Is the Debate Over Who's 'Black Enough' a Bad Thing?

Robert Griffin III/Alex Trautwig/Getty Images
Robert Griffin III/Alex Trautwig/Getty Images

In a blog post at Essence, Janelle Harris takes up the question of black authenticity in light of the "cornball brother" comments ESPN2's Rob Parker made about popular Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III. She argues that Parker had a point, given that Griffin is reluctant to align himself with black pride and plays for a team whose name is insulting to Native Americans.

… [Rob Parker's] remarks, in case you missed them when he enlightened us on last Thursday's edition of ESPN2's "First Take," went like this: "Is he a brother or a cornball brother?" Parker pontificated about RGIII. He then launched into a monologue about the rookie's Blackness, called it into question because he has a White fiancée, is a rumored Republican and has made public statements that suggest race isn't a big deal for him. "I'm just trying to dig deeper as to why he has an issue. Because we did find out … Tiger Woods was like, 'I've got Black skin, but don't call me Black,'" Parker added. "So people got to wondering about Tiger Woods early on."

Folks get real uncomfortable talking honestly about race outside the secure perimeters of our living room discussions and whispered coffee room conversations. You and I know that. And I'm sure Rob Parker knows it, too — I doubt this is his first tango with this kind of subject matter — but if he didn't, he sure as heck knows it now. We can't get a constructive dialogue going en masse about race in this country because people like to pretend that racial differences don't exist, like racism is a thing of the far-flung past and like we really are basking in the serenity of a colorless society.

I don't totally disagree with what Parker said because I, too, have noticed that RGIII seems hesitant to align himself with a heavy dose of Black pride, though I understand that's a result of how he was raised and also an effort to not become just another "great Black quarterback." I get that. But I also get what Parker is saying. I just don't think he picked the right place, time or way in which to say it. Done in a constructive, non-accusatory space and not on a nationally televised sports show, he could've ignited real talk about the stereotypes and expectations placed on RGIII by both White and Black folks, and that could've been parlayed into greater discussion.

Read Janelle Harris' entire piece at Essence.

The Root aims to foster and advance conversations about issues relevant to the black Diaspora by presenting a variety of opinions from all perspectives, whether or not those opinions are shared by our editorial staff. 

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