Update, Saturday, June 9th, 2018, 12:00 pm: This article has had a few key additions/corrections since it was originally written on Friday morning. Those have been noted in the article by asterisks, as such*:
It’s been a hell of a couple of weeks. In case you’ve been living in a cave since late May, here’s the shitshow summary: one of The Slap Messageboard members (Gentle Jones) accused Jason Jessee of harboring long-standing racist tendencies; Vice picked up the story, and stumbled all over themselves running with it; Jason’s sponsors put him on “indefinite hiatus” for his past transgressions; and then all hell broke loose all over the internet. Some people defended him, while others wanted nothing more than to see his racist ass strung up by the neck. I think that pretty much brings us all up to speed, doesn’t it…?
The problem with a story like this, is that it brings up a whole hornet’s nest of pertinent issues. As Edward Pidgeon so wisely said, “The thing is not always The Thing”. And he’s right: this shitshow goes well beyond the simple debate over whether Jason Jessee is a racist or not.
That being said, let me lay those “things” out, front and center, in the rapid-fire succession of bullet points below:
Speaking For Myself
First of all: as always, my opinions do not necessarily reflect the opinions of my staff, our advertisers, my family, my friends, my enemies, or their damn pets or houseplants. Given the super-sensitive nature of this ongoing (and ugly) debate, I really feel like that needs to be said unequivocally.
I never thought I’d see the day when an editor would have to make such a disclaimer, but oh well. We live in perilous times, I guess.
The Noble Service That Media Can Do (If They Ever Decide To Actually Do It)
Let’s just stick it right out there: The Media in this country… skateboard, or otherwise… isn’t doing us any f’n favors by doing shitty reporting that only inflames emotions, increases tensions, and deepens divides. Yeah, it might be great “for ratings” and for getting more eyeballs on the story (which, by the way, is also really great for generating ad revenue). But as far as “serving the public’s interests” are concerned, The Media is pretty damned useless these days.
The Media just loves to talk long and loud about “fair an balanced”, while actually demonstrating “unfair and imbalanced” at damn near every turn.
Of course, I understand that nobody likes or supports racism. I get that, and I back that. I don’t fucking support it, either.
However: this question of whether Jason Jessee is actually a sincere racist… or, merely a shit-talking punk provocateur that gets off on pushing people’s buttons and pissing them off “for shock value”… is, in this context, an entirely appropriate question to ask. Especially considering his extremely long (and well-documented) record of doing all of the above.
If the only thing that I ever achieve is in getting people to ask more thoughtful questions, make fewer jugheaded assumptions, promote reasonable and rational thinking, and demand honest answers… then maybe I’ve accomplished some small something along the way.
It might not be the most popular, or the most profitable thing to do. But it is the right thing to do. And that’s perfectly a-ok with me.
The Billion Dollar Question
So, is Jason Jessee really a racist? Unfortunately, I can’t answer that one. Not fairly, at least. And neither can anybody else*.
Only Jason Jessee can really answer that question. And he’s not exactly talking right now, now is he?
Outside of a single handwritten note, and a quick, ten-second Insta-apology, his relative silence has been pretty damn deafening.
And that deafening silence does make me a mite bit suspicious.
* Later on Friday, June 8th… within hours of posting this piece… I got a heads-up (via my personal Facebook feed) that this video had also been posted (by “Eraserhead Fuckers”) online (on June 6th), via YouTube. While not containing any “new information”, per se… it entirely consists of photos, video, and words that have all been published online in the past… it does provide, first, the best (and most compelling) context of the “Jason is a racist” argument that I have yet seen; and, secondly, a whole host of images and words that have since been deleted from the public record. Here is the direct link to the YouTube video.
Do I Want To Believe That He’s A Racist…?
No. Of course I don’t. And frankly speaking, neither should you.
Why, you ask? Well, for the simplest of reasons. I’d really like to believe that skateboarding, all of his sponsors (since 1987 or so), and the rest of our industry, have not been harboring a known racist… a “living skateboarding legend”, at that… for the last thirty f’n years.
I’d like to believe that we’re all better than that. That our industry is better than that. That skateboarding itself is better than that.
But that deafening silence still makes me awfully suspicious…
What Skateboarding Needs Right Now
I’d say that what Jason Jessee should seriously be considering right now, is a 60 Minutes-style, back and forth, Q&A with a prominent, unbiased, and impartial reporter that isn’t afraid to ask some really hard questions, and demand some really honest answers.
I’m pretty sure that I speak for a hell of a lot of skaters on this one. And I really don’t think this issue will be completely shut, sealed, and delivered, until that happens.
Skateboarding deserves nothing less. Especially from a guy that claims to love skateboarding as much as he says he does.
Motivations and Agendas of The Original Poster (at Slap)
Speaking of dodging hard questions: the “Original Poster”, Gentle Jones, aka Bill Ferrell, has been just as complicit as Jason Jessee has been in opening himself up to being asked really hard questions, and giving really honest answers.
First of all, why did he single Jason (and Santa Cruz) out? A symptom of a petty personal vendetta overtaking a purely philosophical one, perhaps?
And, what did he stand to gain in all of this (if anything)…?
I’d add that the question of whether this guy just might have had an agenda to pursue, a vendetta to execute, and an axe to grind with Mr. Jessee is, at the very least, a “more than fair question to ask”.
A couple weeks back, I actually got to ask Bill Ferrell these questions. Directly.
To this day, he has never directly answered any of them. Yet he claims (at Slap) to have nothing to hide, and to be more than happy to defend himself.
Do we hypocrite much, Bill…?
The Media Complicity Number One: Not Running The Piece
In Gentle Jones’ defense: I did note somewhere in the Slap conversation that he had tried to shop this story around to The Media, to no avail*.
So, why didn’t they run it? Did they have their own interests in burying it? Maybe they had advertisers to keep happy, and fat paychecks to look after?
I have to wonder if this story had been responsibly covered, instead of being left in the hands of an internet vigilante… if the tone (and the outcome) might have been very different.
If I had been Bill’s editor, the first question I would have asked him is this: “Okay, fine. What about all the other skaters in the world that have rocked a swastika at some time or another? Are they (and their respective sponsors) all racists, too?” I mean, if you’re gonna talk shit… you might as well go for the gusto, and really dig it all out. I’m an equal-opportunity ass-kicker, and I fully expect my staff and contributors to follow suit. What that means, in layman’s terms, is that I expect them to be fair.
The fact that he did not bring any of the other swastika-rockers into this (at least initially) only adds to my suspicions that he is not fair.
And maybe the suspicions that he is not fair, compelled The Media to respectfully decline on running his “story”.
* This assertion is factually incorrect. “Eraserhead Fuckers” (the skater that made the Jason Jessee video noted above) is the kid that wrote the draft article for Jenkem (who rejected it), and was subsequently submitted to Vice (who never responded to the submission, both as noted in the video). Gentle Jones/Bill Ferrell was neither the author of the piece, nor the guy presenting it to media. The draft article has since been functionally superseded by the video, which renders the draft article itself quite redundant.
Way back in 1987, Jason Jessee had “an altercation” with Ned “Peanut” Brown after Jason called Peanut “The N Word”. Now, when I say that they had “an altercation”, that means that Jason got his ass handed to him by Peanut. A well-deserved ass-handing, I would add. If I were Peanut, I might’ve done the same exact thing, myself.
Bill Ferrell is affiliated with Dead End Skateboards. Dead End put out a Ned Brown reissue as recently as 2015. Bill Ferrell personally wrote the press release for that reissue announcement. Bill Ferrell and Ned Brown seem to be awfully close for comfort these days.
These accusations came right on the heels of a high-profile video release by Cons, just as Jason Jessee is at the apex of a comeback.
“The Apex Of A Comeback”, of course, is always the perfect time to take a man to task, and tarnish his reputation a bit, if you truly intend to do him real personal and/or professional harm.
All of these things seem strangely coincidental to me.
The Media Complicity Number Two: The Vice Article
How, or why, the guys at Vice never looked into that Jason Jessee/Bill Ferrell/Dead End/Ned “Peanut” Brown connection will forever be a perpetual mystery to me. That was some seriously suck-ass reporting taken to a whole ‘nother level, right there.
What kind of “professional media outlet” simply overlooks the motivations of (or the coincidences surrounding) the fellow that fires the very first shot in an internet war? Or, was that “overlook” intentional…?
The Industry Reacts Badly (As Usual)
The statement from Bob Denike (of NHS) is probably the best example of this. My read on it was basically, “Look, we knew all about Jason’s spotty past. We knew he had turned his back on it, and turned his life around. We were really proud of his progress as a human being, and super supportive of it. But we’re putting him on ‘indefinite hiatus’, anyway.”
That seemed like a pretty duplicitous move to me. Sorry, Mr. Denike. That still stands.
The Industry’s silence on this has been almost as deafening as Jason’s silence has been. I mean, corporate press releases are cool and stuff. But a meaningful conversation with an actual human being would have been so much better.
The Truly Horrifying Question
That statement from Bob Denike (of NHS) also points to a truly horrifying question. One that I don’t think that Brain Surgeon Bill considered very hard, before launching his one-man internet attack. That question is, “What if we’re taking down the wrong target here…?”
There is a very fair chance here that everybody is right about Jason Jessee. That previous to 2010, he was a piece of shit, a legitimate racist, and a train wreck of a human being a multitude of levels. But, post-2010? That he is a very changed man. Perfect? Probably not. But, changed? Most definitely. By most accounts, at least.
If we really want to hasten better race relations in this country, and truly eradicate racism from our society… then we absolutely must allow for racist people to change their hearts, their minds, and their ways, and encourage that sort of personal evolution every step of the way. You are simply not going to eradicate racism by any other means.
Eradicating racism through hate, intolerance, and brute force isn’t gonna work out very well, Bill. The track record regarding that strategy’s effectiveness is truly awful. At the end of the day, that strategy only entices, empowers, and emboldens the racists of the world to double down on their own hate, intolerance and brute force. Bet ya didn’t think about that one, didya buddy?
Sure, I suppose that Bill Ferrell could demand that people are born geniuses, and never take up the flag of racism in the first place. My question is: if people were really capable of being absolutely perfect, straight out of the womb… wouldn’t we be doing it already?
If we really are becoming a lynch mob that is dead, set, and determined to take a truly changed man to task for his past errors, and take away his livelihood in the process… then that would be the ultimate of tragedies. Because we’d be ripping away one of the best incentives for instigating positive personal change: the promise of redemption.
There are plenty of real racists out there to turn around. If we’re targeting and taking down a truly changed man here, then we are woefully, and regrettably, off target.
And we just might be doing ourselves far more harm than good in the process.
The Media Complicity Number Three: Squashing Thoughtful Discourse and Dissent
King Skateboard Magazine published a really great, well-written article (titled “Primitive Progressivism”, by Kyle Beachy) that Jason Jessee, himself, asked to be removed. And with that move, my worst suspicions continue to grow…
King Skateboard Magazine obviously capitulated, and pulled the piece, in exchange for a promised interview “later”*.
This, I consider to be high treason, and credibility-fatal. The Media should never, ever back down from taking on an emerging story, and standing by well-thought-out assertions. Ever. And while I might not have agreed with everything Kyle said in his piece, I cannot say that his op-ed was not filled with well-thought-out assertions.
By stifling this sort of thoughtful discourse and dissent, we immediately compromise this whole notion of “the independent media”. And the one thing that skateboarding needs right now, more than almost anything else in the whole wide world, is a truly independent mass media.
* Thankfully, Free Skateboard Magazine stepped up to run the Kyle Beachy piece, which you can read for yourself here :
We commend Free Skate Magazine for their dedication to free, fair, and uncensored journalism. Thank you.
The Source Reacts Even Worse (There’s Some Shady Shit Going On Here)
Again: Bill Ferrell is a total f’n hypocrite on this point, too. He has also gone well out of his way to squash and silence discourse and dissent. I can personally vouch for that one, too. But I’m certainly not the only guy he’s tried to shut down recently. Seems to be a bit of a pattern there.
Hey, Bill, make a mental note here: Thou Shalt Not Fuck With The Independent Media. If you do, you might just find yourself in the same hot water as Jason Jessee.
If you were half the “professional journalist” that you claim to be, then you would know that already.
Everybody’s Off The Record (Because Nobody Wants Their Bubble Challenged)
Here’s another thing that really ground my gears last week. It’s one thing to spit our half-baked, brittle bullshit “on the record”, all over our insular little social media cocoons, where we have total control over who says what, and how butthurt we get over it.
It is quite another matter altogether to have to actually defend those opinions in some substantive way, to the independent and adversarial press.
While everybody was more than happy to spew sewage all over the internet, I never did find one single soul that was ready and willing to have a two-way, on-the-record, no-bullshit conversation around any of these issues. Lots of off-the-records! But not one on.
Funny how that works, isn’t it…?
Here’s my advice: if you can’t f’n defend it, then don’t bother saying it.
When’s It Gonna End?
As I pointed out above, it’s not like Jason Jessee is the only pro skater to ever rock White Power or Nazi symbolism. Gentle Jones should know that, as should everybody else.
Is every other pro skater that has ever displayed a swastika going to come under scrutiny in the public eye, and be forced to defend themselves too…? Are they going to talk? Or are they going to dodge, duck, and weave…? Lord only knows.
Fact is, there’s a whole lotta skaters that have a whole lotta ‘splainin to do. They might want to get on it before Gentle Jones and his Internet Lynch Mob come gunning for them, too. And they might want to get it done, and done quick, before we go to the Olympics, and the headlines become “The Rolling Racists Finally Make It To The World Stage!”, and the excuse for not building that spiffy new skatepark in your town becomes “The Rolling Racists Don’t Deserve It! (But The Scooter Kids Seem Awfully Sweet)”. Yeah. You didn’t think of those unintended consequences, did you? Guess what? I did.
Need help with that “Coming To Jesus” strategy? Then read the last bullet point.
So, who got it right?
Christian Hosoi. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know: he has nothing at all to do with any of this.
Or, does he…?
Christian appeared on The Nine Club some time back. And somewhere in that interview, he started to talk at length… completely unprovoked, mind you… of the offensive nature of the “Rising Sun” imagery. How he never knew it’s significance, how he never understood the offensive nature of it. And how, when he did find out about that backstory and that history, many years later… he completely stopped using it, and instead went on a personal mission to talk about his experiences with it, both negative and positive. Negative in having used it at all. But positive in having the platform to speak out on it now, and to put past wrongs right.
That’s a great man, right there. We could all learn a lot from that guy. Because that, right there, is true leadership at work.
*So, you got something to say about all this? Don’t wuss out, and hide in your dark little corner of the internet somewhere with your [still waiting on JD to recommend an insult that he will not find at all insulting]*** buddies. My e-mail is still firstname.lastname@example.org, and I’m still on Facebook, just like I’ve always been. Man up, or f’n shut it.
(***This insult has been edited no less than
three four five times now, in a vain effort to make JD happy. Some people really do thrive on being angry, I guess.)