Who is Blacker: Smart Afro-Americans or dumbass-Niggas?
by Playthell Benjamin
In the aftermath of the sudden release of highly-touted wide receiver Percy Harvin from the world champion Seattle Seahawks football team, we hear some black members of the Seahawks think that their superstar quarterback who led them to a Super Bowl victory last year “ain’t black enough.” This charge was first reported by Mike Freeman, an Afro-American sports writer who does not name names but who is considered a reliable source by his peers in the sports writing fraternity such as ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith and Skip Bayless, two of the best in the business. A clearly frustrated Stephen A made a heroic effort to explain how and why some misguided black players could make such an embarrassingly stupid comment on his daily TV show co-hosted with Bayless; First Take.
Alas, Stephen A is a sports reporter and thus his comments, although valid, suffered from an inadequate knowledge of history and sociology which a thorough understanding of this question demands. He is certainly right when he attributes anti-Wilson animosity partially to the jealousy felt by players who do not enjoy the adulation that is heaped on Wilson by the press, fans and management; which is a result of how Wilson carries himself on and off the field. He is not only hands down the best player on that super talented team he is also the most impressive personality, displaying an embarrassment of riches in intelligence, eloquence and old school elegance of style and manner.
When I was playing high school football in the 1950’s a guy like Russell Wilson would have been roundly revered by me and my team mates; he is everything that we would have wanted a black star athlete to be, especially a quarterback! The rap on black men back then was that we were not smart enough to play quarterback because of the rapid analysis and cool decision-making under pressure the position required. Hence a feeling of intense pride in Russell would have been universal!
This begs the rather obvious question: What happened over the last 50 years that radically changed the values of a considerable segment of black America so that the ignorant, inarticulate, blinged-out brute is now preferable to an elegant, articulate, gentleman from a great Afro-American family like Russell Wilson. Obviously an in-depth exegesis on this question is beyond the scope of a single essay – and also the attention span of the Facebook generation who are accustomed to reading brief, semiliterate, graffiti – hence I shall venture a capsule explanation that will at least identify the major elements of the problem.
Reduced to its lowest terms we can sum up the problem as a consequence of the collapse of the nuclear family structure that left far too many poorly educated, poverty stricken, single mothers to raise their sons with little or no involvement from their fathers – who are often ignorant, impoverished teenagers who know as much about parenting as a mule knows about playing the fiddle. Then there was the great Civil Rights revolution that destroyed the de-jure caste system and the racially restrictive housing covenants that was a fundamental feature of the apartheid system in America and forced Afro-Americans of all classes to reside in the same neighborhoods.
This development dramatically exacerbated the class divide in the black community by freeing middle and upper class Afro-Americans to live wherever their incomes could afford, and opened up myriad opportunities to the educated and talented beyond the black community, which they were no longer confined by law and custom to serving exclusively. Hence the caliber of community leadership I grew up under no longer existed when the present generation of young Afro-Americans came of age.
Alas, the class of men and women who set the high standards we were expected to achieve and the institutions molded by their vision and values – black church, schools, nuclear family, coaches, etc – which shaped the character of Russell Wilson, Jackie Robinson, Walter Payton, Jerry Rice, myself, and legions of other upstanding black men was gone by the time many of today’s athletes came of age. Hence instead of listening to the wise counsel of black fathers, teachers, coaches and preachers, they took their notions of Manhood from Tupac, Biggie, Lil Wayne, Master P. Sleezy E. Schooly D, Too Live Crew, Fitty Cents, and the like. The result is both obvious and horrifying.
For instance, my generation was taught to aim for the stars and always put our best face forward when in public because we were representing our race, whether we chose to or not that was how it was. This instruction was accompanied by the admonishment to “never cut the fool in public” because it served to confirm the worse racist slander about us, which would surely be used to justify our oppression, and under no circumstances call another Afro-American a “nigger” in public! It is obvious that many young Afro-Americans were never taught these things by anyone: not their parents, teachers or church. That these young people were failed by these basic institutions, and thus the socialization process by which a culture indoctrinates their children with its most cherished values, was distorted and thwarted.
Alas, these failures do much explain why some of the present generation of black players in the NFL is presently fighting for the right to call themselves “niggas” on one of the largest stages in the world after the NFL banned its use and is levying penalties and fines at violators. And some black players with the Miami Dolphins franchise sided with a white racist bully and borderline criminal Richie Incognito against Afro-American player Johnathan Martin, a well-spoken Stanford Grad with highly educated parents like Russell Wilson, because they said Incognito was “blacker” and “more of a brother” than Martin. And thus, in their considered opinion, it’s cool for Incognito to call them “niggers.”
Well, I don’t argue with people who proudly announce that they are niggas, since I cannot be more royal than the king, so I have only to say that they are some of the dumbest niggas the Gods ever blew the breath of life in! The question for the black community is which model of manhood we want for our young men: Russell Wilson and Johnathon Martin, or Tupac, Lil Wayne, fitty Cents and their thugged-out “niggas? Who would you rather have for a son or son-in-law?
And compliments about what good businessmen they are is no argument in favor of their values; for some of the richest businessmen in the world are criminals! It does not require a mastermind to figure out that you cannot build a healthy, life enhancing, society based upon thug values. As Dr. DuBois pointed out over a century ago, “If you just teach people to make money you will produce money makers but not men.” Civilization is about something far different and much more, and that is what is at stake here.
The nature of athletic talent is such that, like all of “God’s” gifts, it is spread out among every segment of the population. Hence we get some highly educated athletes and more than a few muscle heads who know little else besides sports. However due to the incredible amount of time and hard work even the most gifted athletes must invest in a sport in order to succeed on the professional level, we find more players from lower and middle income backgrounds than the scions of the plutocrats. This is the natural result of young men from the privileged classes having many more avenues to success and thus don’t have to gamble on something as fragile and elusive as a career in professional sports.
This partially explains why in the sports of football and basketball, which attract the largest audiences and generate big dollars, the majority of the players are Afro-American. It is also due to physical gifts that are tailor made for these sports, and the dedicated work ethic of hundreds of thousands of talented young men who view these sports as their ticket out of poverty and into the great American dream of incredible wealth and celebrity – a dramatic transition in life style that literally happens overnight.
Alas, a lifetime of preparation and anticipation for success in professional sports does nothing to prepare young men from impoverished backgrounds to handle this new life of sudden affluence. And strangely enough most colleges don’t offer courses or guidance counseling on how to handle the next stage of their lives. That’s why so many of them cut the fool, squander their money, and wind up at the end of their athletic careers scuffling to try and maintain some semblance of the lifestyle they enjoyed during their playing years.
Since many of these players did not receive the education promised to them by the colleges they attended, which would have mitigated some of the deficits of their class backgrounds, many leave college with the same essential values they entered them. They came from neighborhoods where education and good manners were not valued; a sub-culture where poverty and ignorance is the norm, out of wedlock births are common fare and most people value toughness over intelligence. And they bring their “Hood Rat” values with them into the world of professional sports.
Having grown up in the kind of urban wastelands described by Dr. William Julius Wilson in his path breaking sociological studies – “The Truly Disadvantaged” and “When Work Disappears”- where the presence of strong, loving, intelligent fathers are absent from the majority of homes, these young men have to figure out how to be a man on their own, or seek the counsel of other fatherless, clueless, peers.
For many of these young men that now fill the rosters of professional football teams those peers were rappers like Tupac Shakur, a young man who was so confused about the meaning of manhood that even fame and wealth could not prevent him from self-destructing. Yet Tupac still inspires a group of devotees among black and Hispanic males that approaches the status of reverence for a guru or demi-God who spoke some divine truth. For an analysis of how Tupac Shukur’s thug life philosophy helped put former New England Patriot star tight end Aaron Hernandez behind bars possibly for the rest of his life for committing multiple murders read “Thug Life” on this blog.
The same self-destructive tendencies, although far less dangerous to the rest of society, can be clearly seen in former basketball great Allen Iverson – who refused to grow up and shed his B-Boy demeanor even after he became a big star and had millions in the bank, or Mike Tyson, who squandered 250 million dollars before he was thirty! Lacking education and thus the rich internal life and moral compass it provides, these young men make a fetish of money in the false belief that it can bring instant and permanent gratification. Hence they are solely concerned with making a living rather than making a life. Alas, they do not seem to even recognize that there is a difference between the two even when they can sense there is something missing in their lives.
The great prize-fighter Floyd Mayweather is an excellent example of this. One need only watch the numerous You Tube videos that provide us unprecedented access to his lifestyle outside the ring. One gets the impression that he is trying to make up for all of the deprivations that he suffered as a child, which he provides in harrowing detail in numerous recollections, as he showers himself in expensive toys and pretty girls far beyond what a mature well-balanced grown up would need to feel real. One gets the impression that everybody around him is on payroll, paid flunkies not real friends, and the thoughtful observer must ask what would Floyd be without the money and bling?
Hence among this crowd of rich-but-spiritually impoverished and psychologically-wounded young celebrities, material affluence is their measure of a man; education holds such a low priority that Floyd’s former ace-boon-coon “Fitty Cents” says that Floyd can’t read! Fitty even challenged him in an online video to publicly read a page from a Harry Potter book, after which Fitty pledged to give $750, 000 to any charity designated by Floyd! Despite the opportunity to give a gift of three quarters of a million dollars to say, The National Negro College Fund, Floyd, who has given himself the sobriquet “Money” Mayweather, refused the challenge and responds to his critics by flashing stacks of dollar bills of large denominations and announcing that he is worth “500 million liquid!”
It does not seem to occur to Mayweather that the reason so many celebrities go from rags to riches to rags is because they were not smart enough to manage their money and keep track of it. And in any case, what kind of example is that to set for his children… whom from every indication he loves dearly. What does it say to them about the value of getting an education? With a role model like him how are they to come to the understanding that in making a great life – as opposed to a merely a good living – education, not material possessions, is the most valuable thing one can acquire.
The idea that having money is an adequate substitute for an absence of intelligence is a fairly recent phenomenon in the Afro-American community. When I was growing up acquiring a great education was at the top of the black community’s value system. Hence the eloquent well-educated Jackie Robinson was the preferred role model for most Afro-American parents over the uneducated Willie Mays who spoke with a “country Bama” accent, or the mumbling Heavy-Weight Joe Louis, despite their great admiration for him as a pugilist and a man. However there was a big difference between Joe Louis, Willie Mays and many of today’s young black athletes: They did not celebrate lumpen values like “thug life.” In their day people who flaunted rolls of cash money were hustlers who were dismissed by people with real money as “nigger rich,” a joke. Today we have a new and bizarre phenomenon: really rich Afro-Americans who behave like Niggas!
The old school Afro-Americans and Athletes presented themselves in style and manners as gentlemen and responsible citizens that their fellow Afro-Americans could take pride in. They would have been shocked and scandalized by rich and famous young black men choosing street thugs as their role models! Even the vicious boxer Sonny Liston – who unlike the Hip Hop play-play gangstas had been a real thug that had formerly been an enforcer for the St. Louis mob – wanted no part of the thug image after he became World Heavy-Weight Champion. And he said as much in an interview with Ebony Magazine, where he pointed out that he was a married man with a daughter and he wanted her to feel proud of him.
The reverence for education in the black southern community I grew up in had deep roots in our history. Reports of former slaves flocking to any school that was available to them in the aftermath of slavery during the 1860’s are common fare in the accounts of educators from the period. Frederick Douglass considered education so important that he risked death in order to learn to read when he was a slave, and once he escaped slavery and gained a measure of freedom he became one of the best spoken and accomplished writers in America: and he achieved this on his own!
Describing the aftermath of Civil war and Emancipation Dr. W. E. B. DuBois tells us in his masterpiece Black Reconstruction, “A whole race went to school.” Dr. DuBois considered education so critical to the freedom and development of Afro-Americans that he called for the development of a highly educated “Talented Tenth” to arise and lead the masses of Afro-Americans away from “the worst in their own and other races.” This advice was taken to heart and the leaders of the black community who answered the call to uplift the race took charge of the black community, filled its pulpits and ran its schools all preached the value of education!
One of the virtues of education was to impart values that would serve help to advance one in a racist society that portrayed Afro-Americans in the organs of popular culture as fools and buffoons; a tradition that reached its apotheosis in the wildly popular blackface minstrel shows. Hence one was to present oneself in public as well spoken and well dressed – elegance complimenting eloquence. And these values took deep root.
Indeed Frederick Douglass had set the standard; as a man who spent his life as an advocate for oppressed black people in America, during and after slavery, he had an acute understanding of the importance of public perception of the race. In fact he considered it so important in the struggle for equality in American society that he mastered the art of oratory and became arguably the best dressed man in America! And he enlisted the practitioners of the budding art of photography to splash his image all over the public arena, by some estimates he was the most photographed man in 19th century America. (See: Through a Lens Darkly: Black Photographers and the Emergence of a People” on this blog.)
Thus it is no surprise when we behold the elegant style and eloquent speech of Duke Ellington, who bewitched audiences around the world and hobnobbed with royalty in places where few white Americans would have been admitted. And in so doing he enhanced the stature of black people around the world by the power and dignity of his presentation of himself and his great orchestra, whose music was an extension of his style and personality.
People came from all over the world to hear his concerts. I had the good fortune to attend a party at Dukes place one evening after a big concert at the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in New York, and the variety of people there was fascinating. They represented several races and included artists of various stripes, assorted intellectuals and European Aristocrats; since I regarded my presence there as an event of historic importance to me, I of course wrote an account of the affair. (See: “An Evening with Edward Kennedy Ellington,” on this blog.) In Ellington’s day all Americans danced, dined and made love to his poignant musical portraits celebrating the grace and beauty of Afro-American women such as: Sophisticated Lady, Satin Doll, Black and Tan Fantasy, etc.
Today these celebrations of black women have been replaced by the notorious “bitches and hos” of HIP Hop fame, which is the only music many young black males listen to and now defines them around the world. And it is the portrait of black American culture and character that they are referring to in deciding who is really black, “A FOR REAL NIGGA!” Anyone who cannot recognize that that this development represents a decadent and dangerous trend in Afro-American popular culture, a precipitous decline in taste and judgment, is a part of the problem. The extent of the problem was driven home to me when I was seated next to a young black man on a bus trip through the South where I informally interviewed people about their reactions to the recent election of Barack Obama as the first African-American President of the United States.
When I put the question to the young brother, he sat there looking like a clown with his baseball cap cocked at an angle where it was hard to see if he was coming or going from a distance. “Well that’s cool old school,” he said, “but Barack just ain’t street enough.” My first impulse was to slap his cap straight and then drop some science on his silly ass, but I decided to just school the kid instead. I told him that the only thing the “streets” could prepare him for is to be a rapper, go to jail or the graveyard. By the time I got through he was so embarrassed he got off the bus at the next stop. Tis a pity that there is no wise older man in the life of these boys to help clarify their confusions and put them on the right track, because the values they hold will lead them to self-destruct even after they achieve their goals of wealth and fame.
Most black football players know but little about the history of Afro-Americans in the game of football and display even less interest in finding out – a natural consequence of having slept through or cut history classes – hence they do not know that the first Afro-American greats in the game of football were Ivy League graduates. (See: “On Race Culture and Sports” on this blog) Perhaps the greatest of these early footballers was Paul Robeson, who tutored his white Rutgers classmates in Greek and Latin while starring in four sports and graduating Valedictorian of the class! Upon graduation Paul played in the first professional football league formed in the US, where he teamed up with Fritz Pollard – an Afro-American graduate of Brown University and the first “duel threat” quarterback in professional football – and they went undefeated.
However racism and financial problems prompted Robeson to go back to school and earn a law degree from Columbia University, but he soon abandoned a racist legal profession and went on to become a world renowned concert singer performing the sacred songs of our enslaved ancestors – that beautiful body of music Dr. DuBois called “The Sorrow Songs” as well as one an accomplished Shakespearean actor who performed in the US and Europe, breaking all records for a Shakespeare play on Broadway. One wonders what the black football players who say Russell Wilson ain’t black enough would think of a man like Paul Robeson.
This question goes to the heart of the matter and the cultural state of black America can be gauged by it. It is more than reasonable to suspect that the people who think Russell “ain’t black enough” would surely have felt the same way about Paul. When asked about the comment Russell said “I don’t know what they are talking about,” and neither would Paul Robeson, whose father had escaped from slavery, acquired a college degree, and personally taught him Greek and Latin.
Well, rumor has it that the comment questioning Russell’s Black Quotient came from running back Marshawn Lynch; which would be easily understandable because aside from football Russ and Marshawn have nothing in common but skin color, and since Russ is tan and Lynch is darker one is tempted to conclude that’s what Lynch was referring to. But I think not. Considering the context I am convinced that he was mainly talking about Russell’s style and manner, his values and aspirations. If that’s the case, would to God that he was referring to a pigmentocracy where blackness was graded on a scale of light and dark, a reversal of the old “paper bag” and “blow hair syndromes,” for we have survived color schisms in the past, but cultural and moral decadence will destroy us.
The greatest danger to the survival of black males in America is not white racists, and that includes those who wear police uniforms; rather it is the growing inculcation of a vision of manhood defined by the ability to coldly afflict violence on an adversary who is almost always black like them, and show no remorse. This value system is embedded in a popular culture which celebrates ignorance and bad taste as if they were virtues. The evidence is abundant; you can hear it on countless rap records that celebrate “Thug Life,” and witness it in the tragic self-destructive behavior of confused young men like Aron Hernandez. Those who argue otherwise are either charlatans, fools, or the human equivalent of ostriches that refuse to pull their head out of their ass and take a good look at what is really going on. For instance, much fuss is made over the “Stop and Frisk” policy initiated by former Mayor Bloomberg in New York City, it is widely portrayed by black community activist and the white liberal/ left as a sinister racist plot against young black men.
Since I grew up in the apartheid South during the 1940’s and 50’s I know how white racist mayors react to blacks murdering blacks: They didn’t give a shit!!! They wouldn’t even dispatch an extra squad car to stop it let alone spend millions of city dollars on a Stop and Frisk operation! Since most of the people who are speaking the loudest in this debate make their arguments without the benefit of historical perspective they lack any basis for comparative analysis, and their arguments suffer because of it. I have consistently argued that this point of view is transparent nonsense that avoids the main issue: The havoc inflicted on the black community by armed black criminals committing murder and mayhem 24/7!
In comparison to those wounded and killed from black criminals, the number of black men killed by white police appears to be few and far between. Furthermore we can control the behavior of the police just by adding body cameras and changing the rules of engagement – All of these issues are thoughtfully discussed and statistically demonstrated in several essays on the subject See: “Mend it Don’t End It” on this blog – but how to turn our youths away from a seductive popular culture that romanticizes lumpen criminal behavior and makes it the standard for black authenticity is a far more perplexing problem.
Furthermore, the highly publicized violent antics of the niggas which the world can see on You Tube – check out the links below to videos showing armed young black criminals brandishing their assault weapons, which are illegal for police to carry, and bragging about the havoc they are wreaking on the black community just for the thrill of it – causes white Americans to side with the police when unarmed black men are murdered by the police. Hence this criminal class has put law abiding young black men in a double bind: caught in crossfire between the cops and the robbers. If we do not soon come up with a solution, these self-destructive tendencies will destroy far more young black people than white racist violence in the 20th century ever did!
Already the numbers of black men killing black men has greatly exceeded the number of black men killed by white racist violence during the height of the lynching phenomenon, the most intense period of white on black violence in American history – 1880 to 1915. Since I have given the numbers in previous essays published on this blog I shan’t belabor the issue here, but if you really wish to understand the period to which I am referring read “The Negro in American Life and History: The Nadir” by the outstanding Afro-American historian Rayford Logan. It would be an enlightening experience to read this book, it will change your views about American society and race relations, but trust me, I’m right on the figures!
These are sad facts indeed, but to shirk our duty to confront them honestly and seriously is to betray both an ancestral imperative to continue the struggle to uplift the race, and the first law of nature: The instinct for self-preservation. It is instructive to note that African descendants elsewhere in the American diaspora have virtually disappeared after having played a vital role in the history and culture of the nation. The story of Afro-Argentinians is the most poignant case in point. During the 19th century when the nation was constantly at war Argentina sent forth it’s “Black Legions” composed of conscripted Afro-Argentinian men who were either fighting to escape slavery or prison, and they were slaughtered in vast numbers.
The black women were forced to marry men of other races because available black men become so scarce. The government encouraged large scale immigration of Italian men and encouraged them to take black women. Hence by the 20th century a popular slogan arose in the Argentine: “There are no blacks in Argentina.” The strongest evidence of the once prominent presence is the national music they gave the nation: The Tango. To read about this intriguing and tragic story see: “Tango: A History of the Dance of Love,” by Dr. Robert Farris Thompson, Professor of Art History and Dean of African Civilization at Yale, and “The Negro in Argentina,” University of Florida Press. Also see the section on Argentina in Professor Henry Louis Gates’s PBS series “Black in Latin America.”
While it is nearly impossible to imagine the physical disappearance of Afro-Americans, who have also fought in all of our nation’s wars and left an indelible print on American culture, it is quite possible to envision a scenario in which a large segment of black men become obsolete in a knowledge-based economy based on a Darwinian ethic that is red of tooth and claw and only the fit will survive. One could convincingly argue that we are well into the beginning stages of such an economy.
Hence in a predatory privately owned corporate-dominated economy that prizes intelligence, competence and good interpersonal skills young black men whose characters are formed by a lumpen culture that prizes antithetical values are doomed to a life of unemployment and jail, unless life is prematurely ended in the grave yard. Already there are far more young black men in jail than in college, and what is worse it is a badge of honor for many of them!
Hall of Fame basketball star Charles Barkley, from whom I have rarely heard an intelligent comment unrelated to sports, was moved to speak out on the reason why some black players on the Sea Hawks might not think Russell Wilson is black enough during a recent radio interview. Although Barkley greatly overgeneralizes when speaking of the black community’s failings, albeit he does make some attempt to correct it, he speaks frankly to white radio host Anthony Garano, who was thoroughly puzzled by why any black player would hate on Russell Wilson.
“Young black kids, when they do well in school the loser kids tell them ‘you are acting white.’ The kids who speak intelligently they tell them ‘you are acting white.’ So it’s a dirty dark secret in the black community and one of the reasons that we are never going to be successful as a whole because of other black people. For some reason we are brainwashed to believe that if you are not a thug or an idiot you are not black enough! If you go to school, speak intelligently and not break the law you are not a good black person. It’s a dirty dark secret in the black community Anthony. We are the only race or ethnic group who tell people if you don’t have street cred, that means you have been arrested, like that’s a compliment. We are the only ethnic group who says ‘hey, if you been to jail it gives you street cred.”
Of course, Charles Barkely is not very deep in his analysis, but he knows some self-destructive shit when he sees it. As of this writing Barkley’s interview has nearly a half million hits on You Tube, and over 700 comments. Since this is such a painful discussion for self-respecting, law abiding, educated, successful Afro-Americans to hear it is predictable that Barkley would be attacked as a “sell-out” and “Tom.” But even if this is true as a general proposition – and I offer no opinion on that account since I do not follow his affairs closely – what Barkley is saying here has the ring of truth regarding an increasingly large portion of Afro-American youths. I do not have exact statistics on this but I know that whatever the actual percentage is it is far too large!
Not all of the respondents disagreed with Barkley. Of course the white racist loved it because it confirmed all of their racist “fakelore” about black people – as the great writer and cultural critic Albert Murray calls it in his masterpiece “The Omni-Americans” – which no doubt compelled some black listeners to attack him, but others thought he was just telling it like it is. A Ms. Tosh, who is visually black, responded:
“I agree with Charles Barkley 100% and I never liked this man before until now!!! He is absolutely right and for those Blacks on here who are saying that he’s a coon and denying that the Black community have dark secrets, then you never listened to what this gentleman said. It is a fact that there are far too many Blacks who belittle other Blacks if they speak intelligently, obtain a college degree, own a business, get married, don’t have any kids, and didn’t go to prison. If you are not pro-hair hats, then you’re labeled a sellout or an uppity Black b***h who think that she’s better than the rest. I have personally witnessed this far too many times with these mentally-enslaved Blacks, all of what Charles is stating. The #1 enemy for Black people are BLACK people. The #2 enemy of Black people are White people. The #3 enemy for Black people is stupidity. #1 and #3 are me being redundant. I apologize for the redundancy”
One of the tell-tale clues as to who is authentically black among this swelling lumpen crowd is that they do not speak standard English, and they dress like rappers because evidently no one they trust has managed to convince them that the only people who can make a living dressed like that is rappers! And as that Hip Hop head in the White House, Chilly B. Knowledge, done told them: “We can’t all be Lil Wayne!” You can look around any black community and find them easily enough, they seem to be everywhere. And they, in the hearts and minds of too many black youths, are the “real black people.” “These niggas keep it real!” Unlike squares like Obama, these niggas got “Street Cred.” It is an absurd and self-destructive philosophy of life.
Based on these standards it does not require more than a casual glance at the Seattle Seahawks football team to see who is the “realest nigga on the squad,” and it ain’t Russ, who is the antithesis of all that. Wilson comes from several generations of highly educated successful professional Afro-Americans. He was born and raised in Richmond Virginia, the home of the late great Tennis champion and eminent sports historian Arthur Ashe, who was no doubt one of Russell’s role models.
Arthur Ashe is the only black person whose statue reposes on the Avenue of Heroes in down town Richmond Virginia, the former capital of the slaveholding Confederacy, right alongside all of the generals and leaders of the Confederate States of America, those beloved southerners who committed treason against the USA in order to keep black Americans in the chains of slavedom.
Ashe’s statue is unique as a sports monument because he has a tennis racket in one hand and a book in the other. It symbolizes what Ashe believed about black youths and sports. After completing a three volume history of Afro-American athletes, Arthur was asked how he would sum up what he had learned from all of his research during an appearance on a national television show: “I would advise black youths to spend most of their time studying their books because they are going to outrun and out jump everybody else anyway.”
There are many examples of this but Paul Robeson is the quintessential example. The personification of the Greek ideal of mind/body perfection he was a star at Baseball, basketball, track and football and was still elected to the Phi Beta Kappa Honor Society. John Wideman, an All-American basketball player at the prestigious University of Pennsylvania, where he won a much coveted Benjamin Franklin Scholarship which was awarded on a statewide basis and paid all of his expenses.
Wideman turned down a chance to play professional basketball in favor of a Rhodes Fellowship that provided an opportunity to do graduate study at Oxford. Wideman has since gone on to become one of the greatest 20th century American writers, whose works have inspired an international community of scholars that have devoted their academic careers to the critical study and teaching of his many works. It is officially known as “The John Wideman Society.”
Paul Robeson however played for a brief period in the first professional football league on a team quarterbacked by Fritz Pollard – an Afro-American and Brown graduate who was also a college All-American like Robeson. They went undefeated!!!! Then Robeson left the gridiron and took a degree from Columbia Law School. After briefly practicing law Robeson became a world renowned concert singer and Shakespearian actor whose performances of Othello on Broadway broke all attendance records. And he accomplished all of this in an openly racist world where racial discrimination was legal; which is why he became a militant activist who fought racism and oppression all over the world! He is one of the greatest black men in history! Yet I would venture a guess that those ignorant black hood rats who are hatin on Russ never heard of Robeson, and based on the criteria by which Russell Wilson has been judged by them Big Paul wasn’t “black enough” either.
The magnitude of this problem and the danger it represents to the survival and progress of black America ought to be clear to every reader by now. Russell Wilson: great athlete in two sports, record setting quarterback of the Super Bowl Champions, graduated from college in three years, eloquent, charming, elegant of style, upstanding citizen, ideal role model for ALL American youths – especially black males – who want to succeed at anything in life because his values and approach to life will work in any field: simply the best the country has to offer!
Like his homie Arthur Ashe -a soft spoken military officer, gentleman and scholar who also happened to be a world champion athlete – I am certain that Russ, who intends to follow his deceased father and hero into the legal profession, will continue to be a credit to Afro-Americans just as his family has been for generations. But he is spurned by some black team mates as a phony because he has no “street cred” and is therefore: not “black enough.”
Yet all the arbiters of niggerism agree that Marshawn Lynch is “A FOR REAL NIGGER.” And just what, pray-tell, are Mr. Lynch’s qualifications for this honorific? Well from all appearances he is certainly inarticulate and fairly empty headed, in fact he seems terrified whenever a microphone is put in his face for comment. On the face of it we can see that he is squandering opportunities to use his football stardom off the field, which will become very important after his playing days are over, which could be with the next hit since he is a running back.
In fact his style of attack is such that it will almost guarantee a relatively short career. He will not last 1ast 16 years like Walter Peyton, let alone 20 years like the great Jerry Rice. This is partially the reason why the Sea Hawks are reluctant to give him the big contract he is asking for and based on past performance apparently deserves. But I believe that his attitude and character also has much to do with management’s decision.
Although Lynch is notoriously silent with the media, we are provided some revealing glances into his personality and character in several videos where he unintentionally opens himself up to scrutiny. One of these is the video “Hooker Boy Filmz Presents Marshan Lynch,” where he is seen strolling through the streets of Oakland and Settle Washington with his homies while rappers shout in the background “Beast Mode Bitch! All my Niggas yelling Marshan Lynch!” If we had any doubts about his fascination with the “Thug Life” this video leaves no doubt. At one point in the beginning of the film he talks about how he hosts a football camp for the kids in Oakland on a weekend during the summer, however the next minute we see him shouting “you bitch!” at a woman driving by in a SUV because she wouldn’t stop for the great Marshan Lynch.
Since every other word out of their mouths is a curse one wonders what sort of values they will teach kids in a football camp. When he talks about his camp the focus is all about identifying pro-football prospects and putting them on the road to the NFL, with college being a short stop to better prepare for a career in the pros. But what if they don’t make it, what then? His a very different philosophy from that of Doug Williams, a gracious southern gentleman who was the first black quarterback to win the Super Bowl and then went on to coach his Alma Mater Grambling state. Williams says he does not recruit his players with a promise that they will go to the NFL, because he is far more interested in players concentrating on getting a college degree, because if they have the talent the NFL will find them.
The white folks who approach him to pay respects seem both awed and a little scared. After all, he happily goes by the nick name “Beast Mode” and plays like a wild beast smashing into opponents and grinding them into the dust with his powerful physique. He is scary enough on the football field but in a chance encounter on the street in his thugged-out rapper gear he can be… well, frightening. And it shows on the faces of his white well-wishers. The few comments uttered by Lynch in barely audible grunts reveal a simple minded man child and borderline thug. Going to college helped to prepare him to play professional football, but certainly didn’t do much to polish up his rough edges. We must demand more from our colleges in the education of the athletes who make millions of dollars for their schools.
Unlike Russell, who graduated from college in three years, “Beast Mode” quit the University after three years and turned pro. Normally I would consider this a smart decision, but Marshawn does not seem to have received the education that a great school like Cal could offer. In fact he gives me the impression that he would probably be locked up doing from now until if it weren’t for football. Marshawn Lynch is everything Russell Wilson isn’t! I believe that is the true source of his hatred for Wilson, Jealousy growing out of feelings of personal inadequacy, the same syndrome Charles Barkley describes.
It appears to be pretty much a foregone conclusion that Lynch’s days in Seattle are numbered. He is seen on the Hooker Boy film threatening to leave Seattle if he does not get the money he wants. I am certain if the front office views this film it will hasten his departure. The Sea Hawks know that they have a golden boy in Russell Wilson; he seems almost too good to be true. He will be the face of their franchise for many years to come – a great player, solid citizen, movie star handsome, and fan favorite – while Lynch will become a faded memory.
However the problems revealed by this imbroglio remain, and coming up with a viable solution to it is the challenge that now faces the leadership of the Afro-American community. I am not blaming Afro-American leaders for this situation; the people who have not properly parented their children must bear most of the blame. Yet even when they do their best parents can’t guarantee that their children will find meaningful – or any work –at a living wage. This is a problem that confronts the working class – white and blue collar wage workers – across the board as millions of manufacturing jobs are transferred overseas through globalization, and millions of jobs are eliminated through robotization.
These are the questions our community should be concentrating on with our working class allies from all quarters, but Afro-Americans must first solve the problem of neutralizing and reversing the nihilistic trend among the black lumpen element whose sub-culture celebrates ignorance hedonism and violence, while trashing intelligence, discipline, and even good manners. It is way past time to put the lumpen element back in their place and not allow their values to replace the traditional values of black America which prized those things that would uplift the race: Industry, honesty, study, love of family, church fellowship and trying to be the best at whatever you do. These are the values that helped me stay on course despite the trials and tribulations of being a black man in the openly racist American society of my youth.
They are the rocks on which we as a people stood in the most trying periods of our history, and oh what mighty rocks they are! Let us measure our blackness by these tried and true standards that have stood the test of time, not the nihilistic antics of self-destructive clowns who emerged from the projects spouting semi-literate rhymes with various degrees of artistry and mesmerized listeners around the world. For white middle class fans in the suburbs listening to these rhythmic rhymes was a sonic excursion into a strange forbidden menagerie populated by exotic others, but for far too many young blacks it was “the truth.”
However some young black men who grew up in the hood around thug life rose above their environment through setting high goals for themselves and working like hell to achieve them. Richard Sherman is an excellent case in point. Although he grew up in the heart of the hood in LA, he became a serious student –athlete who graduated from Stanford, one of the world’s most prestigious universities where he was a star on the football team. Now he is the most feared and highly paid corner backs in the cornerbacks in the NFL. After a playoff win last year that put them one game away from the Super Bowl he engaged in a bit of animated trash talking with a San Francisco wide receiver that almost caught the winning touchdown and it was caught on the microphone of a reporter.
White racist and paternalists of all sorts tried to label him a LA gangbanger, but he was having no part of the “thug” image that Marshawn Lynch wears so proudly that when he heard Percy Harvin had been cut he tweeted “They cut my nigga!” And he threatened not to play in the coming game. On the other hand Sherman quietly pointed out that he had grown up around thugs and knew them well and that he was nothing like a thug, that he was a Stanford grad, a great athlete and a law abiding tax paying citizen with no criminal record. Of course he is a big supporter of Russell Wilson, whom he regards as a great quarterback and fine person…which he is. It is clear by his personal style, intelligence and easy eloquence that Sherman like Russell Wilson is headed for great things off the field and after football is but a memory.
Recognizing the injustice done to this young man by his white critics in the press, many of the same scoundrels who tried to paint he and Michelle as “angry blacks who hate white people,” President Obama invited Sherm to the annual White House Correspondents Dinner and used his much maligned rhetoric in his comic routine, calling Sherman out by name and asking him if he was doing it right. And when he invited the Seahawks to the white house to honor the team for winning the Superbowl he singled Sherman out to Sherman with a special recognition of his accomplishments.
“I joke about Richard Sherman,” the President said, “but he grew up in Compton amid some wonderful people, but also gangs and drugs and guns. His dad had to wake up before 4 a.m. every day to drive a garbage truck. But because of his dad’s hard work and his family, and his mom, Richard ended up earning a 4.2 GPA in high school. He won a scholarship to Stanford. (Applause.) He showed kids from his neighborhood that they could make it. And if he seems a little brash, it’s because you’ve got to have attitude sometimes if you are going to overcome some of this adversity. And the fact that he still goes back to inspire high-schoolers for higher goals and making better choices, that’s all-star behavior.”
It was a great moment for Sherman and all black men in America who are trying to make their mark in some worthwhile endeavor. As the often insightful Afro-America comedian Chris rock aptly pointed out: “Everything black people build niggas try to fuck it up!” Hence Black Americans must make a clear choice as to what model of man we want our son sand sons in laws to be: smart upstanding productive black/Afro-American men, or destructive dumbass “niggas?” To be or not to be: That is the only question!
Benjamin is a veteran political journalist out of Harlem NY. His essays can be read on his blog site Commentaries on the Times.