I admit that I froze up when I heard about Grant Hill becoming offended about Jalen Rose referring to he and other black Duke University players as “Uncle Toms.”
During the recent ESPN documentary about the Fab Five, Rose was especially candid in describing his disdain for Duke University. Using colorful and entertaining language, Rose seemed to harbor some degree of bitterness toward the only men on earth who could keep the Fab Five from realizing their true destiny. The story of the Fab Five was supposed to end with two national championships; instead, their two championship game losses were like really great sex without the big finish at the end.
The “Uncle Tom” remarks by Rose were not specifically targeted toward Grant Hill, but instead made in a broader buck shot context in reference to Duke University’s strategy of only selecting black men that they deem to be socially-acceptable. The elitism of campuses like Duke is not a secret. Campuses such as this one are not very quick to hire black professors, and are known for believing that they are better than the rest of us. Therefore, it is no surprise that they would avoid black males from (as Rose put it) “the hood.”
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Rose’s remarks make you appreciate his honesty, but they also beg for a deeper understanding of the identity crisis being felt by men like Grant Hill. By referring to any black male who attends Duke University as an Uncle Tom, Rose is inadvertently feeding into a mindset which says that any black male who strives for educational achievement or engages in other forms of productive behavior is somehow selling out or not “keeping it real.” This kind of thinking is dangerous, and I believe that Jalen Rose understands this.
Many black males in America have lost touch with who they are, partly because of corporate America’s mass marketing of hip-hop music that celebrates a culture of self-destruction. Additionally, urban decay that has occurred in black America since the Reagan years has led the world to define blackness to be synonymous with poverty-stricken single parent households, significant amounts of jail time and mis-education within a horribly failed school system. Men like Rose and Hill, who’ve defied the odds to escape the social systems that are designed to destroy them, should celebrate one another’s success rather than fall victim to divide and conquer.
I don’t think Jalen has ill will toward Grant Hill, and he has publicly expressed remorse for his remarks. Also, there most certainly is such a thing as an Uncle Tom. An Uncle Tom might be an individual who feels that his affiliation with white institutions and opportunities somehow makes him better than those who remain connected to the black community. He might also be an individual with little interest in supporting the people from which he came or possess a fundamental disrespect for black culture. But an Uncle Tom can also be defined as a gun-toting, deliberately ignorant, irresponsible human being who has allowed a hip-hop artist to teach him how to be a man. Grant Hill is none of these things, and neither is Jalen Rose. Therefore, their success should be mutually celebrated.
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