Friday, October 24, 2014

Not Black Enough??


Let me begin by stating the obvious. As a white male I must be careful commenting on race relations. When doing so I feel the need to preface my opinions with the caveat that I know very little of the interworking’s of black culture beyond what I see from Hollywood and what I observe in the world from the vantage point of white privilege. It feels silly but I also feel compelled to point out the fact that I have had many black friends in my life and no shortage of black role models, including the single best teacher I ever had, Mrs. Winston at Elmont Elementary School.

But an article I read yesterday has disturbed me greatly because it concerns someone I respect and feel a certain kinship with because of his local connection. Russell Wilson, Super Bowl hero, has apparently upset a segment of his team by not being “black enough.” According to a story written by a local reporter, a rift has erupted in the Seahawk locker room between players who supported recently traded Percy Harvin, and those who supported Wilson. Some insisted that the only reason that Harvin was traded was because he couldn’t get along with Wilson. Not being “black enough” is apparently a real thing in black culture. Sometimes it involves skin tone, but other times it concerns behavior. Blacks who happen to be “well spoken” are suspect, their authenticity called into question by other blacks who prefer a more tortured English.

I must here confess that I’m pretty sure that I haven’t spent even thirty seconds of my life pondering whether I am “white enough.” My whiteness seems self-evident. When I look at Russell Wilson his blackness seems equally self-evident. As far as I know both of his parents were black, although I never met his Mom since she died a when he was quite young. So, there must be something in his deportment that has caused his racial authenticity to come into question.

Here’s what I see. Everything this kid has ever done has demonstrated that he is an exceptional person. As a quarterback, there are few who have his dynamic skill set. As a student, first at Collegiate here in Richmond, then at N.C. State and Wisconsin, he excelled academically. Everywhere his life has taken him, he has overachieved, and demonstrated that rarest of qualities…leadership.

So, in what way precisely is he not black enough?  Did the fact that he married a white girl, his high school sweetheart, damage his black brand? Maybe. Is the fact that he has become the face of the Seattle franchise made some teammates jealous? Probably. It can’t be money since he has not signed his first big contract yet and actually is one of the most underpaid athletes in America. Why exactly does his erudition make him a target of some of his black teammates? Would they prefer him to act dumber than he is? Would his teammates prefer him to rough up a few women, get caught driving drunk, or get caught up in a few fights at strip clubs? Would this authenticate his blackness to their satisfaction?

Russell Wilson is one of the few professional athletes in any sport who I would want my children to emulate. He works hard, is courteous and polite in conversation and behavior, and through his low key work at local hospitals in Seattle, seems to give a damn about the world around him, unlike most athletes (black and white) who care only about themselves.
I don’t get it.