore that Benoit was wrestling and taking heavy blows for twenty-two years…and his actions seem much more irrational than Belcher’s.

The Blogmother commented that the black writers on their blogs and black folks on their Twitters have responded in blaming the victim–rationalizing–what did Perkins do to him to make him that upset to where he murdered her. Yet, the Blogmother comments:

“SHE was the catalyst? HE had no control over his action because HE probably had a TBI- oh no it has to be concussions that are responsible….ANYTHING other than Jovan Belcher was a controlling bully who felt entitled to shoot his girlfriend.

Because mind you, Mr. Belcher managed to not kill his mother who was in the next room. He managed not to kill the security guard at the Kansas City Chief’s stadium. He managed not to kill his coach and the team manager. So were these some special “concussions” that only affected the part of the brain that deals with girlfriends?”

The last part she writes is interesting. He didn’t shoot anyone else but his girlfriend and turned the gun on himself. Before The Blogmother even writes this, she puts up alarming statistics that black mothers are murdered while pregnant or both they are pregnant:

“According to the CDC, black women have a maternal homicide risk about seven times that of white women. Black women ages 25-29 are about 11 times more likely as white women in that age group to be murdered while pregnant or in the year after childbirth. http://www.cbsnews.com/2100-201_162-4009249.html.”

What I am expressing is that football is a warring sport. It is a dangerous sport because football players sustain many body injuries. This warring sport can cause someone who already has a controlling personality and violent behavior to kill someone else. For me, it appears that Belcher killed his girlfriend because it was personal. I agree with The Blogmother. Facts are facts. He didn’t kill anyone else but Perkins.

Yet, who do we blame? Certainly, Belcher is to blame. Even if traumatic head injuries were partly responsible, he still was responsible for taking additional drugs and becoming heavily intoxicated which aggravated the situation. The possibility still stands that Belcher possibly had a very dark side that he covered up with good deeds. He met someone sweet, but she wouldn’t take his shit. When he felt out of control because he could not control her, he shot her dead–nine times.

The possible problem is that some of us do not want to consider other angles when violence as such occurs in the world of sports—in the world of football.  Football culture and what it stands for aids some of us to believe Belcher had a brain injury; the brain injury caused him to murder his girlfriend. The question still stands: why didn’t he hurt other people like Chris Benoit did? He killed his wife and his child. But because some of us glorify football…and many other sports, we tend not to see what is right there in front of our faces. Yet, we must consider that football glorification and how we put these players on a pedestal can result in cultivating violent behavior or even compounding violent behavior within players. Certainly, football is a violent contact sport, and I see how football players can easily become violent perpetrators in their intimate relationships.  Even though football playing may not be directly responsible, I cannot help think that there is some huge correlation. Belcher has always been praised for being good and doing the right thing and for being a good role model. In his personal, intimate romantic relationship, Perkins may not have been giving him that kind of idolization and praise that everyone else gave him on that field. If Belcher was an abuser, abusers want to control the situation because when you strip it away, it is sick, twisted attention that they are seeking. They are seeking glorification of being the one that the partner is boasting their egos. When their egos are not boosted, they decide to lash out because they are enraged that their partners “aren’t loyal.” Because of how football is glorified and many other sports, Belcher, I would assume, was a popular young male teenager and man as well.Because of that popularity and because he excelled at sports, he gained all kinds of attention from it. However, I think he might have expected that from Perkins when she didn’t want to comply all the time, this could be the reason he murdered. Yet, for now, we don’t know exactly what kind of behaviors were going on in that relationship. Yet, it was enough for Belcher to decide to shoot his girlfriend nine times while his mother and daughter were in the same household.

This is not an easy matter to discuss, but it needs to be discuss. I am not against sports. There is a lot of positivity that can result in someone playing sports. Sports have helped people who have athletic ability to get out bad environmental situation; sport scholarships have helped many individuals break the cycle of poverty. These individuals were able to lead successful lives and give back to their communities. However, many other kids who get out of the ghetto or rural areas or inner city areas, many of them are looking for a better life, but their mindset and what they believe isn’t always good for them. When they are drafted into college and/or professional sports, they do not understand the responsibilities are fame and idolization. Because we, as a society, glorify football and football culture and sports culture, we put these players on a pedestal. Many of these players have deep seated issues that do not get addressed. What all the fame, the fortune, and the recognition does is magnify these deep seated issues and add on more problems.  These players think that they are Gods and can do whatever they want because they are powerful on the field–especially when their team win games. The God status only enables egotistical behavior to where they believe that they can treat anyone any way, and they feel justified in doing it.

When you have someone who is an existing abuser and you glorify him and confirm to him that he is a God, and he thinks whatever he does is acceptable—that’s when many issues arise. One of the issues could be…

Belcher took his girlfriend’s life. He did it in the house where his daughter and mother lived at as well. I could argue that his actions portray someone who has no respect for women. If he did have any respect for women, why just go nuts on his girlfriend and murder her? In the meantime, he drove to the stadium where he met up with a general manager and his coach. It seems to me he had more respect for these men because he did not attempt to harm them. He confessed to them what he did, thanked them, and shot himself in the parking of that football stadium. Can we actually say that this is a feminist issue? That this is a sexist issue? Football has never really accepted women to play (even though I wouldn’t because it is a very dangerous and high risk contact sport that can immediately endanger your health), but it does accept NFL players or college players to have trophy wives or girlfriends or mistresses because our culture does treat football players and other sport players like Gods.

At the end of the day, we must think about how do we fit into this? What is the point of me arguing this? The point is their little girl is going to be scarred for life. She is going to know that her father murder her mom in cold-blood and took his own life. I don’t care if you try to explain that with a traumatic brain injury because that child is going to have to form her own opinions and her feelings. Well, her feelings are that she has NO MOTHER AND NO FATHER because of what her FATHER HAS DONE.
Sophia Muriel Flemming

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Too Many Questions

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When I entered someone’s place and noticed that they have a bookshelf of books, I am instantly attracted to this person because we already have a commonality: books. Hopefully, he/she loves to read books as much as I do. However, when a business establishment has a bookshelf with books, I am more impressed and fascinated. I thought that I was going in early yesterday afternoon for a $19.99 oil changeWhat I came out with is a reminder of who I am.

Anytime I found out that you have a bookshelf I am going to want to know you or something about you. I want to know what you are interested in reading. I want to know a bit about yourself. Because it is the book connection. So, not only did I find out that I was truly getting a $19.99 oil change (it was just a $21.32 oil change without any other “surprises” tacked on), I found out that the shop owner (also a mechanic) was a philosopher and a Libertarian. As we discussed what kind of philosophy he believes in, Ayn Rand’s objectivisim, and what his view on politics were, what really intrigued me and has plagued me for the rest of the day is a story about his daughter. I mentioned that my fiance’s father taught philosophy at the university for 30 years in philosophy and education. However, JH was not interested in philosophy. The shop owner shared that he talked to his son about Objectivism; his son understood it but had no interest but his daughter did. His daughter, taking her father’s philosophical lessons, decided that she wanted to come up with even a better philosophy than Objectvism. She decided to go to college. As any proud father would be, she blows the department away with her essays/writers on Nietzsche.

Yet, he told me that she was frustrated about what happened to her this semester. Basically, one of her professors was discussing socialism. Well, the shop owner’s daughter, after listening to the professor presenting his ideas on socialism, told him that there were contradictions in this concept. All her peers laughed at her while her professor did not back her up or support her thinking in why socialism has these contradictions. When the shop owner told me this, my heart fell. I know. I know. I know what you are going to say. Sophia, you know the game. You know the rules of the game. And some of you may be scratching your head, thinking, “What rules are you talking about, Sophia? The game is called: follow the leader. Don’t ask questions. Follow directions. Don’t ask questions. Follow laws: Don’t ask questions. Follow the rules: Don’t ask questions. Even then, some of us have been encouraged to ask questions in certain settings or spaces–one, in particular, the collegiate environment. Even then, students should not ask too many questions.

Each of us are different. We are unique. We are one-of-a-kind. Each one of us marched to a different beat when the drum sticks are rapping a rhythm on the drum. We all come from different ethnic backgrounds, cultural backgrounds, different regions of our states, different countries, different regions of those countries, different community experiences, different family experiences, etc. Because of all that and our personalities, we have to internalize and decide who we are going to be and how are going to live our lives. Some of us come from a decade or even an era of culture where we should not have questioned authority at all. We should strictly follow the rules because then we won’t encounter many problems. Some of us come from an era where we can ask questions, but they better not be the wrong or inappropriate questions. And some of us come from an era where we think we can ask all kind of questions because we are free to do so. BUT, it isn’t true. It’s not true because the case of the shop owner’s daughter.

A collegiate institution is a supposed to be a symbol for freedom for students to ask questions and investigate subject matters so they can think for themselves. In case of the shop owner’s daughter, she was pulled in by the Department Chair of Philosophy and told not to philosophize. He told her that she should do what the professor instructs and get her grade. And yes, all of us who have attended some higher educational institution have been to keep our mouths shut when we have crossed the line and not question what authority (teachers/professors) are doing…and receive ours grades and go about our business. What a huge contradiction we live in then. This country was founded on the principles that we all have the liberties and rights to think how we please and what we believe in. We have the right to question theories and ideas so we can all have free will to choose what we want to believe in. In reality, contradiction plays a big role when we are at a space where that space is supposed to represent a certain idea, but it does not. Typically, it is usually the individuals in that space or place who are the ones who are the authority on what we should say, promote, or believe.

I know. I know. You are going to say, Sophia, you know the game. You know that there are certain situations or certain places that you cannot ask questions, ask certain questions, or ask too many questions. You know this…and if you want to become successful in this world and stay out of trouble, you must comply to the rules of this game. Yes, I do know how the game is played. However, those who have played this game, are they truly happy? All of them? Is playing the game worth compromising who you are or the potential for you to freely decide who you want to become? Are the “material rewards” that worth it if one has to sell one’s soul to the Devil ? Is it that important for you to follow the rules strictly and be granted certain incentives but denying yourself of values that can sustain you throughout your life?

I feel for the nineteen year old shop owner’s daughter because she is getting her first real lesson of the game and the players. Because she “hated” on the game, the players “hated” on her. I basically told him that they had all ganged up on her and was beating her down with their ideologies. As someone who used to be that nineteen year old who believed in all the possibilities of changing the world and thinking that you can get others’ to empathize, well, in the process, you lose a bit of that innocence. People are driven by wanting to be like other people. The majority of us want to fit in. The majority of us don’t want to be left behind. The potential problem with this is that, how much are you willing to sacrifice to “fit in?” The shop owner talked about when someone lies, they are at war with themselves. I have never thought about lying in that way, but it is profoundly true. When you start buying into certain beliefs and not questioning and understanding why you are sold on those beliefs, you are warring with yourself. You are sacrificing your understanding and free will to understand and decide completely if you can live with these choices. You are operating on “bad faith” as Jean Paul Sartre explains in his Being in Nothingness. Bad faith is when a person decides to go into a situation knowing that they don’t know all about the situation, or they think they know all, but they aren’t questioning and understanding it to the fullest.

Isn’t this asking too many questions or not asking appropriate questions bad faith? If you are an individual in authority and tell someone you cannot ask questions or philosophize because you are disrespecting or rebelling against authority, then you are promoting someone to easily adapt to beliefs that may not fully enrich his/her life. You are encouraging that individual to take it on “faith” that this professor…what he is saying is better or valid than some other idea that you may believe was more fitting to your thinking…and you weren’t expose to because you took on faith what your professor was saying was authority because your professor is authority.

I think that learning begins when an individual asks questions about everything. Eventually, it leads you to ask questions about yourself. Who are you really? What do you believe? How do you think? What are you good at? What burdens you? What makes you fall short? How do you want to live your life? What kind of lessons, beliefs, or ideas you want to learn? I think that it is profoundly sad when you have a collegiate institution sending a message that our institutions are here to help cultivate your independent thinking. On the other hand, the individuals in that collegiate environment are backhanding the symbol’s message and undermining students by sending the message that in certain spaces, students cannot ask questions or think for themselves. When that happens, well, you are putting people in a state of crisis. Yes, the person can “accept” what the authority figure says and continue following what that figure says. Or you can form your own ideas and understandings about who you are and the world you live in.

Regards,
Sophia Muriel Flemming

Can White Female Writers Write Characters of Color?

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Lena Dunham’s GIRLS has become one of the most talked about shows in 2012. Dunham who released a short film called Tiny Furniture got praises for her writing and directing on her small project. In an informative NPR interview entitled, “Lena Dunham Addresses Criticism Aimed At ‘Girls’,” the article addresses how Tiny Furniture led Dunham to a deal with HBO to write, direct, and produce GIRLS. Although this show has gotten many accolades, it has also garnered interesting criticisms. One of the major criticism that caused controversy about this show is that: Dunham has not created characters that are people of color.

The same NPR article addresses how Dunham did an interview NPR’s Fresh Air. The article points out this highlight from Duhman’s interview in how she responds to the criticism in neglecting to create and include characters of color:

“”I take that criticism very seriously. … This show isn’t supposed to feel exclusionary. It’s supposed to feel honest, and it’s supposed to feel true to many aspects of my experience. But for me to ignore that criticism and not to take it in would really go against my beliefs and my education in so many things. And I think the liberal-arts student in me really wants to engage in a dialogue about it, but as I learn about engaging with the media, I realize it’s not the same as sitting in a seminar talking things through at Oberlin. Every quote is sort of used and misused and placed and misplaced, and I really wanted to make sure I spoke sensitively to this issue. …

“I wrote the first season primarily by myself, and I co-wrote a few episodes. But I am a half-Jew, half-WASP, and I wrote two Jews and two WASPs. Something I wanted to avoid was tokenism in casting. If I had one of the four girls, if, for example, she was African-American, I feel like — not that the experience of an African-American girl and a white girl are drastically different, but there has to be specificity to that experience [that] I wasn’t able to speak to. I really wrote the show from a gut-level place, and each character was a piece of me or based on someone close to me. And only later did I realize that it was four white girls. As much as I can say it was an accident, it was only later as the criticism came out, I thought, ‘I hear this and I want to respond to it.’ And this is a hard issue to speak to because all I want to do is sound sensitive and not say anything that will horrify anyone or make them feel more isolated, but I did write something that was super-specific to my experience, and I always want to avoid rendering an experience I can’t speak to accurately” (http://www.npr.org/2012/05/07/152183865/lena-dunham-addresses-criticism-aimed-at-girls?ft=1&f=1008#).

I am very intrigued with this because I’ve read interviews from Conversations with Toni Morrison edited by Danielle Taylor-Gutherie. In Kathy Neustadt’s “The Visits of the Writers Toni Morrison and Eudora Welty,” Morrison responds to Neustadt’s question: “In Song of Solomon, the main character is a man, and you seemed to have no trouble getting inside of him. Do you think that men and women in general can write about each other honestly?” Morrison responds with not only if men and women can portray it each other honestly, she also broaches if white and black writers, especially white writers, can characterize each other in their writings: “They ought to be able to do it. It shouldn’t be a problem—it’s just a question of perception. You know, it’s like we were saying in class yesterday, about that question that always disturbs me, that question of identification with black writers and about being able to understand the book in spite of that. It’s always a bothersome idea. But Nadine Gordimer writers about black people with such astounding sensibilities and sensitivity—not patronizing, not romantic, just real. And Eudora Welty does the same thing. Lillian Hellman has done it. Now, we might categorize these women as geniuses of a certain sort, but if they can write about it, it means that it is possible. They didn’t say, ‘Oh, my God I can’t write about black people’: it didn’t stop them. There are white people who do respond that way though, assuming there’s some huge barrier. But if you can relate to Beowolf and Jesus Christ when you read about them, it shouldn’t be so difficult to relate to black literature.

When Morrison’s and Dunham’s thoughts are compared side by side, what happens is magnificently powerful. Morrison addressed Neustadt’s question in 1980. Dunham responded in her interview in 2012. Morrison is an established African-American writer who has won many awards and accolades for her writing. Dunham is a Jewish-American woman who has been given praises for her honest writing about how twenty year old women are portrayed. What does this have to do with Dunham’s comment about her inability to write black characters initially in the first season? And what does have to do with Morrison’s response 32 years prior?

Well, here are some educated guesses. Maybe Dunham hasn’t read Morrison’s interviews. Maybe Dunham doesn’t have friends of color. However, it is very, very uniquely intriguing that Morrison has also stated in another interview done by Claudia Tate what critics think about black writers and how black people do not have ideas to write: “Critics generally don’t associate black people with ideas. They see marginal people; they just see another story about black folks. They regard the whole thing as sociologically interesting perhaps but very parochial. There’s a notion out in the land that there are human beings one writes about, and then there are black people or Indians or some other marginal group. If you write about the world from that point of view, somehow it is considered lesser. It’s racist, of course. The fact that I chose to write about black people means I’ve only been stimulated to write about black people. We are people, not aliens. We live, we love, and we die”

The discussion about Dunham and Morrison and their take on writing black characters is a complicated and complex discussion. Morrison made this statement in 1983 to Claudia Tate. This is three years after the interview I used quoting her on writers especially white writers, should not have a problem with writing black characters. So, when discussing Dunham and Morrison, isn’t Dunham right in some capacity? Isn’t she choosing to write what she knows as she stated? In Dunham’s world, as she admits, she comes from a Jewish WASP background. In her world, she may not be closed friends with people of color. Should a person brand her from not including ethnic characters in her first season of GIRLS since Dunham has explained that her world is colored limited in her personal life? That her perspective is color limited because she is writing what she knows; she is writing about herself and her experience which is a 26 year old white female experience? Now, Dunham didn’t say that she has limited black friends or friends of color. I am making guesses based on what she said that she comes from a Jewish and WASP background. So, again, I am assuming that Dunham does not have black friends or many black friends or no black friends because she does not further specify the general-specific response she gives.

Then, that begs the question, is that the reason why Dunham maybe not writing characters of color because she does not personally or intimately have friends as such? This woman is 26 years old. Many people assumed that twenty-something year olds are heavily exposed to diversity. That isn’t true, and people should not generalize that. I taught in a Northeast Georgia rural town for half a year, and there wasn’t much diversity. I grew up in a Middle Georgia town which didn’t have much cultural diversity. When I taught at this school, boy, did I feel the heat. Stepping into that town and stepping into that school is why I left the rural town I was raised in. I didn’t want to be exposed to just “black and white” because usually small rural towns have the reputation of segregation, discrimination, and prejudice. Usually, that racist reputation in many small towns, unfortunately, is true. Some of these kids are growing up in these towns which practice the same racial caste system although many of these kids are being exposed to some television shows and films where diversity is prevalent.

Just like in rural Southern and Northern towns in Georgia, there are other areas of our country where young people are not exposed to much diversity. If they are, their family’s attitudes might influence them not to immerse themselves in diversity. I cannot say for certain this is Lena Dunham’s case, but it possibly could be. As someone who comes from a small Southern, middle Georgian rural town, well, and who went to a liberal arts college like Dunham, and who has been exposed to all kinds of people, and their cultures, and their attitudes, how come I am confident to write or have the ability to feel the confidence to write any type of characters concerning sex, race, ethnicity, gender, and class? Throughout my childhood, I was heavily exposed to writer writers. I got interested in the horror genre—R.L. Stine’s Goosebump series, and then, the Fear Street Series. Then, I started becoming interested in Zebra romances and Stephen King. Due to me experiencing colorism among my black peers throughout middle school, I identified with white authors easily because the majority of my friends were white. I had a few black friends but not as many as white friends. It was quite easy for me to think that there was only white writers—especially white male writers. However, somehow, I didn’t care about what their skin color was. I liked their writing. I was exposed to the horror genre—books, films, and television shows because my mom loved horror genre herself. It was until I got into high school, and I started to really examine our small town library that I found that there were actually black writers writing black fiction.

This is why I am I am writing the discussion about Toni Morrison and Lena Dunham. I am deeply captivated by the discussion of how individuals create characters and how they are criticize if they don’t show diversity in their works. I relate to Morrison and Dunham. I relate to Morrison because she writes about black people in a way that I recognize those characters. There were individuals in Cochran that were similar when I grew up with that similar to the characters I read about in her novels. I relate to Dunham because I was once in my twenties, and when I reflect on my experiences, I can relate to her characters, or I can feel relieved that I did not screw up as bad as her characters. Yes, one is an eighty something year old black woman who has won major literary prizes—Pulitzer and Nobel—while the other one is a twenty something year old who is just beginning her career. Their commonality is that they are both women whose trades are to write characters that are reflective of their experiences.

There are many topics to touch upon in this conversation that I have not even begin to scratch the surface. What about sex concerning Morrison’s and Dunham’s characters? How does Morrison and Dunham portray women and men in their fiction works? How does Morrison and Dunham portray old and young characters throughout their works? How should we see one writers as being established and being in the writing game longer than one who is just beginning her career? My writing discussion is about looking at two women who have given differing opinions about how they write white and black characters. One woman who didn’t think about writing characters of color until criticism made her take notice of who leaving them absent, and while the other choose to write about her own race because she was not seeing enough black fiction to choose from to read. This writer knows that black Americans are important and should be represented by writers in their fiction because they are AMERICANS.

What I am expressing is that Dunham needs to really think about how she is going to respond to the criticism about not having enough diversity in her show. I give Dunham a free pass because she expressed that she was focused on creating a story that involved around her (“write what you know”). However, sometimes, a writer needs to admit clearly why they have done what they’ve done. I applaud you for admitting why you didn’t have characters of color in your writing. Yet, I do agree with Morrison. You should not let your doubts of portraying people of different cultures and backgrounds deter you from attempting to write about them if that is what it is.

Criticism is a bitch, and it is a worse bitch when you try to write about something that you think that you are not qualify to write about. If you try to write about it, yes, you can get crucified for it. However, it’s a Catch-22 situation, and if you don’t do it, you damned. If you do it, you damned. Basically, when we let our writings out into the world, we are damned in a way that some folks are going to cheer for us, and some folks are going to try to blast us out of the universe. However, I am glad that Dunham will try and write characters of color. Yet, I will also like to say maybe this is a teaching lesson in writing and open-mindedness for all writers who need to think about how they are going to portray characters in their works.

In order for one to write, one’s mind has to be opened. I hope that Dunham decides to venture out and find out more about black culture. However, even if she didn’t, as Morrison says, she should be able to do it because she can relate to other people and other characters from other novels. She will have to find her rhythm and the truth. If she is a good writer, and she will have to demonstrate that she is a good writer, unless she loses her wits, I think that she can achieve in writing other minority characters. It’s no sweat, right?

Well, it is sweat, but I will say that if writers don’t try, how do they know that they can succeed? Dunham said she was going to do it. Well, I am looking forward to it. No pressure. If writers cannot do something justice, take others criticism, the good criticism in stride and write better ethnic characters, then what is point in wanting to grow in their writing?  We are humans trying to continue to perfect our craft.
Sophia Muriel Flemming

The Beginnings of Flemming as a Writer

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Books have always fascinated me. Ask my close friends, family members, and acquaintances. I will always stress that books have a significant impact on my life. They always will. They have taught me several things:

First: That words mean everything to me. They absolutely do. They leave me in wonder like lines and shapes leave a painter or drawer in wonder. To me, words are like paint, chalk, pastels, or drawing pencils. They are the artistic utensils to use when you create a story just like painters or drawers use pastels or pencils to create a visual picture. Words have changed the world. Words have helped soothe people. Words have help me see how I really am. Words have helped me to see who I really am. Words have a stunning impact on how people act, say, or behave with themselves and each other. Words are the tool I used to express myself and learn about myself.

Second: Stories mean everything to me. The one story that changed my life was F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. It happened in my 11th grade college prep literature class. One reason this book changed my life is because it shattered the stereotype that literature is a bunch of old boring books. Old fashioned stories. What The Great Gatsby did was allow me to enter a world that seemed so modern; it also helped me realize that literature has timeless tales. I was intrigued by Nick Carraway, Jay Gatsby, and Daisy Buchanan, and Tom Buchanan. For the first time, I saw love and scandal in a form of beautiful prose. The Great Gatsby solidified for me that literature isn’t what I was told that it was: BORING AND OLD. Second, why The Great Gatsby has so much significance for me is because of my classmate Daniel. I made a criticism about Daisy, and I cannot remember what I exactly said about that character. Yet, Daniel looked at me in a newfound way: with respect. He was a student who went from a geek/nerd to a cool, wild preppy boy who lost a lot of weight. However, he looked at me differently that day. He looked at me as I belong in that class with him. That we were equals. So, stories…can bond people. Stories can bring people together. Stories can influence people to see others differently, situations differently, and yourself differently. For that, I will always be grateful for this novel. I owe a lot to it because it helped affirmed for me that I will be a writer. I will always be a writer. Most importantly, I will always be a reader.

Third: Books showed me that writing means everything to me. Reading makes writing possible. Writers who write books who become authors…who become literate storytellers make writing possible. For me, reading and writing are tied together. They are interconnected and interrelated. You can learn a lot from reading different types of writings, different styles of writings, and different techniques of writing. Reading gives readers/writers the ability to see what the value of writing is…and how you can contribute, as a writer, to this large club of writers. Whether we write publicly or privately, we are writing. And somewhere in there, we can learn more about ourselves than we know.

So, the beginnings of me becoming a writer start with books. The library. Dictionaries. R.L. Stine. Diane Hoh. Stephen King. Robin Cook. Toni Morrison. Wally Lamb. It is the learning experience of being in the rapture of reading. Reading the stories. Learning from how authors create and to maturing and venturing out into other genres of reading tastes. Now, I have been exposed to many wonderful high brow authors, middle brow authors, and low brow authors. We need all those types of brows because people like reading certain kind of brows…and certain kind of genres…and certain kind of authors.

So, the beginnings of me wanting to be a writer has to do with reading. It has to do with believing that words are vital. That words DO MATTER. They matter, and they matter to the writer for that is how we writers express ourselves. One of my professors shared with his students once that your own writings shows WHO YOU ARE. That you are someone who can look at your writing and see what you are thinking. For me, that’s what writing is about. Writing, whether it is fiction or nonfiction is about who I am. It is about what I see. It keeps the inner child in my well and alive. It keeps me sane. It has saved my life on more occasions in every way possible. It has helped me to learn about myself and love myself more than I could ever.

Writing is here. Writing is now. Writing is me. It is the path to my salvation. It is the path to my redemption.

Regards,
Sophia Muriel Flemming