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10.1 7 /0193723504267546 ABSURDITY OF COLORBLIND RHETORIC TRENDS THE NEXT M. J. OR THE NEXT O. J.? KOBE BRYANT, RACE, AND THE ABSURDITY OF COLORBLIND RHETORIC David J. Leonard In this essay, the author explores the absurdity of colorblind rhetoric within the discursive field of Kobe Bryant’s rape trial. Specifically, in examining articulations on the Internet, television coverage, commentaries, and news reports, this article reveals how colorblind ideologies that dominate public discussions conflict with the racialized discursive utterances surrounding Kobe’s arrest and ongoing trial. In exploring the reactions to accusationsof rape against Kobe Bryant by both the mainstream media and White nation- alists, this article repels the tendency to disassociate mainstream discourses surrounding race and sports from the more racially grotesque versions found among White nationalists. This article interrogates the context, text, and subtext of the racialized/gendered discourse of Kobe Bryant, situating this case study within the larger dynamics of racialized sports celebrity. It asks whether status as a celebrity athlete provides racial erasure and whether accusations of criminal misconduct not only reinscribe race but also erase celebrity. Keywords: Kobe Bryant;White supremacy;sports;colorblind rhetoric;rape IT’S JUST A JOKE: RACING KOBE 1 Q: What do you call a Black man in a coat and tie? A: Defendant. Q: What do you think O. J. would say to Kobe Bryant right now? A: Don’t let all this trial business turn you off of White women. Q: Why did Kobe cross the road? A: To sexually assault the White teenager from the other side. Q: Can Kobe Bryant really get a fair trial in an all-White or virtually all-White venue? A: Could the trial be moved to the Staples Center? Q:What is the difference between receiving a $4 million ring from Kobe Bryant and receiving anal sex from Kobe Bryant? A: The woman receiving the $4 million ring from Kobe Bryant is screaming, “Yes! Yes! Yes!” Q: What is Kobe Bryant’s lawyer’s defense? A: The first 8 inches was consensual. Q: What would Emmett Till say to Kobe Bryant right now? , Volume 28, No. 3, August 2004, pp. 284-313 DOI: 10.1177/0193723504267546 © 2004 Sage Publications
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A: You think you got it bad? All I did was whistle! INTRODUCTION On July 1, 2003, an unidentified woman, along with her parents, marched into the Eagle County Sheriff’s Department to file a complaint against Kobe Bryant. The woman accused Bryant of rape, sparking a fire- storm of media attention, a significant amount of online chatter, and an out- pouring of jokes. Without details, Kobe and the accuser have each been vili- fied within public discourses, revealing the complexities of race, gender, and celebrity within contemporary America. Hoping to garner greater understanding of the discursive field sur-
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