Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Unfortunate Satire of Trayvon Martin

The Daily Tar Heel ran an editorial cartoon today that has drawn the ire of campus, the Triangle and supporters of Justice for Trayvon Martin across the nation. I'll get to that cartoon in a moment, but first, a story.

Growing up, I lived in Shelby, N.C., a small city about 40 miles west of Charlotte. I lived with my mom one street over from my grandparents. Since my mom worked 40 hours a week, I would spend a lot of my afternoons after school with my grandparents. Here's a quick visual of the set up (WARNING: This is really bad but I'm terrible at Paint and InDesign), with my grandparents house on the top street and mine on the bottom.

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When going to and from those houses, I would try to stay off the roads. The residential street on the left is one that has a posted speed limit of 35 MPH, but it's not uncommon for speeds to get up to 50 on the small road. To the right is Highway 74, the busiest street in all of Shelby. At the time of this story, I was no more than 10 years old.

My mom, the mother of an only child, would admonish me from walking on either the left road or the highway, and instead she wanted me to walk through other folks' yards. No problem. Going from my grandparents' house, I would walk parallel to the dangerous residential street and be insulated by the row of houses. Keep to the fence, and when I arrive on my street, just walk to my house.

That was fine and dandy until one day, I was confronted by the owner of the final house I would walk behind. I don't remember his name, but he was an older (70ish) white man who had several broken down cars and assorted machinery in his carport. I was with my friend, a white, blond-haired blue-eyed guy who, for the sake of brevity, had done things that should have landed him in juvenile detention while I was pretty straight-laced growing up. The elderly man approaches us, but he only talks to me. Apparently some things had gone missing out of his carport. He said he had been watching me cross the past few days but hadn't seen me take anything, but went on to say that if I ever crossed through his yard, he'd call the police.

So that was that. From then on, I walked down the road my mom thought was unsafe while my grandfather had some words with the guy. But last week when I heard about the Trayvon Martin case, I remembered that tale from the coffers of my memory. If accounts of the confrontation are true, Trayvon had enough of George Zimmerman following him around and eventually confronted him, inquiring why he was being followed when he was walking down the street minding his own business. Had I been 17 years old when my confrontation occurred, I wouldn't have acted like a scared pre-teen. I would have been confrontational. Who knows what would have come from it -- I'm not at all trying to make myself out to be a potential Trayvon Martin, because that would be obtuse and insensitive -- but it certainly made me think.


As for this cartoon, let me first say I'm glad DTH Editor in Chief Steven Norton is sticking to his guns. In his response letter, he shows how much thought was put into the decision to run the editional cartoon. He responds to the points raised by the overwhelming majority of people on why the cartoon shouldn't have ran. But it is not for those reasons I feel the cartoon was not the right one to run.

I joined the masses in outrage over the cartoon at about 10 a.m. today. Folks were saying the cartoon shouldn't have shown the dead body. Others said it was a subject that should not be broached. I disagree with both arguments. I find that showing the image of a slain 17-year old is a powerful, graphic message to those who may still side with the Zimmerman camp. Likewise, not broaching the topic only makes more people unaware of what happened in Sanford, Florida. You wouldn't believe how many people on the UNC campus don't actually know the basic facts of the case.

The cartoon (which it should be pointed out was not done by a DTH cartoonist but rather one from a wire service) attempts to depict the absurdity behind the killing. The text reads: "This wasn't about race. I shot because I felt threatened... Skittles are full of high fructose corn syrup." The cartoon isn't supposed to be funny. And yes, I agree, it's completely absurd to shoot someone because they feel threatened by a bag of Skittles, no doubt.

But what's even more absurd is to shoot someone because that person feels threatened by a young, black male walking down the street with a hood on. It's bigger than Skittles, or an Arizona iced tea or really any other facts of the case that aren't germane to the topic. That is never mentioned in the cartoon, but it's the biggest issue facing America right now.

Folks like Geraldo Rivera are going on national television to tell parents of black children to stop letting their kids wear hoodies. Black kids across the nation are being told to not look so suspicious. But who is telling the George Zimmermans of the country to stop being George Zimmerman? Who is out there pointing out the ridiculousness of a grown-ass man feeling that his community is being threatened by a skinny black kid with a hood on talking on a cell phone? (By the way, Bomani Jones wrote an excellent post on similar points in this blog.)

I wish the cartoon would have depicted that absurdity. Instead, the cartoonist went the route of Skittles, which effectively trivializes (or ignores, however you want to look at it) the important issue of the entire ordeal. It's as simple as this: You don't need a Skittles metaphor to show how senseless the killing is when you can actually show, WITH FACTS, how senseless the killing is.

The quote bubble says it wasn't about race before getting into the joke. I completely get it was a joke, but it was about race. And if the cartoon ignores that, if people ignore that, then the lessons from this unfortunate Trayvon Martin situation never reach so many. If American pundits satirize this situation with candy metaphors and ignore the racial aspect that's so prevalent, more people will continue telling black parents what to do with their kids instead of telling white (and half-white, half-Hispanic) adults what not to be afraid of.

No one is afraid of Skittles. Plenty of people are afraid of black people with hoods. Don't patronize that simple, unfortunate fact. Instead, attempt to change that irrational fear that far too many people have. Don't accost the dark-skinned boy for crossing your yard to get to his house. Don't act like you need a candy metaphor to make your case. Most importantly, don't go hunt down a kid walking to his dad's fiance's house minding his own business. Talk about race, and direct that talk to the George Zimmermans. Until you do, it's still about candy to them.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

I have a new job

After three and a half years of covering UNC sports, I have a new, permanent job as editor of CarolinaBlue Magazine.

Firstly, I want to say thanks for everyone at the Daily Tar Heel who made my experience there great. You all mean a lot to me and I had a great time working with you over these years.

*Added note: Yes, while I still a full-time student. I graduate in May.*

As for the new gig, the monthly magazine covers UNC hoops and football mainly but focuses on recruiting in both sports as well as sections highlighting Olympic sports and other features. If you're interested in a late Christmas gift, follow this link to subscribe to the magazine and its online digital component that comes out weekly.

I will still do breaking news and such, and you can find that at There I will have some stories for anyone to view and others behind the paywall. Either way, a link will always be sent out on my Twitter.

It's a short post because I'm really bad at these kind of announcements. Thanks to everyone who has already sent their congratulations and I really look forward to getting started.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

He's Not Here up for sale

The bar affectionately known by many as "He's Not" is being sold by the owner for $165,000, according to a Craigslist post.

The post states that the bar is to be sold as-is and that the bar's owner would like to retire and has no desire to negotiate the price. Noteworthy: The $165,000 may seem low, but I've been told it's only the price of the franchise. That price does not include any expenses with land and/or rent.

The Craigslist post was made near midnight on Jan. 1, but I've been told it's been on the market since early to mid December.

He's Not, known by everyone who has ever been to Chapel Hill for its blue cups, is the absolute best bar to go to on Sunday nights when it's not frigid. The best time I ever had there was Graduation night in May where it was standing room only both inside and outside, but every other person you bumped into you knew.

My good friend Tori Stilwell wrote a piece on the bar last year for the Daily Tar Heel. In it, she mentions the bar losing 15 percent of its revenue each of the past three years. She also discusses how the owner had come out of retirement from him home in Nova Scotia to oversee the bar after firing a 33-year employee.

"Mark's an old man, I'm an old man, and we were just taking an old man's approach, and we weren't getting anywhere," owner Dave Kitzmiller told Stilwell. He credited poor upkeep as a reason for the financial spiral the bar had taken.

He's Not isn't in the best shape, but that doesn't stop the place from being packed on one of those incredible Chapel Hill nights in the spring, summer and fall. I'm told the owner wants whoever forks over the $165,000 to keep the franchise staples in tact: the name, blue cups and such.

But I think I speak for everyone when I say keep the $4 blue cups and karaoke. But if you want to get a dehumidifier or put a stall in the men's bathroom, that wouldn't be so bad

Monday, January 2, 2012

Players, not donors, wear the uniforms

With UNC football's return to Twitter, the players have already offered up a few talking points in the days since their loss against Missouri.

The first of which came from Donte Paige-Moss, who released a few less-than-favorable tweets about his thoughts on UNC's fans, support and the coaching staff. (For the record, I had no problem with what he said about the fans--he was right. But don't sound off on the coaches like that. Anyway, neither here nor there.)

UNC DB Tre Boston tweeted Monday his wish to have better Nike jerseys. "Dear #UNC can we please have swag like #Oregon cause we have the colors to do it but have the tradition of cavemen #SpeakingTheTruth."

Boston's tweet echoed the sentiments of everything I've heard around the football team. They love the colors but find the jerseys to be basic. And when they wore the navy blue unis for the Thursday night game against FSU, that got the players up more than having the game on national television or Lawrence Taylor in the locker room.

It's believed the powers that be want to keep the uniforms traditional rather than go after the Pro Combat unis that Nike puts out or utilize those navy blues more often. Don't feel bad football team, this is kind of how all the females in Chapel Hill felt when UNC cut ties with Victoria's Secret's Pink collection a few years back.

While the older folks may not like the different uniforms and point to Maryland as the cautionary tale, the fact of the matter is it's not about them. It's about the players. And it's obvious the players want the jerseys.

Last season there was talk of silver helmets coming to the team. A photo of one popped up on Twitter but there it stayed, never seeing the field once. It may not be "classic Carolina," but it's something new. Virginia tried it in the Chick-fil-A Bowl the other night, and UNC quarterback Bryn Renner put it best on Twitter "Not a fan of the UVa helmets, but I respect them trying something new."

In my brief time covering recruiting, I've been told by two recruits that a major factor in choosing among schools is the apparel giant that sponsors them. One guy once told me, no joke, that N.C. State and UNC were neck-and-neck, but he was giving UNC the edge because the Tar Heels were sponsored by Nike.

If you can get people to choose your school over another based on who provides your gear, then don't you think you should use that to your advantage. All those scrubs at Oregon would still love being on the team if they were 2-10 only for the reason that they get to take home all. that. swag.

Swag up, UNC football.