When Black Men Mess Up, Do We All Feel the Shame?

Charles D. Ellison
Ray Rice, then of the Baltimore Ravens, sits on the bench against the Dallas Cowboys in the first half of their preseason game at AT&T Stadium Aug. 16, 2014. in Arlington, Texas.
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Let’s all keep it 100: The past week of black-man antics hit us like a brick to the face. All the big trending copy, breaking news and talk show leads morphed into one hellacious week of brothers just messing up. Overnight, it felt as if we became poster kids and ad campaigns for some of the most egregious sins on the planet.

Ray Rice immediately checked on not only a grisly knockdown of his woman but giving Fred Flintstone competition when dragging her out of the elevator. Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson lost his mind and went maximum old-school “switch” punishment—on a 4-year-old. A seemingly endless list of black male NFL players suddenly popped out of reporter notebooks like, “Oh, yeah, don’t forget about these guys over here!” They’re domestic abusers, too.


Relatively behaved but not helping the trend was Philadelphia Eagles running back LeSean McCoy, who got played by his own 20-cent tip in a dingy Philadelphia burger spot (of all places) for what he described as “bad service”—only to have the waiter publicly saved with a $1,000 tip by (of all people) Hollywood junkie Charlie Sheen. (Come on, dude; you couldn’t just go to the manager?)

And then you had the brothers who just keep chewing on the feet in their mouths, from blind-leading-the-blind Floyd Mayweather to the logorrheic Stephen A. Smith and Charles Barkley, to Boyce Watkins penning coded sweet talk to Janay Rice and Pacers forward Paul George putting in a worthless two-cent tweet. You couldn’t write a better twisted literary collection of idiocy if you were paid for it.


Adding insult to injury is that all the above happened during the first-year anniversary of late sociopath Aaron Alexis’ rampage through the Washington Navy Yard, senselessly slaughtering 12 innocents.

Yes, it has felt like that kind of week. Sorry to put it like that. It was as if you could take a foreboding sample of Keith Olbermann’s “Worst Person in the World” voice-over and loop it through every news segment. No way around it: black men who couldn’t keep their hands to themselves, and black men who, growing up, played so much football that they didn’t read the unofficial memo of conduct known as “Things You Just Don’t Do.” And for myriad reasons, many of the rest of “us” now find ourselves inwardly cringing or hiding between lots of rocks and hard places because on some asinine, but very real, cultural level, it’s embarrassing. Why?


Because, as we already know, what one of us does can’t help reflecting on the rest of us (for an unknown number of reasons created by this retarded racial construct we live in). Swooping in to “save us” from our own shortcomings, like slave master Edwin Epps stealing humanity in 12 Years a Slave, is a more-than-willing modern-plantation media complex. We feel the sting, since it’s not as if the media care to dabble in root causes or context or the grave political, policy and social ills twisted into ugly knots of mental derangement and eating away at the souls of black folk.   

No matter whose color, there’s no excuse for the actions of Rice and the countless other abusers, or the infinite number who defend what is nothing more than active victimization. And yet despite that, some of us still feel this way, right? It’s an absurd and rather silly racial fabrication compounded by several hundred years of being forced to feel bad about and to do bad things to our collective selves. Some of us weave in and out of uncomfortable contortions to explain why, looking feverishly for a white dude or two who did the same thing but didn’t get his face plastered everywhere as Public Enemy No. 1. There are few ways out of it. There is no way to keep score.


Charles D. Ellison is a veteran political strategist and a contributing editor at The Root. He is also Washington correspondent for the Philadelphia Tribune, a frequent contributor to The Hill, the weekly Washington insider for WDAS-FM in Philadelphia and host of The Ellison Report, a weekly public-affairs magazine broadcast and podcast on WEAA 88.9 FM Baltimore. Follow him on Twitter.

Share This Story

Get our newsletter