“No Big Deal”
Americans want to see people succeed.


Jennifer Graham

A couple of years ago, the husband and I were eating out–something you don’t do often with four kids under 10–when he lowered his voice and gestured for me to look at the next table.

I did so, expecting to find something peculiar, such as Karl Rove conspiring with Elvis.

What I saw: A young family of five–father, mother, three young children, well-dressed, well-behaved, enjoying their night out, too. Except for the well-behaved children–mythical creatures with which we have no personal experience with–the family was unremarkable.

But they were black. And my husband whispered that in a nation where 70 percent of black children are born into homes without fathers, it was great to see a picture-perfect black family dining together. “I almost want to go give the guy a high five,” he said, somewhat sheepishly.

He didn’t, of course. When we left, we nodded, smiled at the children and promptly forgot the exchange…in which both of us unconsciously revealed that–horrors!–we are very desirous that black Americans do well.

It’s true. We desire Condoleezza Rice to do well! We desire Colin Powell to do well! We desire Clarence Thomas to do well! We desire practically every black American–with the possible exception of O.J.–to do well!

So sue us.

With all due respect to Rush Limbaugh–who is not a bigot and said nothing racist on ESPN–what’s lost in the uproar is the truth of the offending statement–and the beauty contained therein.

When Limbaugh said, “The media has been very desirous that a black quarterback do well,” he meant to insult not black athletes, but the liberal media, which he loathes. The liberal media–particularly the variety that covers football in Philadelphia–were obligingly insulted. They bit back, lethally. And they spent the week gloating.

“Limbaugh was bound to say something dumb. He was hired to say something dumb,” wrote Gary Shelton at the St. Petersburg Times. “His statements were flat-out wrong. Not morally wrong. Factually wrong,” opined Mitch Albom at the Detroit Free Press.

No, guys, you’re wrong. In your haste to perform your triumphant end-zone boogie, you are so missing the point.

What we have here is a failure to communicate among people who ought to know better: the communicators. A caller to Limbaugh’s show Friday correctly summarized the problem: The core issue here could not be confined to a sound bite, and Americans are not broadly possessed of the mental dexterity that this debate requires.

As a newspaper editor in Philadelphia wrote me this week, “I firmly believe we aren’t capable of debating the deeper issues that Rush alluded to in his two- or three-sentence comment.”

Translation: We can’t handle the truth.

Truth is, we live in a nation where, despite the rantings of Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, most white people–not just the media, but regular folks eating side-by-side at Applebee’s–want black people to succeed.

This is a good thing even when it is the deeply felt longing of the dastardly liberal media (sorry, Rush). The people on Rosa Park’s bus did not want her to succeed. Today, with few exceptions, they would. This is progress. But the only writer I’ve seen noting this is Mark Madden, who hosts a sports talk show and writes a column for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Says Madden, in what may be the best writing on the most-overwritten topic of last week: “….There is undoubtedly a societal push to see blacks get and succeed in NFL jobs they don’t usually have, namely quarterback and head coach. Limbaugh seemed to imply there’s something wrong with that. There isn’t, a as long as those blacks who get said jobs are qualified.”

He goes on: “But that was just Limbaugh being Limbaugh. He wasn’t being hateful….What Limbaugh said was no big deal.”

No big deal. Buried in this statement, rife with irony, is the truth: America does want to see blacks succeed. America wants to see Hispanics succeed. America wants to see Asians and Indians and Iraqis succeed. America–God bless her–even wants to see white males succeed. That’s who we are. That’s our core. May it always be no big deal.

Jennifer Graham is a freelance journalist who lives in Richmond, Virginia.