The Tradition of Hate Continues

“The action of President Roosevelt in entertaining that nigger will necessitate our killing a thousand niggers in the South before they will learn their place again.” — Sen. “Pitchfork Ben” Tillman speaking about President Theodore Roosevelt hosting Booker T. Washington at the White House in 1900.

OK, is it just me or does it seem that society is moving backward? The above hate language was spouted by then S.C. Sen. Ben Tillman, who was angered about a black man being invited to the White House. In 2010, folks — like Republican S.C. Sen. Jake Knotts — clearly feel that way about the S.C. governor’s office and the White House.

During a radio show that was taped in a Columbia bar, Knotts called Rep. Nikki Haley, an Indian-American Republican woman running for governor, a “fucking raghead” several times while explaining how he believed she was hiding her true religion from voters.

Haley has been endorsed by Sarah Palin and the Tea Party, but is under fire from Knotts because she is an Indian woman running against his candidate of choice: Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer. It doesn’t matter that she is a Christian and recognizes Sikh celebrations in deference to her parents. It only matters that she is Indian and was raised in a monotheistic religious household. Is Newt Gingrich, who was raised Baptist and was a practicing Baptist most of his life, less of a Republican because he converted to Catholicism?

During Knotts’ rant, he stated that there was already a “raghead” in the White House. And, not to worry: Like a good Christian, he did apologize for using the “F” word.

Unfortunately, the South Carolina tradition of using political spaces to spout venomous and hateful speech has not evolved even though the state is changing in many ways. People were up in arms over Rep. Joe Wilson shouting “You lie!” to President Obama, but Knotts’ comments haven’t generated as much of a backlash. It is clear that Knotts’ problem with Haley has nothing to do with her politics, which are very close to his, but everything to do with her race, gender and religious identity. The thought of someone who isn’t male and white winning the governor’s office literally drives Knotts, and people like him, mad. The saddest part about Knotts’ words is that they are hateful and incite more hate speech and hateful behavior in our society.

I was shocked and appalled to learn of the recent alleged shooting and dragging death of a black man in Newberry, S.C. Anthony Hill, 30, of Winnsboro, S.C., was found dead on the side of U.S. Highway 176. According to, police followed the trail of blood from Hill’s body that stretched over 10 miles to a trailer occupied by 19-year-old Gregory Collins. The coroner stated that Hill died from a gunshot wound and police are trying to determine why Collins dragged the body after Hill was killed. The crime is being investigated possibly as a hate crime because of how the crime was executed, pun intended, and the fact that Collins is white and Hill is black.

The dragging death or lynching of a black man is not new, especially in the Carolinas with its long history of lynching and anti-civil rights rhetoric and legislation. According to John Hammond Moore’s Carnival of Blood: Dueling, Lynching, and Murder in South Carolina 1880-1920, there were 144 verified lynchings in South Carolina between 1880 and 1947. In recent memory, the high-profile dragging death of James Byrd Jr. in June 1998 in Jasper, Texas, generated countless headlines, so it isn’t like South Carolina is breaking ground in the area of hate. What is interesting is how hate crimes intersect with hate rhetoric, which is clearly on the rise. I would argue that the case involving Hill and Collins, co-workers and acquaintances, is a recent example of this.

I don’t understand why folks can get arrested for falsely yelling, “Fire!” in a public place, because it threatens public safety, but can say hateful things, which is also a threat to public safety — particularly those who are on the receiving end of hate.

It was recently reported that a group in Prescott, Arizona, was calling for a mural depicting faces of blacks and Latinos on a public school to be lightened or changed to white … but that’s not even the bad part. While working on the mural, people were driving by, shouting racial epithets at the adults and children painting the mural. With Arizona’s recent frenzy of racist legislation (legalized racial profiling and the elimination of ethnic studies from public school curricula) is it a stretch to imagine that some sort of violence will probably follow?

Which leads me squarely back to South Carolina, which has a tradition of politicians — Democrat and Republican — using their office as a bully pulpit, pun intended, to incite hateful behavior. Hate speech creates the climate and conditions that are ripe for hate crimes. I just hope that some people come to this realization before someone else loses his/her life.

Nsenga K. Burton, Ph.D. serves as cultural critic for Creative Loafing. She is an editor-at-large for, where she writes the Buzz section and a bi-weekly column.


Soccer Fever Rises Worldwide but Dips in Charlotte

World Cup fever is in full effect in South Africa. Everywhere you turn, someone is talking about it. Commercials, music videos, special songs on the radio, official jerseys and soccer balls all sport World Cup-related imagery. TV shows of all genres have written the countdown to the 2010 World Cup into their story lines. South Africa’s Department of Education has even designated Fridays as “Football Fridays,” where teachers, administrators and students, most of whom usually wear uniforms, are allowed to don World Cup jerseys and T-shirts.

As I travel throughout South Africa, it is not lost on me that one of Charlotte‘s most interesting soccer-oriented organizations, Concrete2Green, is in jeopardy. Currently the group is housed at Eastland Mall, which will no longer exist in a couple of weeks — so they will be, for all intents and purposes, homeless. It’s tragically ironic that an organization dedicated to bringing soccer to the inner city is losing its lease during the month of the most anticipated World Cup in recent history.

Concrete2Green teaches kids (among other skills) the art of futsal, which is a variation of soccer that is played indoors on surfaces different from traditional grass fields. The ball used is smaller with less bounce than a regulation soccer ball. There are two teams, with five players each, and one goalkeeper. The team is allowed unlimited substitutions for team players. The game is judged based on improvisation, ball handling and the ability to pass in tight spaces.

The goal of Concrete2Green is to bring soccer to communities that wouldn’t normally have access to traditional soccer fields, mainly those in urban settings. Its “higher calling” was to take abandoned spaces of recreation and revitalize them with sport, creating a community where youth have a space to share, communicate and, of course, play soccer. Through this, the hope was to create players who would then go on and compete in traditional soccer (football) tournaments or become a part of the growing futsal movement across the world.

It is with this in mind that Akbar Majeed and Irvine Smalls Jr. started Concrete2Green, and they accomplished their goals, bringing together black, brown and white communities in Charlotte. On any given day, they would have 200 or more players in and out of the Eastland Mall location with no drama — which was much needed at that troubled mall. It is truly sad thinking about the possible demise of this organization — because of the loss of its primary home — that has managed to accomplish in a short period of time what many have not been able to do in decades, through the lens of sports.

Sports has always been a space where social and political issues are either highly charged or slowly disappear. To give young people who would not ordinarily have the opportunity to explore soccer in any form a chance to develop skills used on and off the field is important and significant. As I watch Bafana Bafana (South Africa’s national soccer team) on every channel, their team is made up of people from their country. The same is true of Brazil, Portugal, Nigeria and Germany, to name a few.

When the United States rolled out its 2010 World Cup roster this week, only four of the 23 players on the team play for American soccer clubs. I thought to myself that organizations like Concrete2Green are necessary if for no other reason than to develop a pool of homegrown soccer players who can represent our country on the world stage. Even though futsal is different, it is based on soccer, so it is not out of the realm of imagination that traditional soccer players may develop from this sport.

As I am surrounded by 2010 World Cup mania, my mind is on Charlotte and thinking about the role that we could have played in creating homegrown talent that could possibly compete on the international level one day. As is the case in our fair city, there’s loads of talent in a number of categories, but our ability to nurture and grow this talent is a challenge for us. Futsal/soccer are not immune to this challenge.

In the United States in general, we get behind so many sports — even extreme sports are wildly popular. It is a mystery to me why soccer doesn’t make the cut, particularly with so many immigrants from countries that live and breathe soccer (aka football). Wouldn’t it have been wonderful to have some of these young people from Concrete2Green travel to South Africa to witness the 2010 World Cup in person? (It’s the first time that the World Cup has been hosted by an African country and judging by the growing challenges leading up to the tournament, it may be the last.)

Whatever the case, losing Concrete2Green at this time would be a sad thing — particularly as the rest of the world celebrates what we’ve let go.

Nsenga Burton serves as cultural critic for Creative Loafing, where she examines pop culture through the lens of race, class and gender. She is an editor-at-large at, where she writes the Buzz section and a bi-weekly column.

Film Champion Dennis Darrell Leaves Behind Rich Legacy

Last week, I and many other Charlotteans were shocked to learn of the passing of Dennis Darrell. Dennis was a tireless advocate of independent film, especially black film, here in Charlotte. If you read this column regularly, you may remember a recent piece titled, “Where is Charlotte’s Independent Film Community?” I had the opportunity to interview Dennis for the piece and, as always, he had the most positive outlook on the subject.

He stated: “A community as I see it — as an active network that comes together to view and make independent films — we have that. To demonstrate how much the community is changing, we now have [a number of] groups screening films as opposed to one or two, which is good. The more people, the better.”

While I was pontificating whether we even had an independent film community in Charlotte, Dennis was clear that there was one, albeit small. The fact that it was small and fractured didn’t take away from the existence of an independent film community; rather, it just gave us an opportunity to work harder to close those gaps and work more closely together.

I remember thinking to myself that Dennis has been programming film for a long time (more than 10 years), and he still sees it as a beginning. This was a man comfortable with the fact that change is a process. He was able to see the good in a situation where others, like myself, argued that the local film scene was broken.

Out of the people I interviewed for the piece, he was my last subject. I remember thinking that such optimism is rare and perhaps I should think differently about how “community” is defined. Dennis reminded me in that interview that you don’t throw the baby out with the bath water. We must understand that the film community in Charlotte is a work in progress and do what we can to become a part of the process that will inevitably create the desired reality.

It is this optimism that I remember most about Dennis, who welcomed me to the Charlotte film scene with open arms in 2001 when I first moved here from Los Angeles. Many know me as a writer, but few know me as a filmmaker, which is my first love. I met Dennis at a screening that he held at the Afro-American Cultural Center (now the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts & Culture). We chatted, and like many other filmmakers new to the area, he took me under his wing, introducing me to other filmmakers and programmers. It was Dennis who connected me with the folks at The Light Factory, with whom I developed a great relationship.

It was Dennis who insisted that I screen my short film Wooden Nickels. I didn’t want to show it, because I thought it was too old, having made it in 2000. It was Dennis who told me that it was an important film and needed to be seen, so it was screened. As I was moving closer to academia and writing, and moving further away from film, it was Dennis who asked me to host his annual film festival and field questions from the audience, which reminded passion for film. It was Dennis who said, “You’ve got to get back to filmmaking.”

It was Dennis who organized a dinner to introduce me to other filmmakers like Steve Rutherford and Tre McGriff. It was Dennis who connected me with Beth Petty at the Charlotte Film Office and Robert Crumbine of Charlotte Center City Partners. It was Dennis who let me know that my old friends Christine and Michael Swanson were moving to Charlotte, and of course, we reconnected. Dennis was the king of connecting people. He made so many introductions and wanted nothing in return. That was just the type of person that he was — doing what he could to move film forward in Charlotte. Dennis did this for many filmmakers who moved to the Queen City.

Imagine my surprise when I received an e-mail on Monday, May 17, from Tre McGriff and the Swansons that Dennis had passed away. I was stunned and saddened that I would not be able to be there for his homegoing, since I was in South Africa. I knew that he suffered a stroke in the past, but I thought he rebounded. I saw him during CIAA, and during our last e-mail exchange, which was two weeks ago, we discussed screening my documentary on the public servants strike in South Africa this fall in Charlotte. As always he was optimistic that we would get a great venue, have a good turnout and add value to the city.

Dennis was loved and respected in the community at large and, I would argue, the glue of the local independent film community. He will be greatly missed here on earth, but he is in a far better place.

Nsenga serves as cultural critic for Creative Loafing and is an editor-at-large for, where she writes the Buzz section and feature stories.

Where is Charlotte’s Independent Film Community?

Recently, I had the opportunity to watch Don’t Blame the Lettuce, an independent film written, produced and directed by David Jones. Jones is a South Carolina native who honed his skills at the University of South Carolina before moving to Charlotte to pursue his dream of filmmaking. When choosing Charlotte, Jones believed that moving to an emerging metropolis like ours would allow him to get what he needed — such as equipment and a talented cast and crew. Well, he was able to get all of those things, but the process, he said, was like pulling teeth.

Jones stated: “It’s very difficult to get people in Charlotte to work on films. They don’t have the commitment like you find in other cities. Many people seem to be all about the money, and not about filmmaking as a craft.”

Jones’ statement made me think about when I first moved to Charlotte to teach production at Johnson C. Smith University, which at the time had the only comprehensive production program that included radio, television and digital video production. JCSU had the foundation for a great program and eventually we developed a state-of-the-art facility for students. There were definitely students who were willing and able, but they also complained of the lack of opportunities outside of the university — which is why many bolted for other cities after graduation.

I feel what Jones is saying; I’d worked in film my entire adult life in Chicago, New York and Los Angeles … but came to a screeching halt here in Charlotte. I met lots of people who talked about making films, but very few who were actually doing it. Initially, I thought it was just in the African-American community, but upon branching out, I learned that there were a lot of pretenders in general in Charlotte. I found that many folks didn’t have knowledge of the nuts and bolts of filmmaking (white balancing for instance) and really weren’t that interested in the actual production process. In other cities, and not just traditional film cities, that wasn’t the case.

Think of the work coming out of locales like Austin, Texas, Philadelphia, Boston and Savannah — one has to wonder why Charlotte’s film community isn’t thriving in the same way. We’ve got a great cost-of-living, nice weather (which is perfect for outside shooting) and I, would argue, some talented people here. Why is there no real community?

Now, let me clarify before you start writing letters: Watching independent films is one thing, but making them is another. Groups like The Charlotte Film Society and Reel Soul Cinema (among others) do an excellent job of screening independent films and making people aware of what’s out there. Dennis Darrell, CEO of Reel Soul Cinema, sees the filmmaking community as something real and concrete.

“A community as I see it — as an active network that comes together to view and make independent films — we have that,” said Darrell. “To demonstrate how much the community is changing, we now have [a number of] groups screening films as opposed to one or two, which is good. The more people, the better.”

The Queen City is home to the Charlotte Film Festival, Charlotte Film Society, the Charlotte African-American Film Festival, The Light Factory, and many other celluloid-centric organizations. Read more.

This article originally appeared in Creative Loafing where Nsenga serves as cultural critic.

Dr. Nsenga K. Burton on Fox News 45

This is a link to me discussing Internet Slang in a segment produced by Fox 45 News in Baltimore.

One to Watch: Don’t Blame it on the Lettuce Brings Back Storytelling

Every once in a while, you see a film that really has something to say. A film that doesn’t tie up all of the loose ends so that we can feel better after watching it. A film that displays the real challenges of life, marriage and relationships. A film by a first-time feature director that makes you think, “this cat has what it takes.” I felt that feeling when watching Don’t Blame the Lettuce, an indie film directed by David Jones. It is a film about the ups and downs of relationships, how these relationships are interconnected to other aspects of our lives and the impossibility of a perfect love even when things look perfect from the outside. Jones takes us into a real-world scenario with which many can identify. He does this effortlessly because of his keen ability to tell stories. What is sad but very true is the fact that the art of storytelling in film is all but gone. With the exception of a few indie and art house pictures each year, the vast majority of films produced fail at telling a decent story. A good story with solid performances by Rod Smart, Ayana Vines and Kendrick Cross, pull the viewer into the narrative. It’s amazing what happens when you know the nuts and bolts of filmmaking, which Jones clearly does. This is a solid effort that leaves me wanting to see more from this director.

Nsenga K. Burton, Ph.D. writes Tune N. She also serves asĀ  cultural critic for Creative Loafing and is a regular contributor to

Forgotten American Hero: Larry Doby

ehind every great hero is another great hero. Have you ever heard the name Jackie Robinson? You’re probably from another planet if you haven’t. Ever heard the name Larry Doby? Well, you’re probably from this planet if you haven’t.

On June 1, 1947, exactly 11 weeks after Jackie Robinson integrated Major League Baseball, a man named Larry Doby broke the color barrier in the American League, taking the field for the Cleveland Indians. A native of Camden, S.C., Doby became the first African-American to play for the American League. While he changed history, moving baseball and society forward, his legacy has been obscured by America’s fascination with Jackie Robinson. Make no mistake about it, Robinson is a true American hero and icon; but Larry Doby deserves to be a part of America’s collective memory about baseball because of his contribution to the sport and subsequently American society.

Like Robinson, Doby played in the Negro Leagues. Raised in Paterson, N.J., Doby joined the Newark Eagles at age 17, leading them to the Negro League Championship in 1946. In 1947, he was signed by the Cleveland Indians and in 1948, Doby became the first black player to hit a home run in the World Series between Cleveland and the Boston Braves, which is the last time the Indians held a World Series title.

According to, “Doby was a seven-time All-Star who batted .283 with 253 home runs and 970 RBI in 13 Major League seasons. The power-hitting center fielder paced the American League in home runs twice and collected 100 RBI five times, while leading the Indians to pennants in 1948 and 1954.”

Like Robinson, Doby suffered many injustices by being jeered by spectators, banned from hotels and restaurants and on the receiving end of threats and hate mail. Robinson received support from his fellow players Pee Wee Reese, Gil Hodges and Ralph Branca, but Doby received little to none from his.

Through it all, Doby endured, having a fantastic career in baseball. He was the third American to play professional baseball in Japan’s Nippon Professional League. After retiring, he was a coach for the Montreal Expos and Indians, becoming manager of the White Sox in 1978. He was the second African-American to become a manager in Major League Baseball, ironically behind Frank Robinson, who was the manager of the Cleveland Indians. Doby was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1998 and passed away in 2003.

While Robinson is celebrated, the contributions of Larry Doby are overshadowed at best and overlooked at worst. This is the tragedy that occurs when we allow others to choose our heroes for us. Before you start the hate mail, Jackie Robinson is undoubtedly one of the greatest American figures in modern history. I’m not trying to take anything away from him.

What I’m saying is that often when one person or story is held up, another is held down. Rosa Parks was not the first woman to refuse to give up her seat on the bus in Montgomery, Ala. Nine months before her, 15-year-old Claudette Colvin refused to give up her seat on the same bus system. Parks’ act of defiance sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott, which is why she is referred to as the “mother of the civil rights movement.” While Rosa Parks is part of our American history, how many people have even heard of Claudette Colvin?

Thomas Edison is credited with inventing the motion picture camera. While he was a great scientist, inventor and entrepreneur, his assistant William K. Dickson actually invented the motion picture camera — the kinetograph. It is Dickson’s celluloid film that set the standard for 35 mm that is still used today, but it is Edison who gets the credit because he owned the patents. It is Edison who is taught in classrooms, while Dickson is largely overlooked or ignored.

I could go on and on, but I won’t. I’m sure you get the gist. The point is that our society is so wedded to stories of triumph, that we often overlook those who were directly and indirectly involved with those triumphs.

Change and progress does not happen in a vacuum. When change actually appears, there has typically been something else driving it. Sometimes that “something else” is actually someone else. Typically, media institutions and those imbued with power dictate our collective history and choose our heroes. Often we follow along, not challenging or calling for the inclusion of others who have made a difference in our lives.

While many wear Robinson’s No. 42 each year to commemorate breaking the color barrier in Major League Baseball, I’m going to rock my Larry Doby No. 14 Cleveland Indians jersey. Not in protest but in celebration of the collective effort it took to change baseball and society itself.

Nsenga K. Burton, Ph.D. is cultural critic for Creative Loafing. She writes the blog Tune N and is a regular contributor to