It’s a pity that Rob Parker‘s commentary on Robert Griffin III’s “Blackness” was not expressed on a more appropriate platform than ESPN.
Because the recently fired sports analyst’s remarks about the Washington Redskin’s star (albeit clumsily delivered) during a December “First Take” segment were valid points of discussion: Griffin and too many Black male athletes like him continue to rise to the national spotlight, only to allow their celebrity to “colorblind” and isolate them from Black communities that cheer them on for reasons that, in many cases, have little to do with the sports in which they excel — usually with a non-Black woman in tow.
Parker’s view that RG3 is out of touch is confirmed by an interview the quarterback conducted with the Washington Post in October.
“My parents raised me to not ever look at race or color,” Griffin told the reporter. “So it doesn’t have a big part in my self-identity. [But] I think it has played a big part in how other people view me, just going back to when I was a kid, to even now, doing the things that I’ve been able to do. As an African American, I think other people view that in a different way than I do.”
I, like Parker, find RG3’s racially ambiguous perspective of himself disturbing, but his mother’s comments in the same article are even more problematic:
“(My children) can thrive in any environment they’re in, because they don’t see color — which is something we really strive for in our lives,” Jacqueline Griffin said. “It’s not about somebody’s race — it’s about humanity. And God wants to love everybody, no matter their background. I don’t want them to see color. It’s not about that. Any experience we had dealing with racism, we always told our kids, ‘You learn from that. Don’t do that to others.’”
Don’t see color? It’s about humanity? Really, Mrs. Griffin?
America’s prison industrial complex that houses our Black men like cargo, New York City’s racist “Stop-And-Frisk” policy that views most Black males on the street like slaves without freedom papers, and other institutions of racism certainly see color. And it wasn’t about “humanity” when Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis, or Abner Louima were either murdered and brutalized.
It was about race.
So when RG3 says that it “doesn’t have a big part in my self-identity,” it comes across as if he wants to distance himself from Black people and is incredibly naive. In my view, it was perfectly legitimate for Parker argue such a position.
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Parker was only trying to explain that it can be a bit disconcerting and off-putting to some Black people when one of their own says that they do not “want be defined by race.” In another interview, RG3 says he recognizes that many Black Redskins fans feel proud that their QB is Black, yet he fails to articulate any connection with their race pride.
“I am [aware] of how much race is relevant to them,” Griffin said. “I don’t ignore it. I try not to be defined by it, but I understand different perspectives and how people view different things. I understand that they’re excited that their quarterback is an African-American. I play with a lot of pride, a lot of character, a lot of heart, so I understand that. You know I appreciate them for being fans, and not just fans because I’m African American.”
Discussing his African-American heritage in the third person and expressing how he recognizes that his race is relevant to them (the fans), RG3 is clearly “ignoring it” and distancing himself from his race. It is as if he has been coached out of acknowledging a modicum of racial solidarity.
And, if we had an opportunity to hear Parker’s full comments (below at 1:12:20), we would see he was simply highlighting RG3’s unwillingness to identify with Black people.
Whether you feel it was fair or not, the reality is that we as Black people have been questioning one another’s “Blackness” and commitment to the race since we got off the slave ship. And as much as we like to say we shouldn’t do it, we do so anyway because many of us feel an obligation to see our community progress. We show it through the HBCUs we attend, the Black fraternities for which we pledge, the professional organizations and networks in to which we seek membership, the community groups to which we volunteer our time, and in the frustration we express when we feel like the only Black people who excel in the corporate world are those who “stepin’ fetchit” for their White superiors.
That we would assess RG3 via the same ethnic lens is only natural. Why should he get a pass?
I can appreciate that to some White people — and Black folks who have no sense of ethnic commitment — Parker’s cultural appraisal of RG3 is asinine. But allow me to elaborate. Remember the euphoria that took place in the Black community when then-Senator Barack Obama made history as the first African American to win the White House in 2008? OK, now ask yourself this: do you really think that Black folks — especially all of those sistas — would have voted for Obama over Hillary Clinton during the primaries if he had been the “colorblind” Democratic candidate with a blond, blue-eyed “Becky” on his arm during the campaign trail?
Nope, and rightfully so.
For many Black women, a Black man’s marriage or commitment to a White woman or non-Black woman usually means that he has no personal or political interest in the Black community’s issues, so in turn, why would they give him the power of their vote?
We need only look to the world’s most-famous golfer for a good example. When Tiger Woods won the “Masters” golf tournament in record-breaking fashion back in 1997, most Blacks cared little about golf; instead, they cared that one of their own was taking over a sport long dominated by White men.
But unfortunately, like RG3, Tiger is colorblind: He’s not Black but Cablinasian; he prefers White women, though the one he married has since divorced him. In 1997, Tiger told Oprah that he was uncomfortable with being called “African American” (see video below).
While making his comments on “First Take,” Parker said he was done with the golfer after he said that…and so were many other Black people too.
Here’s a hunch: A possible reason Parker was fired for his comments is because his mentioning of the “White fiance” reached far beyond the studios of ESPN. Think about all of those Black athletes and executives with their non-Black wives and girlfriends — NBA stars Tim Duncan, Kobe Bryant and basketball great Michael Jordan; NFL coaches Dennis Green, Lovie Smith, and player Reggie Bush come to mind — who may have heard Parker’s comments and cringed with discomfort. I’m sure they wanted Parker gone as badly as some of the White fans who disliked his race-based perspective to begin with.
While I do not begrudge RG3 or any other Black person who dates and marries outside of his or her race, it is valid to consider how a Black person’s commitment to his or her community tends to diminish when they are married to a non-Black.
Perhaps RG3 and many Black athletes like him do not want to be “down” or feel any obligation to their people, and that is their right. Still, there is nothing wrong with expressing disappointment when they don’t.
It’s just too bad that Parker was fired for having the gall to say so.