Were Rob Parker's Racial Comments Right?
ESPN's now-suspended analyst dissed RGIII's blackness. This writer says those remarks have merit.
From a psychological perspective, it makes sense that black athletes refuse to be placed in a box, especially if it's wrapped in layers of negative stereotypes regarding their larger community. Blacks are "less than" and aren't smart enough to do what whites can -- that's the tale many still believe.
But seeing blackness as a box not only sends a disturbing message about black identity but also simultaneously indicts it as inferior, as something that no one should ever want to be. In essence, it means being "apologetically black."
In his New York Times best-selling book, Forty Million Dollar Slaves: The Rise, Fall, and Redemption of the Black Athlete, journalist and sports historian William C. Rhoden discussed in detail this long-standing identity crisis that blacks in sports are faced with.
"A sense of being part of a larger cause has historically permeated nearly every action of the black athlete," Rhoden writes. "For many of our prominent athletes of every race, their victories were fueled in part by the notion that they represented something larger than themselves, that they embodied the values and aspirations of the people.
"But today, when so many black athletes have little or no sense of who or what came before, there is no sense of mission, no sense of the athlete as part of a larger community, as a foot soldier in a larger struggle," he continues in the book.
Some might consider this expectation that the black athlete openly affirm his or her race to be unreasonable, but given the lengthy history of racial oppression that the larger black community has endured, the commensal relationship -- in which the individual gains without affecting the larger community -- is not as dignified as it seems.
There are those who reached the pinnacle of success while proudly shouldering the load. Athletes such as Muhammad Ali understood the journey and how synonymous it is with the daily black experience. So while that's not to say that contemporary athletes like Robert Griffin III won't eventually accept the same calling, it certainly means that no black athlete, no matter how physically gifted and well-spoken he or she might be, is exempt from facing the question. And that's a good thing.
Jean McGianni Celestin is a New York-based writer who writes about race, sports and politics. Follow him on Twitter.