Term Paper: African-American Culture Has Evolved

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African-American culture has evolved significantly in the past two decades. While the overall socio-economic conditions of African-Americans within the United States have changed substantially for the better, their cultural and institutional instincts can only be subjectively understood. One of the growing phenomenons of this era is the emergence of sports not only as part of their cultural legacy, but a defining factor in masculinity. This is no where more epitomized then the rise of the Los Angeles Lakers and the emergence of African-American sports stars as cultural icons for masculinity development. Basketball has not only become an escape for the perpetually poor and "ghetto rats," but also a defining feature of masculinity within African-American communities. The rise of the Los Angeles Lakers and specifically Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal, can be used to define a generation of African-Americans.

The following analysis will look at the cultural phenomenon of black masculinity as it is defined through the evolution of basketball into an almost defining form of masculinity within African-American culture. Basketball has transcended the development of networks and social apparatus to become an institutional concept of identity for the black community, not only has it impacted youth but is in the process of redefining traditional African-American values and attitudes.

The unprecedented success of the Lakers' three championship runs had many consequences on the media, the players, and the youth culture that thrived on their heroes' achievements. Michael Jordan once jokingly told Chicago Tribune reporter Bob Greene, "The media's crazy, they never let you go. it's like once they start following you, there's no more privacy" (Greene, 190). Although Kobe Bryant and the Lakers did not garner the same media blitz that Jordan endured throughout his career, they definitely felt the glitz and glamour of public adoration. Kobe subsequently made twelve commercials for Reebok in the year after their first championship (Bucher 2004). He signed multimillion dollar contracts with four different companies including one with Adidas for 80 million dollars (Bucher 2004). Magazines from ESPN to GQ all fought to feature him, as his reputation and name became part of the image of American basketball. Perhaps to the outsider this media attention represents the height of fame and immortality, but the media business and sports marketing in particular have many downsides that few take the time to examine. In Kobe Bryant, the media created an icon out of a one-dimensional image. Although magazines and commercials made sure everyone was aware of Kobe's bright smile and exceptional basketball abilities, they ignored his flaws as a player and as a person. Fans saw Kobe's flashy drives to the basketball and thunderous dunks but ignored his selfish ball hogging and oftentimes unforgivable turnovers. Kobe's image heralded in a new era of basketball, one that demanded one on one skill and superior athleticism rather than teamwork. The media "[took Kobe's] best trait and amplified it a thousand times to the point where nothing else [mattered]" (Schaaf 30). Kobe's marketing made him an international superstar, his fans recognized him for his on court heroics, but they never saw him as the vulnerable teenager or his immature behavior on and off the court. To the millions of American and international youth who watched Kobe's highlights on ESPN, Kobe became synonymous with success. This is especially true of the international image of NBA basketball. The millions of viewers in the international community identify American basketball as uniquely individually oriented rather than team oriented. The media's promotion of Kobe's personal success establishes stereotypes of not only African-American basketball but American basketball in general.

The media hype changed both Kobe and his fans. For Kobe, the media forced him to develop a double consciousness. Just as Dubois claimed that the African-American had a "double life" where "double thoughts, double duties and double social classes give rise to hypocrisy and [social insecurity]" (Mohammed 17), Kobe developed a similar double consciousness in light of his media image. He saw himself as the vulnerable teenager with relatively little experience, and simultaneously as the one-dimensional superstar talent that his Adidas commercials portrayed him to be. Since his status to his fans was one that is vastly more mature and different from his real life twenties lifestyle, Kobe's identity crisis caused him to change his outward persona. The effects were evident in his new dress code, favoring the Jordanesque suit rather than his old throwback jerseys (Jackson 35). Kobe perceived his old friends as a link to his past, and their relationships deteriorated as he exchanged his close friend and agent of five years for MGC studios, a more renowned sports agency (Jackson 36). His personal makeover resulted from what his coach Phil Jackson calls, "the identity crisis of the modern athlete, on the one hand a bigger than life hero but also a fragile teenager with emotional and physical immaturities" (Jackson 202). Jackson, a nine time NBA Champion as a coach has seen the rise and fall of many great young talents and his analysis contributes to the growing acknowledgement of Kobe's emotional and mental weaknesses. His tendency to try to win a game by himself and mistrust of teammates stems from a constant desire to be the best. In a sense, his fear was failing on the basketball court, because media attention and fan adulation became part of his personal definition of masculinity. Coming from a white collar life style and upper class environment, basketball fame represents Kobe's attempt to reclaim his black identity and restore the self-confidence and identity that has been "diminished by the struggles woven into [his] double life as [a] black professional" (Mohammed 92). To counteract the millions of dollars that he makes from his profession, Kobe adopts the street style of basketball in order to embody the "black ideal" (Mohammed 92) and through his demeanor convey his black masculinity. Horace Grant, his teammate, noted that, "Kobe acts [defiantly], [speaks] jive, and was particularly aggressive on the court" (Jackson, 113); all symptoms of Kobe's insecurity in his black identity and masculinity. Despite Kobe's attempts to become more "black," his personal double standard that he perceives the media thrusts on him leaves him unable to achieve a real awareness of his identity. In effect, Kobe plays for himself because he never fully comprehends who the new "he" is.

If Kobe's masculinity conflict was isolated to him alone, then the impact might be negligible at best, but his fame has transcended his personal sphere and effects the millions of young fans who watch him play. His identity crisis has become a universal one as more and more young black athletes struggle to cope with their place in society. The previous generation of athletes grew up under the Nike "Air Jordan" logo. They worshiped basketball players who not only had incredible basketball acumen, but also the grace and courtesy of gentlemen. The players of that generation believed in playing college basketball and respecting their community. Marcus Thompson, a former basketball great still donates money and holds a charity for his high school annually (Katz, 2005). Michael Jordan also holds a personal charity foundation in both Chicago and North Carolina. These players represent a generation of athletes who defined black masculinity as strength through community. They drew strength from "participation in uplifting [their] community and recapturing [their] community's place in the national arena" (Schultz 1996). Basketball, although an avenue of empowerment, did not serve as an end in and of itself. The concept of group integration and communal empowerment were prominent themes that young athletes were bombarded with, and in a sense this team spirit became part of the work ethic and basketball repertoire for that generation. Black athletes, even those that grew up in the projects saw themselves playing for prestigious college programs such as Georgetown, Duke and UNC. Players such as Allen Iverson, an extremely underprivileged youth growing up in the projects of Staten Island, played for mighty Georgetown University before entering the NBA draft (Ford 2004). Black masculinity followed a theory of "contact and association," which called for black athletes to appreciate their achievements through the context of what it does to empower the African-American community as a whole (Mohammed 5). Athletes of the nineties were, in a sense, black community leaders and spokespeople rather than exceptions to the ghetto lifestyle. The players of the nineties served as ideal role models because they're maturity and elegance allowed the game to become popular both nationally and internationally. These players validated the contact hypothesis, a theory which suggests that, "exposure to members of different racial groups, coupled with a common goal or theme, serves to mitigate racial hostility and [eliminate] discrimination and prejudice" (Mohammed 5). The model of behavior set forth in the 90s helped bring the game of basketball global attention. The exceptional play of Michael Jordan and many other black superstars broke through the racial barriers in mainstream America and the world as a whole. They set a standard of excellence that transcended the prejudices of race and ethnicity and popularized… [END OF PREVIEW]

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African-American Culture Has Evolved.  (2007, July 9).  Retrieved May 19, 2019, from https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/african-american-culture-evolved-significantly/437763

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