Blackness in MMA: A Follow-up from 4 Months Ago

And very good point on “blackness,” that’s the whole thing about being defined as an “other” by whites and by racism, isn’t it? Some in the community choose to embrace otherness in order to reclaim it as an identity owned by the community, and others will choose to avoid the issue and try to live as an individual, or even try to shed their "other"ness while the majority actively tries to keep them in that box


About 4 months ago I wrote this fanpost. A lot of comments asked to go into further detail. Creating, a blog primarily about hipster racism, has given me another reason to do so, and so here it is, 4 months later.

Quinton “Rampage” Jackson is an African American mixed martial artist. Although he is a former UFC light-heavyweight champion, he is more known for being a clown, beloved for slamming opponents into oblivion and charming antics like dry-humping female reporters, howling like a wolf and hyping fights with other African American fighters as “black on black crime.” While Rampage has become one of the most adored fighters in the UFC, Rashad Evans, a black mixed martial artist and former light-heavyweight champion is routinely booed. Evans attributes this to his refusal to pander to the fans and has accused Rampage of being an Uncle Tom, putting on a minstrel show to appeal to the predominantly white UFC audience.

Current UFC light-heavyweight champion Jon Jones lies on the other side of the spectrum. Jones is vilified for being too arrogant. Too phony. Evans even went as far as to call him a “fake ass white boy.” Whereas Rampage is beloved by fans and dismissed by black fighters like Evans for playing up his blackness, Jones is criticized by both for not being black enough, or being too white. Jones has dismissed these charges. Being an amateur wrestler, Jones has heard these accusations before, but normalizing such sentiments does not absolve the problematic elements behind them.

Evans has criticized Rampage for making a caricature out of himself and profiting from tropes that subordinate blacks and making blacks look bad in general and has simultaneously criticized Jones for channeling his inner Booker T. Washington to appease white audiences. In this way, Evans has set himself up as someone very different from Rampage and Jones despite the visually glaring similarities. While Rampage is the buffoon and Jones is disingenuous, Evans has been labeled pretentious and arrogant. He’s seen as an agitator, bringing up race in a post-racial world.

The Rampage/Evans/Jones squabbles beg the question: What is blackness? The (overly) simple answer is nothing. There is no fixed definition of blackness; being black does not inherently mean anything. The critical answer cannot be stated in a single word of sentence. Howard Omi and Michael Winant’s racial formation theory details the fluid nature of race as a fluidly constructed marker. Contrary to beliefs that race is fixed, racial formation posits that race is informed by micro and macro processes that are historically, socially and economically contingent. In short, race is a social construct, imbued with meaning that is constantly perpetuated. For example, how many times have we seen the black stereotypes translate to anti-black violence like in the Trayvon Martin shooting? How many times have we heard Mike Goldberg and Joe Rogan call a black fighter explosive and athletic? Drawing on racial formation, how has being black in the context of MMA, a predominantly white industry, informed Rampage, Jones and Evans’ strategies of negotiating blackness in a white space?

Whether Rampage or Jones is consciously playing a role or is up for debate, but the fact that both are black men in a primarily white industry put their actions under considerably more scrutiny. A white fighter does not have to worry about her or his actions defining the white race. A white fighter does not have to worry about how black audiences or Asian audiences perceive them. Echoing W.E.B. Du Bois’ concept of double consciousness, blacks do not have that privilege. As Stew croons in “Black Men Ski,” “Some kids I’ll describe as friends / say I am race-obsessed. / The luxury of your opinion / shows that you are blessed.” Du Bois’ double consciousness and Stew and the Negro Problem’s lyrics highlight how racial formation operates. Blackness may not inherently mean anything, but that does not stop dominant discourses from defining it, which in turn affects how racialized groups respond to essentializing discourses. Knowing how blackness is perceived and constructed, Rampage arguably performs his blackness for profit, in contrast to Jones who downplays his blackness for professional legitimacy. Painfully aware of how white audiences have historically consumed the Rampage persona and subservient nature of appeasement (whether Jones is playing a role, is again, up for debate), Rashad Evans has rejected both strategies to clearly differentiate himself from his peers.

Although the process of racial formation attempts to fix meaning, Rampage, Jones and Evans problematize notions of a set definition. As black men with different experiences who present their identities in very different ways, they show that racial formation does not just occur from the top-down, but a is constant process where racial identity is negotiated and renegotiated as dominant discourses, popular representation, and history interact with the lived realities of individuals within the community.

\The FanPosts are solely the subjective opinions of Bloody Elbow readers and do not necessarily reflect the views of Bloody Elbow editors or staff.

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