Wait ... hol’ up. Normally when we wade into these blackness waters, it’s because some fair-skinned pop star is refusing to accept that the back of her hair—you know, the area above the neck; the area that old folks call the “kitchen”; the area that used to make my sisters cry when my mom really dug in with the hairbrush and Posner Light Touch hair grease ... that area—is a little thicker than the rest.
But this news here is mind-boggling. Longtime ESPN broadcaster-turned-NBC Sports announcer Mike Tirico doesn’t believe himself to be black. To hear him tell it, he’s just an Italian kid who grew up in Queens, N.Y., who people keep insisting is black.
In a recent interview with the New York Times titled, “Mike Tirico Would Like to Talk About Anything but Mike Tirico,” the sportscaster had this to say about race:
“Why do I have to check any box?” he said. “If we live in a world where we’re not supposed to judge, why should anyone care about identifying?”
Besides, he added, “The race question in America is one that probably never produces a satisfactory answer for those who are asking the questions.”
The conversation with the Times about race stemmed from a 1991 piece from the Post-Standard, via Bar Tool Sports, in which Tirico claimed that he’s not sure he’s black:
“When people go around and say, ‘You are black’—well, I don’t encourage it, but by the same token I don’t back off of it,” he says. “If you want to call me that, that’s fine. But, you know, in my whole family, there’s nobody I know who is black.” Raised in Queens Michael Todd Tirico grew up in a middle-class Italian family in Queens, about a five-minute drive from Shea Stadium. Tirico’s parents, Donald and Maria, were separated when he was about 4, and he says he has since lost contact with his father’s side of the family. Tirico is an only child. Because of his dark skin and ethnic features, Tirico says, most people assume he is black. But he’s seen pictures of his father, his father’s mother and his father’s sister—all of whom are white, Tirico says.
“The only contact I had growing up was with my mom’s side of the family. And they are all as white as the refrigerator I’m standing in front of right now,” Tirico says, standing in his kitchen in the Clay townhouse where he lives. Someday, he says, he plans to do genealogical research to find out if he has a black ancestor, but it’s not something he considers a pressing issue. Tirico concedes, though, that his uncertain ethnicity sometimes makes other uncomfortable. Even skeptical. “I know the story sounds like a lot of bull, but it’s the truth” he says. “Does it matter to me? Yeah, I’d like to find out the truth at some point, so I can answer questions for my kids. But me? I’m living, I’m working, I’m leading an upstanding life. I don’t worry about it.”
Yep, this Mike Tirico:
Let me start by saying that I am no genealogist. I couldn’t tell you what blood runs through Mike Tirico’s veins, but I can tell you what my grandfather, who also was not a genealogist, would say about Tirico’s claim of being Italian:
“That dark-ass black boy needs to go sit his ass down somewhere in a dark-ass corner until he finds himself.”
I know a black nose when I see one. I have one. It protrudes off my face like a calling card to the ancestors. It is the first noticeable thing that makes it clear at least one of my parents is black. Tirico is black. He is blacker than a Caprice Classic sitting on dubs parked outside a wig/barbecue/fish-fry/church/liquor store. He’s blacker than a Jack and Jill cotillion. He’s blacker than syrup sandwiches. He’s blacker than Slick Rick’s eye patch.
Everything about this is confusing. Everything.