In a recent ESPN documentary, retired basketball player Jalen Rose offered his one-time thoughts on players at Duke University:
“I hated Duke and I hated everything Duke stood for. Schools like Duke didn’t recruit players like me. I felt like they only recruited Black players that were Uncle Toms.”
Of course, all hell broke loose for at least one obvious reason: the publicly revealed conflict of race and class in the Black community. Under fire, Rose clarified his comments, noting that he was speaking of his outlook “as a teenager growing up in the inner city of Detroit” and his thoughts were “were completely taken out of context.”
A little background: Rose was raised by a single mother at the height of the crack era in Detroit. His family was close-knit and supportive, but they were broke-broke, despite his mom working very hard to provide for them. He never met his now-deceased father, an NBA player.
One of the players Rose alluded to as an Uncle Tom is Duke graduate and NBA player Grant Hill, a product of a two-parent suburban household. His mother was one of Hillary Clinton’s roommates at Wellesley. His father graduated from Yale and was a three-time All-Pro running back for the Dallas Cowboys.
Hill responded to Rose’s assessment of him and his then-teammates in a New York Times editorial:
“It was a sad and somewhat pathetic turn of events, therefore, to see friends narrating this interesting documentary about their moment in time and calling me a bitch and worse, calling all black players at Duke “Uncle Toms” and, to some degree, disparaging my parents for their education, work ethic and commitment to each other and to me.
In his garbled but sweeping comment that Duke recruits only “black players that were ‘Uncle Toms,'” Jalen seems to change the usual meaning of those highly vitriolic words into his own meaning, i.e., Blacks from two-parent, middle-class families… to hint that those who grew up in a household with a mother and father are somehow less Black than those who did not is beyond ridiculous.”
I agree with Hill. But still, I won’t jump on the “Bash Jalen Rose” bandwagon that’s taken hold of the Internet. It just doesn’t make sense to hold a 38-year-old man responsible for explaining his thoughts as a 18-year-old, especially since it is clear in the documentary that he’s speaking of the past. And it’s not so important that Rose once thought of Hill and other Duke players as Uncle Toms then, it’s the number of people co-signing his outlook now.
Over on “1st and 10,” ESPN analyst Chris Broussard passionately explained why Rose’s one-time outlook is still relevant:
“There is an identity crisis, especially among young Black men surrounding the question of what it means to really be Black. Our history, our culture was stolen from us. And we were told that being Black was synonymous with the bottom, with dysfunction. It was synonymous with ignorance, with being irresponsible with being poor, with being violent, with being subhuman. And today that mentality is still prevalent among many African-Americans. We see this with young African-Americans who grow up speaking proper English; they’re derided by other students for acting white. They look at a Grant Hill who’s not showing any signs of inferiority, who’s educated, who speaks well, who’s from a two-parent household of Ivy League parents. They say he’s a sell-out, he’s an Uncle Tom. They don’t really know their identity is messed up. As long as Black people feel that way, we’ll never be all that we can.”
Demetria Lucas is the Relationship Editor at Essence Magazine and the author of A Belle in Brooklyn: The Go-to-Girl for Advice on Living the Single Life (Atria) which will be published in June.
Watch a portion of the interview below: