Racial Rohrschach Test

Here is the flier that set emotions aflame at Mary Washington University, according to anonymous comments on my previous post on this topic, “More Racism on Campus. What Am I Missing Here?”

The photograph captures a moment after the 2000 Michigan State University basketball team, showing a jubilant coach Tom Izzo embracing an emotional Mateen Cleaves after winning the NCAA championship. Cleaves was named Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four for his brilliant play. (I know nothing of such matters. If anyone has better information, please correct me.)

The photograph appears to be undoctored. (You can see a copy of it here on the viewimages.com website. And you can view a video here, the final scene of which shows Izzo and a crying Cleaves from a different angle.) Therefore, there shouldn’t be anything offensive or intolerant about the photograph itself. The outcry at Mary Washington, then, must have stemmed from the words used in conjunction with the photograph. What, then, do the words mean?

I interpret the words as drawing an analogy between college/professional sports and the institution of slavery. In the context of the photograph, “Slavery Reinstated” clearly suggests that the institution of slavery has been put back into effect in big money sports. The meaning of “Catch yourself a strong one” is more opaque. By a “strong one,” the author might be referring to a strong athlete/slave. By “catch,” the author might be referring to the act of enslavement.

While equating highly honored and compensated black athletes with slaves seems a stretch to me, politically “progressive” writers have made that very argument. In his book “Forty Million Dollar Slaves: The Rise, Fall, and Redemption of the Black Athlete,” New York Times sports columnist William Rhoden “offers a charged assessment of the state of black athletes in America, using the pervasive metaphor of the plantation to describe a modern sports industry defined by white ownership and black labor,” according to Publishers Weekly.

Likewise, in “The Slave Side of Sunday,” former NFL player Anthony Prior examines the legacy of racism in professional sports. “We are not looked at as leaders, rather, just a labor force where the money is generated,” he writes. “Plantation capitalism is still alive today.”

So, once again, I raise the question, “Where’s the racism? Where’s the intolerance?” The white student who posted the flier appeared to be making a political statement — expressing a “progressive” political sensitivity that has been converted into books by major publishers, has been reviewed in the Mainstream Media and reflects the views of a number of African-Americans.

Am I missing something here?

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28 responses to “Racial Rohrschach Test”

  1. Anonymous Avatar

    Bacon – Really glad you found the image of the flier.

    You ask a good question – what line, exactly, did this student cross that he shouldn’t have?

    I can’t figure why the school didn’t just shrug its shoulders and say, go ask the student if you want to know his intentions. But their default setting seems to be intervention, in a kind of nannyish fashion.

  2. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    Let’s take a poll.

    Let’s ask 100 Black people what they think of this poster.

    And then let’s ask 100 White folks.

    Here’s an idea, How about… one of the white guys who is still scratching his head about this poster.. take it on down to a predominately black area and stop by the pick-up basketball hoops and as the “bros” how they feel?

    When you (if) you get back, you can report the results of your poll.

  3. Anonymous Avatar

    What is truly offensive is the implication in the comment above that a white person visiting a black neighborhood with such a poster would be killed. Insensitivity comes in many forms.

  4. Anonymous Avatar

    This is very easy to explain, it’s called creating a hostile working environment for protected classes of employees, which btw does include white people. It’s illegal and numerous companies and organizations have been sued for it, there is plenty of legal precedence in this. Rarely does the defendant win the suit if they were doing anything except aggressively denouncing this type of behavior and punishing the culprits. It’s irrelevant if the posters are celebrating slavery, black power, or showing pictures of half-naked women. All are illegal, period. You can put any of these things at your private home or email them to your friends, but as soon as you put them in a work space, learning environment, etc, that’s where the line is crossed and the law is broken.

    To understand why this poster is offensive, maybe it’s easier to flip the table. Imagine you are working a job or contract in a predominately black area for a predominately black owned and managed organization. If someone’s office, not necessarily management, has posters saying “Kill whitey”, “Fight the Power”, or some other threatening “political” statement with a demeaning photo to match, how comfortable will that make you feel working there. Do you think you’ll get a fair shake when a disagreement comes up. Do you think you might be in physical danger if you get caught in the wrong situation. Would you want to hear excuses about how that person is just making a political statement.

    So looking at the situation here, you have black housekeepers working at a predominantly white school, with predominantly white faculty, in a predominantly white region, in a state with historical racist problems. Can you see why someone might not buy off on the athletic plantation excuse and why the school president would go off.


  5. Jim Bacon Avatar

    ZS, Interesting dilemma here with the hostile-workplace argument. The college dormitory kitchen represents the workplace of the housekeepers. It’s also the residence of the students. Whose claim should have priority: the housekeeper’s right to be free of a “hostile workplace” or the students’ claim to privacy?

    Meanwhile… I’m wondering what the housekeepers thought. Upon what grounds did they object to the photograph? Was it upon the same grounds that the WMU administration objected, and the same grounds as the students who attended the rallies, and the same grounds as you? That’s why I entitled this post the “Racial Rohrschach test.”

  6. Anonymous Avatar

    Jim Bacon,

    Why are you so upset about this? It is obviously a rude, tasteless college prank that may or may not be racist. Why spend so much time on it?

    As for the students, back when I was in college they used to protest over truly important things — such as whether the Young Socialist Alliance was Trotskyite.

    Peter Galuszka

  7. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    “What, then, do the words mean?”

    you mean.. what do they mean to black folks?

    ..or what they mean to white folks?

    is it more important to know what the words actually mean…were intended to mean.. or are perceived?

    some folks will say that putting a noose on someone’s door is a meaningless prank.

    is it? I think defending this poster is not that different than defending that noose in my view.

    read on:

    OUR VIEW: The University’s response to the recent noose hanging was quick, appropriate and properly handled.

    “N.C. State must remain a place where every one feels safe to walk the campus freely. Even if a toilet paper noose is found in a remote bathroom that most people don’t see, it still deserves the condemnation from the campus community.”


  8. Jim Bacon Avatar

    Peter, I am upset because of the MWU administration’s reaction to the flier, which was to blow up what you and I agree was sophomoric college behavior into a a full-blown racial incident that calls for a public apology from the student, gets much of the faculty and student body worked up over the lack of “tolerance,” and brings down the disciplinary apparatus of the university upon the offending student.

    Back in our day, the Trotskyites could argue over Marxist metaphysics without worrying whether they would be expelled from school. At MWU, saying the wrong thing about race *can* get you in big trouble. That’s what academic freedom has come to in Virginia.

  9. Anonymous Avatar

    I think it’s interesting, and is a Rohrschach test. The student paper did a hysterically imbalanced story on the original incident… There are also postings on the paper’s web site that are all over the map. One kid who claims to know says the offending flier was actually a parody of those motivational posters that you see in corporate lunchrooms, etc. Ha – so maybe the kid who posted this didn’t even think of any racial implications.
    But the school’s president felt obliged to call the flier “one of the ugliest, most awful things I’ve ever seen.” Yeesh. Guess he’s not a Michigan State fan.
    I think Bacon raises a good point, about the conflict between workplace environment and the student’s privacy. The flier was attached to a refrigerator in a dorm, fer crissakes.
    That was enough to spark marches on campus, rallies, discussions. The Labor Rights Club organized the march. A group called Women of Color weighed in as well. The organization Students Education and Empowering for Diversity led one of those forums. And so on.
    Maybe some are offended by the poster. Some are not. But that gap is not evidence of anything.

  10. Anonymous Avatar

    If that was a picture of Nick Collison and Roy Williams there would be no controversy. That being said unless your african american you have no right to criticize there reaction. This is because you dont understand. Youre not black, you dont understand. This is the position Papa Bear takes, take it too.

    That being said lets analyze the picture. Mateen, member of NBA Draft 2000(8 Biggest Sports Flop), is in a position of weakness. He’s almost crying and really looks sad. Izzy on the other is in a position of power. He has a large smile on his face. Also the picture does not screem Final Four 2000. Mateen’s jersey is not shown and it is not obvious that izzy is the coach. The words slavery reinstated was just asking for trouble. Slavery means ownership and with Izzy’s hand on Mateen, one can easily imply that this means Izzy owns Mateen. The rest is pretty obvious, Izzy is white, Mateen is black. White guy owning black guy. Slavery.

    That being said one should never throw away the concept of racial sensitivity. After all the USA has yet to truly apologize for slavery(Four states, including Virginia, have). By apology, I mean a resolution ala the Ottoman Empire Massacre.One can give people higher test scores and casinos but they deserve an apology. The student who did the picture is likely by no means a racist. More likely, he is an careless, arrogant soul with no regard for racial relations. You and I dont understand what slavery means to the African American community and too diregard the feelings of the African American community on this sensitive topic is flat out STUPID. Sure college students do stupid things but thats no excuse. The reaction of the campus was proper. Racial Insensitivity is a real topic and one should not disregard such to make a point on the very important topic of college sports.

  11. Anonymous Avatar

    To call Rhoden and Prior “progessives” is a political trick to get one to agree with you. I dont know but to me to call them progresive is a strech. The onus of proof is on you to prove me wrong. I hope you do.

    PS He works for the New York Times but he is the SPORTS COLUMNIST not enough to call him progessive.

  12. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    re: “protected speech”


    How about if that poster appeared in the Lunchroom of the General Assembly?

    or was pasted to a 7-11 window?

    or on a bumper sticker?

  13. Anonymous Avatar

    Larry Gross said:

    “How about if that poster appeared in the Lunchroom of the General Assembly?

    or was pasted to a 7-11 window?

    or on a bumper sticker?”

    OK Larry. How about if? What is your point?

  14. Anonymous Avatar

    The black housekeepers are not athletes, for one. They have nothing to do with athletics so trying to draw them into a discussion of black athletes being highly paid slaves for team owners is a bit silly. These kids are punks and whether they are racist or not, they most certainly have been rude and nasty to the housekeeping staff. From what I’ve heard this is not the first instance of them behaving badly. I also think it’s a bit silly for white people to question why black people may think something is/might be offensive, as if “If it’s not offensive to white people, what’s the problem?”

  15. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    re: “what is my point”?

    well.. I’m asking… do you think you have the “right” to go to a public place with that poster displayed?

    yes or not?

    Then… if your answer is “yes” – then would you do it to prove that you had that right?

    honest injun answers only… 🙂

  16. Anonymous Avatar


    I live in the VCU area and I see every day disgusting, traitorous and offensive hand bills, signs and stickers. They are in public places, public buildings and on automobile bumpers. It has never occured to me that a committee should be appointed to investigate.

  17. Anonymous Avatar

    “do you think you have the “right” to go to a public place with that poster displayed”

    Actually, Larry, I have a better question: Is it smart to display that poster in a public place?

    Short answer: No.

    Longer answer: You don’t have to have racist intentions to get called a racist and have some rather unpleasant things happen to you so be careful and think hard before you do something that might be considered offensive to ANYBODY. Political correctness in our society has gone to the length that an aide to the previous DC Mayor got fired, albeit temporarily, I believe, for using the word “niggardly” in public. There was no indication that he meant anything other than what he said, he used the word correctly, and his sole fault might have been using a $25 word (niggardly) when a 50 cent word (stingy or cheap) might have worked better. Sort of the William F Buckley, Jr. syndrome but not a firing offence most places.

    This doesn’t, of course, add to communications among different groups if people are afraid of getting sued, fired, expelled, or all 3. The people doing the charging don’t have to be correct, just offended.

    Some years ago, I was at a Fairfax County Democratic Committee Jefferson-Jackson Day dinner, where I sat at a table with some folks from DC. A young intern seemed to be somewhat agitated and I asked him if he was OK. He replied that he just couldn’t believe that he (a young black man) was at a function where Democrats were honoring Jefferson Davis and Stonewall Jackson. I assured him he wasn’t. Oh.

    As Dave Barry says, you can’t make this stuff up.

    JB, I don’t “get” the poster at all. I have no idea what its point is. But whoever put it up showed a lack of judgement for her own welfare. I doubt she’ll make that mistake again.

    Deena Flinchum

  18. Anonymous Avatar

    “do you think you have the “right” to go to a public place with that poster displayed?”

    You do have some rights when it comes to displaying a sign like that that in public, such as at a political rally or you could stand in public holding the poster up, though I don’t advice it.

    This case is more cut and dry though since it’s being displayed in someone’s workplace. Even though it’s a student dorm, that is university property and what goes on there is there problem. On private property it’s a little different story. When the housekeeper finds it and complains then the employer, the university, is required to handle the situation. There is almost no way the university could handle it other than punish the offending student. The accommodations they would have to make to allow that kind of expression on their property would be pretty ridiculous; basically they would have to shelter every potential offended party from the offender. They would then open themselves up to a lot of media scrutiny and lawsuits from all over the place.

    A good analogy for this whole scenario is when a man hits on a woman constantly or makes an offensive sexual remark. In a bar or out in public it’s usually ok as long as it doesn’t become harassing or threatening. On the other hand doing it in the workplace or a learning environment is not ok since it has been deemed by law that women shouldn’t have to work or learn in a hostile environment.

    Jim, I know it seems from the outside that they blew the situation up, but coming from the university’s perspective anything less than taking it extremely seriously opens them up to lawsuits. Whatever your opinion about the law, it doesn’t change how an organization must treat such incidents. As for comparing political free speech to racial free speech the difference is that political parties aren’t considered protected classes whereas all different races are protected classes of citizens from offending behavior. It’s not about academic freedom.


  19. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    …”never occured to me that a committee should be appointed to investigate.”

    yeah.. I LIKE that…. 🙂
    naw.. no committee unless you consider a crowd of surly folks waiting for you to return to your car. 🙂

    but point noted… the world no longer tolerates… what I call “back door” insults…

    It’ really an interesting deal.

    You do have free speech.. and free speech is even more powerful than perhaps many of us thought when we first learned of the concept of “the pen is mightier than the sword”.

    who would have thought that something some poor smuck might say or post on his dorm door – goes round the world in 24 hours…

    the term – “the world is flat” I would posit, applies to more than just mere economics…

  20. Anonymous Avatar

    “The March 11th edition of Sports Illustrated has the world talking about (and shying away from) one subject America hates to talk about: Race. It’s coming from a source that it is least likely to come from, a Black professional athlete—a former athlete but a professional athlete nonetheless. Professional basketball player Charles Barkley graced the cover of the magazine in broken chains (with neck and wrist shackles) looking like an escaped slave—the inference being that he has broken loose from the silence of that slave culture, known as professional sports to talk about the double standards Black athletes are held to.”

    “The treatment of Black athletes who make comments pertaining to race offers little benefit other than ridicule, as Barkley puts it. Some of us could stand to be ridiculed a little more often if it means the truth comes forward a lot more often. Maybe then the truth wouldn’t be ridiculed. Instead, the double standard would be ridiculed. In that regard, Charles Barkley is right. Race is still America’s biggest problem, and silence is still Black America’s biggest problem. And if we don’t talk about it, nobody will. The plantation still lives.”

  21. Anonymous Avatar


    Posters, handbills and bumper stickers advocating treason are [yawn] no big deal. Free speech and all that.

    Posters, handbills and bumperstickers that might possibly be construed as racially insensitive, well then lynch the

  22. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    equality opportunity minefields:

    “Rep. Carla Blanchard Dartez, a Democrat, acknowledged that she ended a Thursday night conversation with Hazel Boykin by saying, “Talk to you later, Buckwheat.” Dartez had been thanking Boykin for driving voters to the polls…”


    “[later] Dartez started to cry and apologized. “She said she’d gone to Walmart a couple of days ago and bought an Eddie Murphy tape and that’s what they said on the tape.” He says Dartez indicated she did not realize that the term could be interpreted as a racial slur.”


  23. Very Politically Incorrect Avatar
    Very Politically Incorrect

    The real racism is the fact that the “African American” in the picture is photographed in such a way as to look like the typical high school science textbook depiction of a “Neanderthal” in the evolutionary ladder.

    For those of you in Rio Linda, blacks are lower on the evolutionary scale, at least that is the implication of the photo.

    Forget slavery, we are talking unevolved primates here.

    How much more insulting can you be?

    And Bacon, you want me to believe you don’t “get it”?

  24. Jim Bacon Avatar

    Very Politically Incorrect, I think *your* racist suppositions are on display. The most stereotypical feature of the Neanderthal is a prominent brow ridge, a feature that Cleaves does not possess in the photo. Furthermore, recent research has indicated (see Wikipedia)that Neanderthals had reddish hair, pale skins and large noses, which were adaptations to the cold climate of Ice Age Europe. Those features are characteristic of modern-day Caucasians, not African-Americans.

    If you see something “primitive” looking about Cleaves in this photo selection, that’s your prejudice, no one else’s.

  25. Anonymous Avatar


    The profile is deliberate.


    You are right they are changing the look of Neanderthals in newer versions to be less racist against Africans.

    That is a good thing.

    But the images have long been out there and I think that is where the publisher was going.

    Not my prejudice.

  26. Anonymous Avatar

    Christ, is it really that hard to tell what the true meaning was? For God’s sake, you see posters like that one all over the internet. They ARE a parody of the motivational posters that take a picture out of context to create a horrible (in an apparently funny way) meaning.

    The meaning of it isn’t hard to decipher. It speaks like a hypothetical that if slavery were to be reinstated today, you need to go out and catch a big black man to be a slave.

    Your flaw in interpreting it is definitely that you’re over-analyzing it to the point where a freshman-like racist (which is actually a popular humor these days, even by people who are not supposedly racist) poster turns into a flyer protesting the lack of honor and dignity that black athletes are regarded with.

    You can dress it up any way you like, but you’re still dressing it up.

  27. VengefulTikiGod Avatar

    Wow, the joke really went over your head, didn’t it. It’s not a social commentary, it’s an internet meme. It’s immensely popular and all over the internet because this picture, innocuous on its own, takes on an entirely different meaning when paired with that caption. THAT’S THE JOKE. It means nothing.

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