Rob Parker's inflammatory comments about Robert Griffin III's "blackness" landed him in the hot seat. But are we too afraid to talk about race in the public eye?
It seems like every other week, some news organization or journalist ends up saying or doing or writing something that puts their name in heavy Google rotation and sets their Twitter feed ablaze with 140-character badgering. Thank God it’s not me this time. It’s Rob Parker’s (inset) turn to be in the hot seat for comments he made last week about Redskins’ quarterback and franchise golden child Robert Griffin III (pictured). Today, Parker issued an apology, as is the rote course of action in debacles of this variety, because I’m quite sure between the fallout from higher-ups and the deafening yodel of public outcry, he is genuinely sorry he said what he said, even if he’s not genuinely sorry for thinking it.
His 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.
Instead, he came off like the gatekeeper of Blackness who measures, with his almighty staff of cultural righteousness, who is and isn’t Black enough. And that ain’t helping nobody. Sometimes, we get lodged in a rigid definition of what makes somebody Black. It’s not skin color. That’s obvious. It’s broad-stroked cultural conventions that are supposed to make the things we do and like and listen to and wear and enjoy fall neatly into “Black” and “Unblack” categories. (Even I’ve been guilty of similarly assigning habits, behaviors and activities that way myself. Tsk tsk Janelle.)
Parker’s lynch mob is calling him racist, and I’m over here giving them all the super hard side eye. How can they holler racism when that man is Black himself and the definition of racism is believing one race is superior to another? Poor taste, yes. Bad timing, absolutely. Even self-destructive indeed, for one Black man to monopolize air time to publicly call into question the authenticity of another in front of millions of viewers. But it really just comes down to a bad case of foot-in-mouth disease.
I do, however, find it more than a little ironic that folks are caterwauling about racism when RGIII is playing for a team with a name as derogatory to the American Indian population as it would be if we had a franchise called the St. Louis Niggers or the Los Angeles Darkies. Now that’s racist. When one group who has been under the boot heel of oppression can cheer on a team called the Redskins with no empathy, that’s the real foul. We sure do pick and choose our battles. And I bet, from now on, Rob Parker will too.