Thursday, March 17, 2011

[thoughts on Grant Hill's response] [a response in three parts]

duke is a school full of elitist kids. so is penn. and harvard. and yale ... and and and ...

sure. hill's parents are likely wonderful people. great. they work hard. wonderful. so did jalen's mother.

hill's comments, though, of necessity, cannot speak to the reality that animate(d?) jalen's comments in the first place: the structural inequalities that make it difficult or anomalous when someone from the hood makes it into an elite institution like duke ... we can act as if this is not the case. but i think our colleagues - myself included - display the sorta classist, racist, elitist assumptions that animate admissions processes. which is to say: most poor folks [which necessarily includes people of color] will not be going to *any* college, let alone an elite institution like duke. the ones that are from backgrounds like jalen's who *don't* play sports will likely be even more exceptional to the rule. so hill must swerve around and past the sorta institutional inequities that make him possible in a place like duke.

i'm not necessarily standing with rose. but i'm definitely not standing with the sorta politics of respectability narrative that is foundational to hill's piece: this narrative *must* dismiss the historical, material realities of inequality that operate within black communities in order to make a claim about work ethic as not negating the possibilities for blackness. as if blackness and laziness are the norm and that his parents and grandfather widened the notion of blackness to include a "strong work ethic"...


Hill's naming of work ethic is vulgar because he does not believe it and because it acts as moral injunction and general condemnation. If he actually believed that Jalen's mother worked just as hard as his parents, then his claims to work ethic of his family becomes an erroneous way to defend his placement in a place like duke and contradicts his argument. That is, work ethic does not necessarily translate into success. We've all read about inequities that exist by way of class, location, gender. If Jalen's mother worked as hard as his as he claims, then some other thing must account for his parents' and his successes. We typically recognize that as privilege, unearned, self-perpetuating and insidious.

He don't think that work ethic belongs to folks who don't succeed romantically, financially or emotionally in ways that mirror his parents for to do so, he'd have to acknowledge that hard work means little, not when kids are tracked, not when standardized tests are biased and not when the economic system under which we exist *needs* exceptional examples of "success"...

So it just rings hollow to me, his claims. And to be sure, I'm sure we all know that economics plays as much a role in educational opportunities as it does for romantic engagements. Sure. Hill didn't create these inequities but to act as if an institution like duke is neutral rather than founding itself upon these inequities is a mess ...


so ultimately, Hill appears to be interested in asserting his and his family's right to spaces like Duke, not necessarily because everyone has the sorta merit but because he and his family has a particular work ethic. denial to spaces like Duke --and critique of places like Duke from figures such as Jalen; even when in the language (i.e., "uncle toms" is sloppy and not well-deployed)-- would be a particular violation of rights. but he remains unable to think about how the violation that he is so concerned about necessarily must violate other people in the same ways that he sought to rise above: that is, the rights to and freedoms he so desires for Duke because of the claim for hiswork ethic must obscure the fact of labor and class stratification.

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