"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Is Robert Griffin III Black Enough?

Washington, DC is still a racially polarized city and in some ways is as segregated as pre-apartheid Johannesburg.  Rock Creek Park has traditionally been the dividing line between white and black Washington, and anyone crossing east of the park will find neighborhoods that look more like Kinshasa than any American city.  On the positive side, there is a vitality, an energy, and a street culture whose music, style, openness and personality give character to the city.  On the negative side these segregated and isolated communities have disproportionate rates of crime, drugs, truancy, incarceration, single-parenthood, and violence.  Mortality and morbidity rates are high, academic performance low.  In many ways these neighborhoods east of the park are dysfunctional, and many traditional middle-class, majority values are absent or ignored.  Yet, ‘being black’ means coming from these neighborhoods and having the street cred that defines them.

Robert Griffin III is the Washington Redskins rookie quarterback already hailed as the savior of the franchise.  Some, like his teammate Fred Davis, have started calling him Black Jesus, the same name that was given to Earl (The Pearl) Monroe, a black NBA star with skills so sublime and unpracticed that the only possible comparison was to Jesus Christ.  Griffin is from a solidly middle-class background with those majority middle class values of hard work, respect, duty, patriotism, honesty, and discipline taught to him by his military mother and father.  Because of this majority rather than minority background, many in the African American community are questioning his blackness. 

As many did when Mayors Adrian Fenty (mixed race) or Tony Williams (Ivy League, Finance and Accounting) were in office.  Fenty was voted out of office in large part because he was seen to favor whites.  His commitment to environmental issues which led to an expansion of bike lanes in the District was laughed at by the black communities east of the park and across the Anacostia River.  Fenty was called a yuppie, more white than black, dismissive of black concerns.  His aggressive move to reform the corrupt and inefficient education system, an action which resulted in the firing of many underperforming teachers, most of whom were black, was an example of his indifference.

Where does this self-defeating attitude come from? Why should black communities be proud of ‘the street’ whose ethos is anti-social, destructive, and condemning. Few young black men who ascribe to this creed of macho violence and defiant rejection of white mores can possibly escape the ghetto.  Some critics have said that it is because of racism.  It is whites, they say, who continue to keep the black man down, enslaved in concentration camp-like ghettoes, forbidding him access to the wealth and opportunity of the white world.  As a result, black men have been forced to create an alternative society, one which has its own code of ethics and morality.

Others say that while past racism cannot be denied, enough time has gone by, and enough legislative and social change effected, that this charge no longer sticks.  Black communities have persisted in adhering to self-destructive behavior within a dysfunctional system; and their leaders have perpetuated this reverse status quo by a continued reliance on the culture of victimhood.

There are still other critics who say that it is the white liberal establishment which, in its decades-long promotion of multiculturalism, have refused to call ghetto culture what it is – dysfunctional.  For years these ‘progressives’ have determinedly insisted that the problem was a white one, and that white money must be invested to rectify past wrongs. There is nothing wrong with the African American community, they say, that more investment in job training, teachers, and social programs can’t fix.  Not only have these investments produced very little (even a cursory look at social indicators over time will confirm this), they have allowed black leaders and their populations to get away with continually looking outward, hand outstretched, rather than looking inward where the problems originate. 

Of course black communities can progress and emerge from an unhappy past; but only if they change from within in.  A Zero Tolerance attitude which challenges every dereliction of social responsibility no matter how small can eventually lead to a saner, and more integrated city.  The New York City ‘Turnstile’ policing program which was based on the notion that if small infractions are ignored, a negative signal is given, and larger ones will occur. Black leaders have refused to do this, or even come close.

Robert Griffin III has wisely stayed away from any of this.  As a mature young man, wise and savvy beyond his years, he has refused to talk about race, blackness, street creds, or white society.  His parents have done the same, as reported by Jason Reid in the Washington Post (12.15.12):

Griffin’s parents told my colleague Dave Sheinin that they raised their three children — Robert has two older sisters — to be largely color-blind. And Griffin grew up in Copperas Cove, Tex., which definitely isn’t anything like the South Side of Chicago.

Yet, despite this forthrightness on the part of his parents, and an intelligent reticence on the part of Griffin III, the calls for more blackness keep on coming. His critics say that he isn’t really black because he didn’t grow up in an inner city and has acquired none of behavior, attitude, or ethics of that community.  Griffin, fortunately, is a very confident and centered young man, who only wants to be the best quarterback or football player ever.

Griffin III has said he won’t be defined by his race. Why aspire to be better than Hall of Famer Warren Moon when Joe Montana and John Elway are also on the list of all-time greats? Griffin wants to be the best ever. I like his thinking. Unfortunately, some African Americans become uneasy when the most successful among us make any mention of shedding “blackness.” Regardless of the context, those words stir questions about whether the speaker [e.g. Griffin III] actually identifies with African Americans.

This, of course is the problem.  Of any of the role models to which Griffin III might aspire, why must they be black?  This attitude diminishes Griffin.  It is confining, limiting, and patronizing.

Once again, the liberal ‘progressive’ movement has to shoulder much of the blame for perpetuating this attitude.  Every affirmative action program implicitly concludes that that African Americans should stay within their race, be continually defined by it, and should express their convictions and aspirations within its context.  The deans of Harvard and Yale Law Schools (see my blog http://www.uncleguidosfacts.com/2012/10/why-race-should-not-matter-in-admissions.html) went so far as to say that black students coming from the ghetto were somehow more valuable than those who did not.  The ghetto experience was the crucible within which their drive and strength was developed.  The deans did not talk about the many other crucibles in the world which mold students into future leaders.  It was the ghetto that was romanticized, and once more the myth got perpetuated. Reid closes with this:

In the African American community, it’s way past time to stop using the things that define us as individuals to measure who’s black enough. We’ll never all be the same, but we don’t have to attack each other for what makes us different.

I couldn’t agree more.

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