The Term African-American Is Stupid

I hate the term African-American. Its use makes no sense when you think about it rationally. It is another poorly thought out term propagated by PC stupidity. In social settings, how often do you see white people stumble over whether to say African-American or black in the most harmless of connotations. It has got to stop. Please. I beg you! It is offensive to both Africans and Americans….and the few actual African-Americans.

Racial discussion seems to make everyone stupid in this country. It is to the point I suggest we all carry a Crayola color chart. When we are confused by someone’s skin color or race, just hold up the chart to the person’s skin and call them whichever color most closely matches. Perhaps this will make everyone feel good about their respect of the races. We shall follow Crayola to racial enlightenment.

There are plenty of racial descriptors and insults which flat out make no sense on their face…or shall I say your face. I never understood why people would insult East Asians by calling them yellow. I know they aren’t referring to Blumenbach. Have these morons ever seen the color yellow? Do they look yellow? I am still waiting to see a yellow man from East Asia. Like the unicorn, I cannot find this mystical being. To me, they look white or brown and everything in between but not yellow.

Yellow

Yellow according to Crayola

Donnie Yen

Not yellow according to Crayola. I dare you to call Donnie Yen yellow.

I know there are many races in our diverse world and many different terms for them. I would love to go through some of the dumber ones but I reserve special disdain for the term African-American. This allegedly inoffensive term may be the champion of ignorance.

Why does it makes no sense? Several reasons but one is I am a caucasian African-American. This is to say I am a caucasian American citizen but was born in Africa to African parents of an African family. No, I am not some colonist, tourist, white South African or long european descendant. I am a native African. Genealogical studies have shown the ancestors of my particular ethnicity to have been in Africa for over 9,000 years. Long enough to surely claim myself an indigenous African.

Can you figure it out? I am a Berber from northwest Africa. How am I caucasian? The U.S. government defines caucasian as anyone of European, Middle Eastern, or North African descent.

Egyptian-Farmer-image

Egyptian Farmer

There is a whole lot of brown in white, apparently. So as I said, I am a caucasian African-American. So are my kids. My poor misclassified progeny.

Around the world, being African is not a problem for racial classifications. Citizens of other nations have a better grasp of geography so no one is stumped when I say I am African. They know to look to the countries in North Africa. It is not a trick question.

But growing up in America, I learned a lesson. Americans know next to nothing about Africa. Here is a synopsis of the conversations I have had describing my background growing up in America.  Conversations I still have:

Someone: Where are you from?

Me:  From Algeria, in north Africa.

Someone:  Come on.  Stop messing around.  You (pointing at me) are not from Africa.

Me: No really, I am.

Someone (half stumbling over thoughts):  But….but….you’re not black???

Me:  I know. Funny how this is.  Africa is actually pretty diverse.  The black people are south of the Sahara desert in what is called Sub-Saharan Africa.  North of the desert, they look kind of like me in different shades of brown.

(often, I would have to explain what is the Sahara Desert)

Someone:  I don’t know?  You can’t really be African.  You must be one of those Europeans that moved to Africa.  I know all Africans are black.

(it is as if I am pretending to be African because it is nouveau chic)

Me:  No really, I promise I am a native African. Parents, grandparents, everyone down the line.  Have you ever seen an Egyptian in a movie?  They are not black and Egypt is in Africa.

(this usually helps settle doubts in their mind – Thank you, Brendan Fraser Mummy movies – I don’t know if there was a single Egyptian actor but close enough)

Someone:  You’re right!  I guess I never really thought about it.

This seemingly occurs once a month.

It is one thing to not know the demographics of Africa. I understand this. Many Americans cannot locate Canada on a map anymore so I cannot expect them to know the various ethnicities of each continent. But I know someone is a special moron if they ask the following question: Who is the president of Africa? 

You would be stunned how many college graduates have asked me this. Seriously. Who is the freaking president of Africa!?! Ugh.

When I was younger, I was much more polite. I would kindly explain Africa is the second largest continent with over 60 different countries, each with different systems of government from democracies to dictatorships. This is what I used to say…when I was younger and more polite.

Now and even though he has passed if you ask me who is the president of Africa, I will look at you sincerely and without hesitation say Nelson Mandela.

President of Africa!

President of Africa!

Every time I have said it, the person has responded ‘That’s what I thought!’, appearing excited they think they knew some trivia. Shake my head. Whatever. Maybe they at least know how to find Canada. Doubtful.

It's there!

There you are, sneaky Canada!

So considering how much trouble Americans have with the geography it is no wonder the term African-American is so popular. It is merely designed to be a racism-masking, feel-good euphemism for normal Americans who happen to be black.

In the 1800’s, American referred to blacks as negroes or the famous insult derived therefrom. Because of the odious and oppressive history to which these terms were correlated, they did not last in our changing lexicon.

What term came along? Colored. And to be sure this term was also used in racist contexts. However, it was also used in normal contexts by those described as colored. After all, a word is just a word. It is the context of its use which matters. It was during this time the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) was founded.

But what did not change was underlying racism throughout overall society. So while the term colored could be an innocent descriptor, it became a loaded term in its use for many. People would say: I don’t want to go to the colored neighborhood. Here, the speaker infers it is a bad neighborhood because ostensibly in his/her mind there are no good colored neighborhoods. While the term changes from negro to colored the change is meaningless if the use is still the same.

So with the social movements of the 1900’s people abandoned the term colored and switched to black, which from what I gather has always been somewhat used throughout history. While colored is a ridiculously broad term which includes all of humanity, black is at least closer to what is being described. Some black people are indeed black on the color scale but most are shades of black all the way to light brown.

Then for some reason those who have only one black parent are only considered black even if they do not look black. Jason Kidd comes to mind:

Purportedly black.

Purportedly black.

Per Wikipedia, Mr. Kidd’s mother is Irish.

But guess what? While the term changed from colored to black its use did not for many. Whether it was colored, negro, or black, the inferences are the same when someone would say: But that’s in the black part of town. 

Alas, our morality leaders had a solution to help mask the symptoms of racism again. They started using African-American. I scratch my head. We do not call white people European Americans. They would be more described in our common parlance as normal Americans and certainly not reminded their ancestors came from somewhere else – like American blacks. Let us not get started on the actual native Americans or rather the original normal Americans before the current-normal American’s ancestors decimated their culture and societies.

What is a normal American, again?

The original ‘normal Americans’

Ok, so you are saying ‘Well, African-Americans did come from Africa’.

First, everyone at some point came from Africa. It is the origin of the human species according to current theories.

‘But they came more recently. Not like Europeans and Asians who emigrated as early cavemen from Africa. You cannot compare that’ you might be thinking.

And you are right. But this is not what I am talking about. Think about when the slavetrade transpired and when the vast majority of the ancestors of American blacks were brought to the New World. They came as early as many settlers and colonists. For many American blacks, their ancestors have been on the continent as long as the Europeans or longer.  After 400 years, I think they can be considered North American the same as the Europeans.

Jamestown Settlement - 1660s. Pilgrims, colonists, indentured servants, slaves.

Jamestown Settlement – 1660s. Pilgrims, colonists, indentured servants, slaves.

The transatlantic slave trade mostly ceased bringing new slaves from Africa by 1810. Thus, the shortest time an American black’s ancestors are likely to have been on the continent is about 200 years. Since which the United States received massive waves of European immigration from Ireland, Italy, Germany and throughout Europe in the 1800s and 1900s. The descendants of the these European immigrants have been in the United States for only a fraction of the time as American blacks.

Also, there is a lot of racial diversity in American blacks which is negated by the stupidity of the term African-American. They can have ancestors who were white, hispanic, african, or asian, etc. Just as there is a lot of brown in white, there are a lot of colors in black too. The ancestors of many American blacks do not only come from Africa. But we insist on reminding any American with dark or black skin that some very long time ago some ancestor did come from Africa. As if they might forget or not be able to figure it out.

Two black men or a white man and an asian man?

Two black men or a white man and an asian?

For what it is worth, Woods made up his own term, cablinasian, combining caucasian, black, american indian, and asian.  Crayola says his color is Earthtone.

If you have ever met a black African, you get another example of this nonsense. A sub-saharan African can tell you the unusual circumstances of America. When he goes to Europe, they call him black or African. Whichever. It does not matter unless the connotation is negative because black and African are what he is and has been his whole life. When he goes to Asia, same thing. Same thing in South America or Australia or anywhere in the world. This is normal.

But not in America. When he visits America and walks out of the airport, no white person would ever call him African on the street. It would be perceived as a loaded racist insult by bystanders. Many kind people will not even call him black. Solely by visiting our country he has changed races. The African man is no longer African or merely black to everyone around him. Now he is considered an African-American. Magically, he has added an America to his racial classification.

Maybe you do not know a sub-saharan African but they are out there. You may notice them in sports. Take Loul Deng for example. I have seen him described as an African-American too many times. Loul Deng is not an African-American. He was born in Sudan (now South Sudan) and moved to Britain as a child and obtained citizenship there. He is British. He is African. He is black. He is not a freaking African-American.

One African. One American. But no African-Americans in this photo.

One is African. One is American. Neither is African-American.

Even if he obtains American citizenship, it solves nothing. He would be an African-American just like my very pale caucasian ass. Only by virtue of him being both African and an American citizen and not by virtue of his race. So please for god’s sake, stop calling people African-Americans unless they are actually African and American. It is not a race. Just two diverse locations.

All those black people you hope to describe as African-American are Americans who happen to be black or whatever color Crayola decides. They are likely to be more native to North America than you. And if you are concerned saying the word black is racist, think about how you are saying it rather than the word itself. But please leave Africa out of it. Its got enough problems and does not need to also carry America’s racial baggage.

END

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To answer questions I keep getting about this post from people taking things too seriously:

Yes, I am well aware of the variety of non-black Africans in sub-saharan Africa and the presence of black Africans in North Africa (I’ve met many). I am speaking generally of the high percentage majorities in both.

No, I don’t view the African descendants of Europeans or wherever as less African than indigenous Africans. Like I view those who chose to emigrate to America as Americans, they are as African as I am African. Same for nationalities. Go Africa! Go America!

This is a personal analysis and rant. I am also aware I have blended concepts of race, ethnicity and nationality to reach my conclusions. I don’t care. I am a walking contradiction. The use of term African-American is dumb.

The Effects of Promotion and Relegation on American Sports

When thinking about it there is no reason major sports leagues like the NFL and NBA should keep their anti-trust exemptions and be protected from outside competition. Doing so is anathema to the ideals of capitalism and limits the economic growth of each sport, hurting the consumer and the sport itself. Gosh darn it, it hurts America! Switching to a system of promotion and relegation would multiply the economic reach of each sport within our country as well as increase the quality of the athletics for the spectator. It might even lead to a World Cup trophy one day.

If you do not know how relegation and promotion works within a league, we will use England’s Premier League system as an example. This same system is repeated across every team sport in almost every country in the world.

The Premier League is comprised of the twenty best teams in English football (soccer). The twenty teams competing in the Premier League each year have no right to be in the league other than the right they have earned through past performance. The three teams which finish at the bottom of the standings at year’s end are subject to relegation to a lower league. Oddly, England’s second tier league is called “the Championship”. Teams which finish at the top of the Championship are promoted to the Premier League. This process is repeated throughout the multi-league structure. How many leagues are there? It depends on how many eligible teams there are within the overall system. In England, there are currently five leagues considered professional national leagues. Below, there are seemingly countless divisions of professional and semi-professional leagues, eventually split among geographic regions.

Levels_9–10_Football_League_areas_in_England

Levels 9 and 10 of the pyramid of English football

The beauty of this system is it is open, inclusive, and creates natural incentives for success. It allows the sport to grow unconfined by the top league. If you or I wanted to own a professional football club in England, we can start one without having to save billions to buy an existing team. It does not mean you can get ten of your friends together and start playing.   Each country’s association sets up different requirements for starting a new franchise. This usually involves approving an organizational structure, modest stadium or field requirements and perhaps capital requirements to ensure the new entity has money to survive a season or two. But this is far from the 40,000-person stadium and capital reserves of 1 Billion or more it requires to get an expansion franchise in American sports. Starting on the bottom league generally means having a field with a seating capacity of the 10,000 with capital requirements affordable to entrepreneurs or small business ownership groups.

Not exactly Old Trafford

Not exactly Old Trafford

So why do this? Why shake up everything? After consideration of the benefits there are no reasons to not. I dare say logic and the current state of our economy require it be done. We will talk more about the economy below but let us first focus on how relegation and promotion is likely to affect the quality of athletics.

In this system there are no Cleveland Browns or Jacksonville Jaguars stinking up the field every year and making us wonder how a team could be so bad for so long. You do away with pathetic losers. They and their inept management would be shifted down the league rungs accordingly until they were placed in a league commiserate with their abilities.

Perhaps just a league or two above these guys

Perhaps just a league or two above these guys

I know it may be harsh to call those teams pathetic losers. Especially when the truth is current league structures create no incentive for bottom teams to compete. They can collect a check in last place. Why worry about winning too much? The Florida Marlins are a prime example of this business model: spend nothing on the franchise; sell successful players at every opportunity; lose the vast majority of years but always rake in profits. Every now and then you may luck out and still win it all (not if you’re Cleveland though). These businesses are designed to earn money and not win games because the system makes it so that they can earn money without winning games. The incentives are misaligned and we all suffer because of it.

Relegation and promotion ends this nonsense. In the Premier League each team receives around 50 million pounds for its operations derived from joint revenues, TV rights, etc. This revenue sharing is similar to the NFL except of course if you lose too many games you are booted from the Premier League. Contrastingly, you can go 2-15 forever in the NFL and always collect your check. The Jaguars are laughingstocks but at least they are rich laughingstocks.

Yes, I'm jealous.

Yes, I’m jealous.

In England (and the world), teams who get relegated will receive the apportionment equal to every Championship team but it is much less than the amount given to Premier League teams. These apportionments continue in decreasing amounts down the league rungs until at some level there is no apportionment. Those lower teams must survive economically on their own and based on their own management/ownership skills. The apportionment is usually only given to teams in national leagues since it is important in offsetting travel expenses. A system of relegation and promotion would replace bottom feeder teams with new, hungry, successful teams that have earned their spot through their recent success. Out with the old and lazy and in with the new and ambitious.

Another complaint many raise about the NFL is the style of play is not diverse unlike college where teams which run standard NFL-style schemes play against whacky high-flying Mike Leach offenses or run-read-option teams and everything in between. Across several professional leagues styles of play and innovations to the game would certainly be as diverse as college athletics. Likely more diverse since the coaching staffs would not be constrained by NCAA time limitations about meetings and practices.

Popular players like Tim Tebow or Vince Young or Michael Sam would not have to ride the bench or be excluded from the sport if they cannot find a job for one of thirty teams. There would be hundreds of teams available to these players whether it be in the top league, second league, or seventh league. The debates amongst obnoxious talking heads opining about the capabilities of said players would be settled on the field. This is true for every sport.

The best part for the spectator is the drama. More meaningful games at the top and bottom of each league means more last minute drama and magic moments. Tense finishes would unfold across each league towards the end of every season as the next round of relegation and promotion approaches. Teams desperate to advance and desperate to avoid relegation provide some of the best moments often from lower leagues. Remember how Manchester City won the Premier League in 2013, scoring two goals in the final five minutes of their last tie to edge Manchester United. It was heralded as the most dramatic final day in Premier League history.

But there was better drama in the league below. My personal favorite is this ending from the Championship a few days after Aguero’s famous winner for Man City, between Leicester City and Watford. Both teams were fighting for a spot in the Championship final and potential promotion to the Premier League. It’s 2-2 on aggregate with Leicester City already in the ascendancy based on away goals. Watford desperately need a goal but Leicester City has been awarded a dodgy penalty in the 95th minute, much to the overwhelming anger and dismay of Watford fans….

Love that celebration!

Broaden the sport and you broaden the fun for spectators by creating more magic moments.

While increased competition, innovative coaching, creative playing styles, great drama and removal of consistent losers should be enough to get every fan of team sports on board, there is a more important reason to support relegation and promotion: economic impact. America needs it.

In the NBA there are thirty teams, thirty owners/ownership groups, thirty GMs, thirty accompanying staffs and player rosters.  It all adds up to a few thousand people involved in the sport making incomes they spend in their communities and taxable to local, state, and the federal governments. Along with the direct employees paying their bills and taxes, there are many thousands more whom rely on the income the sport creates including support staff, stadium vendors, merchandise manufacturers, hotels workers, security staffs, local law enforcement agencies and so forth. With all of these people getting paid, they pay their taxes and buy the goods and services we all do and which helps our economy.

Professional sports are not just innocent pastimes anymore. They are major economic forces which affect a lot of lives. Unfortunately, the potential economic impact and benefit to us all either through direct or indirect employment or tax revenues is limited to preserve the status quo of current monopolies.

In a system of relegation and promotion, there would not be thirty professional basketball teams. There would be hundreds broken accordingly into various leagues both national and then regional stacked in a clear hierarchy. Accordingly, there would be multiple the amount of executives, managers, trainers, vendors, manufacturers and athletes needed in such a broad system. Concerns regarding minority ownership of sporting franchises would be resolved by broadening the sports to allow for new teams in every city in America. The expansion of professional sports may be the largest one-off job creator our country could muster. And unlike other industries, these jobs cannot be exported to China. If that ever happens please take the Jaguars first.

Is there any city in America with more than 100,000 people that would not have a professional basketball team placed in the overall league system? Per the 2010 Census, there are 298 cities in America with more than 100 000. Cities like New York, Chicago, and LA would likely have more than ten. By example there are over 30 football clubs in London in the top eight leagues, six of which are currently in the Premier League.

Further, American players not able to make the roster for an MLS or NBA team will no longer have to travel to South America, Asia, or Europe for development. Granted only those in the top league would make the audacious salaries we all would want on our paycheck but they and their team would have a direct path to the top league with promotion providing the incentive. If you want that payday, then win enough and you will get it.

Jackie Moon

Make Semi-Pro a reality!

Television revenues would increase exponentially. Although the amount of parties taking a cut would also grow, stations would have an over abundance of sports programming to fill every day of the week. While national broadcasters may not pay for and carry every game of a third tier league, regional broadcasters and local broadcasters of involved teams would reap the benefits of this expansion as well as online providers.

And if adopted, how this would affect the current sports hierarchy in this country?

It is unlikely the NFL would make such a dramatic switch. They are the kings of the sports landscape and have no incentive to change. Only an Act of Congress (removing the anti-trust exemption) could force the issue. And we are unlikely to get legislative action from our defunct Congress to do anything much less change a profitable and popular entity like the NFL for some zany foreign idea.

But while the NFL is king a rebellion in brewing. The various scandals and continuous rule changes continue to hurt their brand. This creates an opportunity for other sports leagues to broaden their base while the NFL fumbles the ball.

No sport would benefit more than American professional soccer and its top league, MLS. While the beautiful game has grown steadily in America since World Cup 94 it can never compete with the NBA or NFL. Even a self-loathing, scandal-ridden NFL will always win unless Roger Goo-doofus bans all hitting or something incredibly stupid. I am not ruling that out.  But as is, professional soccer is condemned to compete with hockey and nascar for fourth place.

By adopting relegation and promotion first, professional soccer would be the largest sport in America in terms of participants, teams and fan bases within a couple of years. This would be true as well for the NHL and moreso for the NBA. Soccer would not be the wealthiest though. Let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. At least not yet. But they would be the largest sport in terms of scope and with that largess the sport would grow organically with fan bases growing around successful local clubs in every corner of the country.

Lots of room to grow

Lots of room to grow

There would be an immediate boost to the development, evolution, and depth of American players. Thousands of players leave collegiate athletics each year giving up their careers and ending their development at 21 or 22. For many this is a choice but for many others it is a reality without a choice. Not good enough to play in the MLS or NASL (or NFL or NBA) and without the means to locate a tryout abroad, their careers end not because they should but because the system we have created dictates they end. We do not have late bloomers in American sports because we extinguish them.

It is difficult to project a players future by the age of 21 or 22 or even 25. We search for the early prodigies at 18 and younger yet they often fail to develop as we hope. Promotion and relegation ends this and provides opportunities for the natural development of thousands of athletes who would not have had the chance otherwise.

The United States is the third largest nation on the planet in both population and landmass, spanning an entire continent and then some (Hooray for Hawaii!). Comparatively, England is tiny in both size and population yet there are hundreds of professional football teams in England. It is difficult to over-estimate how broadly professional soccer would grow its talent base, coaching pool and overall exposure by shifting to such a system. Its far-reaching effect on the sports landscape would only increase over time as the sport would enjoy a natural competitive advantage over NFL, NBA, and MLB.

This diversification of American soccer would allow for a quicker evolution of the best American players. Relegation and promotion creates a laboratory effect which judges different styles of play, management techniques and recruiting tactics. Kind of like capitalism. It rewards successful squads and smart management and punishes others. With teams around the country in an interconnected system of leagues and coupled with America’s natural diversity and size, we would get to see a variety of playing styles from Brazilian dribbling to German efficiency.

As the sport broadens and better teams move up in each league, interest will grow correspondingly. This fan interest is less likely to be from fickle fair weather fans but rather from those whose interest has grown along with their local club. They are likely to remain loyal to the team through thick and thin and remain interested in the overall sport through the long run, teaching their love of the game to the next generation.

But why would any current team owner of any league agree to do this? Wouldn’t they risk getting booted out the top league by voting for this? Yes. It is always about money.

Imagining MLS were not a single entity, take a look at the Seattle Sounders. The Sounders are the most marketable team in MLS with a large fan base. Currently, their estimated value is about 175 Million. Not too shabby but pale in comparison with the value of an NFL team, NBA team or MLB team. Forbes lists the cheapest NBA franchise (Bucks) at 405 Million. With the league constructed as is, the Sounders and every other team in MLS will always be worth fractions of the worst teams in other sports.

Worth more than twice the Sounders

Worth more than twice the Sounders

This will not change until professional soccer finds a way to grow the sport, market base and TV revenue. In doing so, they must compete directly against long established and successful American sports leagues. Promotion and relegation gives professional soccer a unique competitive advantage which mirrors and re-enforces long-standing American ideals of capitalism and merit-based advancement. An advantage which rewards bold and innovative coaching styles, successful talent scouting techniques and works to evolve and grow the sport organically over time.

Want to win the battle of the American sports marketplace? Promotion and relegation is low-hanging fruit which can pave the path to prosperity. The NFL is king today and for the foreseeable future but there is a way to steal their crown.

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Mrs. Robinson – The Great American Poem

Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel in 1968

Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel in 1968

I have squandered my resistance for a pocketful of mumbles, such are promises

The Boxer  – 1968

Every one has heard Mrs. Robinson by Simon & Garfunkel. They released it as a single in 1968 having released a slightly different version in the film The Graduate. If you are a fan of Simon & Garfunkel, you are a fan of musical poetry delving into topics regarding the nature of our society and of ourselves. They were a thinking man’s band.

Those are the overarching tones and themes of their most famous songs. It does not take a poetry degree for the listener to recognize this when playing songs like the Sound of Silence and The Boxer. If asked to describe their music succinctly, I would say something along the lines of the lyric atop this post. Great lyric. Always remember it.

Their best work in accordance with this theme is undoubtedly Mrs. Robinson. In my humble opinion, Mrs. Robinson is their best poem. A tragedy and American classic.

Here are the lyrics:

And here’s to you, Mrs. Robinson,
Jesus loves you more than you will know.
God bless you, please Mrs. Robinson.
Heaven holds a place for those who pray,
Hey, hey, hey
Hey, hey, hey

We’d like to know a little bit about you for our files
We’d like to help you learn to help yourself.
Look around you all you see are sympathetic eyes,
Stroll around the grounds until you feel at home.

And here’s to you, Mrs. Robinson,
Jesus loves you more than you will know.
God bless you, please, Mrs. Robinson.
Heaven holds a place for those who pray,
Hey, hey, hey
Hey, hey, hey

Hide it in the hiding place where no one ever goes.
Put it in your pantry with your cupcakes.
It’s a little secret just the Robinson’s affair.
Most of all you’ve got to hide it from the kids.

Koo-koo-ka-choo, Mrs. Robinson,
Jesus loves you more than you will know.
God bless you, please, Mrs. Robinson.
Heaven holds a place for those who pray,
Hey, hey, hey
Hey, hey, hey

Sitting on a sofa on a Sunday afternoon.
Going to the candidates’ debate.
Laugh about it, shout about it
When you’ve got to choose
Every way you look at this you lose.

Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio,
Our nation turns its lonely eyes to you.
What’s that you say, Mrs. Robinson.
Jolting Joe has left and gone away,
Hey, hey, hey
Hey, hey, hey

Chorus, stanza, chorus, stanza, chorus, stanza, conclusion. Other than a koo-koo-ka-choo, the three choruses are identical.

When solving a puzzle we need a starting point. The most important question is ‘who is Mrs. Robinson?’. The song is not about a lady being reminded of church, debates, and baseball. It is not about Jesus or religion. They are only tools within the song’s constructs. And it is not about The Graduate. 

Allow me to state what Mrs. Robinson represents before explaining. It is easier this way. Simply put, Mrs. Robinson is the American people, us, or in a more vague sense the story of us. The story of how America abandoned long-standing principles and replaced them with something less and superficial. And a song of personal accountability. The best clues are provided in the conclusion but we will start with the beginning.

The message of the chorus is faith. Not religious faith but personal faith. Life has a way of testing us and making us think black is white or up is down. But Mrs. Robinson knows how to remain steadfast in the face of temptation because she has a conscience to remind her:

And here’s to you, Mrs. Robinson,
Jesus loves you more than you will know.
God bless you, please Mrs. Robinson.
Heaven holds a place for those who pray,

The chorus is rooting for Mrs. Robinson to persevere and telling her how. Broadly, the chorus is rooting for America to remain as a moral beacon of light atop the hill. Using Jesus and Christianity as the method of conveying the good message, the chorus reminds Mrs. Robinson not to give up her principles or doubt what she knows in her heart to be right. To remain faithful to herself. Jesus loves you more than you will know. And to always remember heaven holds a place for those who pray. It reminds the salvation Mrs. Robinson seeks comes only at the end and is not given to those who abandon their faith along the way.

Further, the song’s original chorus in The Graduate was:

Stand up tall, Mrs. Robinson.
 God in heaven smiles on those who pray,

Simon & Garfunkel use the chorus to encourage Mrs. Robinson to be steadfast in her principles. It is her conscience and with it she knows the right path.

But along comes the temptation.

The three stanzas are where Mrs. Robinson loses her way. They describe how Mrs. Robinson has been duped into choosing to abandon her principles. She is being courted by the snake oil salesman…the politicians and those who support them.  For the purpose of interpreting the stanzas, view them as a salesman. After all, politicians are salesmen selling a message.

We’d like to know a little bit about you for our files
We’d like to help you learn to help yourself.
Look around you all you see are sympathetic eyes,
Stroll around the grounds until you feel at home.

Mrs. Robinson is speaking to the salesman for the first time. This is not your average salesman. He is skilled in Orwellian double speak. The fist two lines:

We’d like to know a little bit about you for our files
We’d like to help you learn to help yourself.

To earn her trust, the salesman pretends he wants to know about Mrs. Robinson’s personal situation. By saying he wants to help Mrs. Robinson learn to help herself, he infers he cares deeply about her future welfare and he is selling his message for her benefit and not his. Of course only the exact opposite is true. The salesman seeks only personal gain at Mrs. Robinson’s expense and could not care less of her future welfare.

The salesman continues….

Look around you all you see are sympathetic eyes,
Stroll around the grounds until you feel at home.

He wants Mrs. Robinson to believe she is among friends and like-minded people who understand her circumstances and whom genuinely care about her. He invites her to have a look around until she realizes she would be as comfortable with them as she is with her family. And that he has nothing to hide. Of course, the salesman knows and so should Mrs. Robinson that he does not keep on the sales floor the evidence of his true intentions.

The salesman has passed the first test. He tricked Mrs. Robinson into not seeing his true nature. She is intrigued with his message even if it may be too good to be true.

The chorus repeats reminding Mrs. Robinson of the real truth.

Ms. Robinson is hesitant. Accepting the salesman’s message is counter to the principles she has known all her life.   However, the salesman does not waiver. He presses on:

Hide it in the hiding place where no one ever goes.
Put it in your pantry with your cupcakes.
It’s a little secret just the Robinson’s affair.
Most of all you’ve got to hide it from the kids.

If a salesman is doing his job, it is your resolve that breaks.

Since the salesman is in this business, he has seen Mrs. Robinson’s apprehension many times and knows what to do with those pesky principles. He tells Mrs. Robinson not to worry about her principles because they will only get in her way. She is told to tuck them away in a hiding place where someone would keep away from the world all the things of which they are ashamed.

The salesman is cunning. If Mrs. Robinson is the type of person who doesn’t have a hiding place because she does not have anything to hide, he suggests a place for her.

Put it in your pantry with your cupcakes.
It’s a little secret just the Robinson’s affair.

The salesman knows in order to convince someone to go against their principles and do something they know is wrong but have convinced themselves might not be wrong, you also have to show them how. By telling her where to hide her principles, the salesman is kindly saying that if Mrs. Robinson does not know how to corrupt herself, he will teach her. By calling it “just the Robinson affair” he minimizes her concerns and moral quandary. The salesman reassures Mrs. Robinson and tells her not to worry…no one will ever know or care.

But the last tactic is the salesman’s most effective. Having convinced Mrs. Robinson her principles are something to be ashamed of and hidden, the salesman ensures his future wealth at the expense of her children.

Most of all you’ve got to hide it from the kids.

Unlike any other line, this is a directive. A pure command. The salesman has put in considerable effort to draw in Mrs. Robinson. This was not a small task. The salesman does not want to contend with those same principles in the next generation.

The salesman is wise. He knows children often rebel against the hypocrisies of the establishment while using as ammunition principles they learn from their parents. He knows the rebellions of the young are most often self-righteous and brave because the cold world has not yet convinced them to abandon what they know is right. The young also believe they are invincible. And whether their perceived invincibility is derived from naivety or valor, the salesman knows they will use it to rebel against his established order. Do not forget when Simon & Garfunkel wrote this song, they too were part of a youth movement rebelling against the established order.

This is what the salesman most fears so this must be his strongest statement. He uses superlative phrasing like “most of all” to stress importance. He states “you’ve got to” so Mrs. Robinson understands this is not a suggestion. If the salesman can convince Mrs. Robinson to hide her principles, he has done his job to perfection. The children will not learn what is right and just. Only his message. And most importantly, if the children never learn what is righteous there can never be a righteous rebellion. The salesman would win forever. This should alarm Mrs. Robinson.

Futile, the chorus repeats with a desperate koo-koo-ka-choo. The exasperated chorus has nothing further it can say to get Mrs. Robinson’s attention and heed the words of her own conscience.

Sitting on a sofa on a Sunday afternoon.
Going to the candidates’ debate.
Laugh about it, shout about it
When you’ve got to choose
Every way you look at this you lose.

The salesman wins completely. On the sacred day reserved for faith, Mrs. Robinson chooses to buy a salesman’s message. Rather than do what she has always known to be right, she takes part in the salesman’s charade only realizing the truth when it is too late…the salesman lied.

The message of the chorus and stanzas are opposite. The chorus is a message of perseverance of principles to achieve something real and the stanzas urge the abandonment of principles for something illusory. Imagine them as a tiny angel and devil standing on Mrs. Robinson’s shoulders urging her down different paths at the crucial moment. They show that no matter whether the choice between right and wrong is easy or not, it is irrevocable.

It is natural to blame the salesmen for what happened to Mrs. Robinson. But wrong. Fortunately, the real culprit is exposed in the conclusion. When I first thought about this song growing up, I did not first think to wonder whom Mrs. Robinson might represent. I first wondered why is Joe DiMaggio in this song?

To answer the question we first have to know who Joe DiMaggio is to the writer. Simon & Garfunkel are part of the baby boomer generation, which went through childhood in the 50’s and came of age during the Vietnam War and the social movements of the 60’s. While the 60’s provided the disillusionment which inspired their music, the 50’s were a golden decade for many Americans. Still the heroes of World War II, the American psyche was confident about the nation’s future and standing as a moral compass in the world and it was through this prism that Americans admired their national heroes.

New York Yankee Joe DiMaggio was a hero to every 50’s kid and the representation of success and class through good times and bad. Justified or not, he represented everything right and great with America. A brave hero….a fair and honest leader….and a winner.

Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio,
Our nation turns its lonely eyes to you..

So when this song asks where has he gone, it asks where have America’s moral leaders gone. The heroes who made us believe in America when we were children. The heroes we relied upon. This is why the question is asked. But importantly, who is asking?

According to the song’s pattern, the conclusion sits in place of the chorus and therefore the question is being asked by the chorus or rather Mrs. Robinson’s conscience. The chorus knew from the beginning the salesman is a liar and rues it could not do enough to protect Mrs. Robinson. The chorus regrets if only a great American hero were here it might have been different. In the end, not only has the conscience failed to protect Mrs. Robinson but so have her heroes.

At the beginning, I explained this song is a tragedy. Indeed it is somewhat Shakespearean. The song flows with a pleasant beat and we want to happily sing along. On its surface, it sells a good time the same way the salesman sells his message…the same way superficial politicians promise prosperity to voters. Having baited the listener this far the song only reveals the worst truths at the very end. Unlike its happy beat, it is not a happy song.

The last lines: (ignoring the hey hey hey’s)

What’s that you say, Mrs. Robinson.
Jolting Joe has left and gone away

The heroes did not protect Mrs. Robinson because they do not exist. Mrs. Robinson has lost all hope. Her heroes or rather her belief in them exist only in past memories. We have no heroes. This is the first truth.

It is no coincidence the reply to the chorus’ question is Mrs. Robinson’s only statement. A statement which the surprised chorus repeats and which ends her story. Every line is directed to or about Ms. Robinson, whether it is the chorus reminding her to remain true to her principles or the tale of the salesman fooling her into trusting him. Simon & Garfunkel are telling the listener Mrs. Robinson knows what happened well enough she would interrupt her own conscience to dispel any hope.

In the final lines Mrs. Robinson reveals her role. Never forget Mrs. Robinson knew the truth from the beginning. Before the salesman appeared the chorus sang the good message. Even as the salesman made his pitch the chorus reminded her of the truths by which she had always lived. Mrs. Robinson never needed the salesman to tell her what was right or a hero to protect her. She did not need to learn to help herself. She already knew the right path…staying true to her principles was the righteous path to salvation.

Simon & Garfunkel are saying America abandoned its principles and lost its way because of the choices we made as a people. Not because of the lies of politicians or the failures of our heroes. It was always up to us to protect ourselves and we have only ourselves to blame. It is our fault. Or rather the final truth to the individual listener is: it is my fault.

This is the message described in a poem of less than 170 words, excluding the chorus repetitions yet counting one koo-koo-ka-choo. It would be hard to beat their word count. But if you always remember, you could do it with one sentence. Like much of the music of Simon & Garfunkel, Mrs. Robinson is just a sad tale of how ‘have squandered my resistance for a pocketful of mumbles, such are promises’.

END

AFTERTHOUGHT:  Let me confess I have never seen The Graduate. It has had no influence on my interpretation. Since this song first appeared in the film and Mrs. Robinson is a main character of the movie, I know most interpretations are in accordance with the themes in the movie. Perhaps Simon & Garfunkel only meant to convey those themes and nothing more. Perhaps it is better I have not seen the movie before interpreting Mrs. Robinson. I don’t know. Whereas beauty is in the eye of the beholder, the meaning of poetry is in the mind of the reader.

If you have enjoyed this interpretation, I suggest you listen to the song Hook by Blues Traveler. Whereas Mrs. Robinson is the tragic anthem of America, Hook is the arrogant anthem of its salesman and a darn good song.

God Bless the S.E.C.

SEC

I do not know if I believe in God but I whole-heartedly believe in the statement above.  Weird, huh?  We southerners often make no sense.

I used to love football more than you could imagine. I still love it but the consistent nuisances and self-righteousness from the NFL has ebbed my love over the past decade.  I loathe Roger Goodoofus for smugly and stupidly altering the game at every media indignation and soundbite.

Apparently, this is what you get for 44 million a year.

Apparently, this is what you get for 44 million a year.

Stay away from my conference, Goodell!

Fortunately, while the NFL is run by a bunch of twits, the SEC is not.  Do not get me wrong, there are plenty of idiots in college football and even in the SEC….ahem, ahem referees.  But those at the top of the SEC are the best.

Kudos to you, Michael Slive.  Every sports league, conference, and even government agency at all levels are seemingly run by the kind of people we want to throw shoes at.  But not the SEC.  Ever since they added the championship game in 92, the SEC has been on a destined path.  The other conferences cannot keep up.  Slive has done well.

Like the kind grandpa you know and trust

Like the kind grandpa you know and trust

As a fan of an SEC school, I could not care less about the future of other conferences.  I just want SEC to thrive and I want to win it every year.  Screw you Bama and Georgia and LSU!  And if we win, sure, why not… we will play whoever else in the nation y’all can muster.

You could take all the worthy teams from every conference and it would not stand up against the SEC in most years.  And given the massive competitive edge in television revenues and recruiting, this disparity will only grow.  High school kids know to go to the SEC if they want NFL scouts to see them play regularly.

And not only does the SEC do football better than rest, it does expansion better.  Texas A&M was a fantastic addition.  Slam dunk on that one, Slive.  While Mizzou is kind of weird fit, we will adjust to the new dynamic and eventually it will feel like an old pair of shoes.  Kind of like South Carolina at first.  New states and new frontiers.  Now, let’s collect some checks and play football.

Or at least until the next expansion to 16 teams or 18 or 20 or wherever.  Looking at the map and financial realities, I am going on record with my prediction.  Eventually, there will be three major conferences of 24 teams each:  The SEC in the south east, Big 10 in the North East and the PAC-24 with every one to the west.  And another weakened fossil of the ACC/Big12/Whomever that will encompass all the scrubs.

In accordance with their tried and true method of seeking out new territories, the SEC will first pillage the ACC for North Carolina and Virginia.  I do not care about ACC buyout clauses.  They will not permanently stop any team from shifting from one conference to another.  And while wounded, the ACC would continue for at least a while.

Not related but why not include this photo.

Not related but why not include this photo.

At this point, the SEC will have thus prevented any further Big 10 expansion into the South.  The Big 10 will have to seek out western, northern ACC and smaller conference schools to expand further.  I also do not think the SEC targets Maryland at any point because it would be an awful fit…even worse than Maryland’s uniforms.  They deserve the Big 10.

The SEC may pause for a bit and settle out in a 16 team conference with newly negotiated TV contracts.  It’s never bad to renegotiate the contract after a round of expansion. $$$

But eventually, the SEC will again look west and hope that after however many years, Texas has learned its lesson and seen enough of the dollars and top athletes rolling into College Station.  Slive knows Texas will play hard ball a long time but not forever.  The Big 12 is a doomed conference.

The band gets it.

The A&M band gets it.

Slive knows Texas will have a choice: go it alone as an independent or join a revenue sharing conference.  Since independence worked for Notre Dame in the short run but proved disastrous to their program in the long run, Texas is likely to have second thoughts about being an independent.  Especially if Texas A&M manages to win a title before this decision is made.  Heck, an A&M title may even be what starts the ball rolling on this round of expansion.

The SEC will hope to add Texas.  And then Oklahoma but only if Texas is coming.  But they would not stop at 18 though. 18 is a difficult number for a conference.  You cannot split into four balanced divisions.  If you split into two divisions of 9, you would have to eliminate many longstanding and popular cross-division rivalries like Alabama-Tennessee, UF-LSU, and Georgia-Auburn.  I think they would immediately seek to move from 18 to 24 IF Texas (and therefore Oklahoma) join the SEC.   At 24, there would be four divisions of six, allowing plenty of spots for rotational and annual cross-division games.

Further, the effective disintegration of the B12 would leave the remaining universities scrambling to seek out new pastures and may create a similar scramble in the ACC.  This would be chaotic and unpredictable early on.  To ensure further targets do not get entrenched into other power conferences, the SEC will immediately look to solidify itself as the premier college sports conference for the foreseeable future, potentially ending further expansion for a long time.  But where to next?

Oklahoma State and Baylor are likely to join as well but not because the SEC wants them.  The SEC will look at them as the cost of adding Texas and Oklahoma.  Oklahoma State, Baylor, and even the states’ legislatures have done everything they can to keep the schools tied together.  So to add Texas and OU, the SEC will also take their little brothers.  Meh…but we are now at 20 teams.

T. Boone won't let OU go away without OSU

OU can’t escape on T. Boone’s watch

At this juncture, the SEC will look to finally end the charade of the ACC being a power conference and dominate the south without any real competition.  It will also need to do this before the ACC goes picking in the heaps of the old Big 12 in an attempt to assure its longevity.

ACC schools have not been SEC targets in the past because they do not provide any significant new revenue streams or TV markets.  But having reached it’s norther frontier and unlikely to go as far west as New Mexico, the SEC will take the best of the rest from the lands they already own.  It will finally take in FSU, Georgia Tech, and Clemson, bringing us to 23 teams.  They are good cultural fits and despite the objection of UF, UGA, and USC, they will likely be unable to muster enough votes by banding together and lobbying to stop such a move.  Gator & Dawgs & Cocks won’t be enough? Oh my!

At 23 teams, the SEC will have plenty of suitors calling.  West Virginia will literally beg the SEC and probably offer fracking rights as a sweetener, if not outright ownership of a county or two.  I bet Slive could get the Governor to get down to his knees and pledge allegiance as if he were Emperor Palpatine.  Louisville and Texas Tech and Miami will likewise be hoping for that final spot.  But they will be left out.  The state of West Virginia does not offer enough incentive to add WVU and the State of Kentucky is not financially worth having a second school.   Miami and Texas Tech will be left wanting because the SEC will already dominate the states of Florida (UF, FSU) and Texas (A&M, Baylor, UT).

Miami is the least likely of the four to get in.  While Texas Tech, Louisville, and West Virginia may have a small chance, Miami is not a college town and the university does not have a stadium.  They play 25 miles away from campus in front of crowds of 10,000.

Pathetic!

Not exactly an SEC atmosphere

Northwestern High School in Miami draws in more fans on Friday nights.  And there are seemingly more Gator fans in Miami than Hurricanes.  So no to UM just as TT, UL, and WVU.

Rather and brilliantly, the SEC will take Duke.  A football minnow but one of the most prestigious schools in the south.  And a basketball powerhouse.  Having already brought in several ACC schools, Duke will fit naturally into the new 24 team super conference.  At this point, even the snobbiest of Duke eggheads could not argue that SEC academics would not be sufficient as the conference would have added UNC, UVA, GT, and UT to go along with AAU schools UF, Vandy, Mizzou, and A&M.  I cannot be certain but I have been told by people I trust that dukies are supposedly smart.

Their students certainly understand the value of money.

Their students certainly understand the value of money.

Considering the reality of the landscape should the SEC be sitting at 23 teams as mentioned above, those supposedly smart dukies would happily join.  It would be too much research money to pass up. Heck, maybe they’d even be able to lower tuition.  Apparently, it’s a little too high.

Nevertheless, just like that the SEC will be the undisputed king of the two largest revenue college sports in America.  The corpses of the ACC and Big 12 would continue to be pillaged by the Big 10 and PAC-whatever as they seek to catch up.  But no matter who they add, the reality coupled with America’s continued demographic shift to the South means they would not be able to challenge the SEC as the premier conference for a generation.

Get it done, Slive!  The SEC is already the king.  Make it an emperor.

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