RGIII, ‘Cornball Brothers,’ and the Blackness Code
The new enforcers of racial authenticity use racist logic to define blackness.

Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III


Lee Habeeb

Didn’t white people used to get in big trouble for this kind of backwards, exclusionary thinking?

It isn’t just athletes who face this scrutiny. And it’s not just from black sportscasters. President Obama faced it, too.

In a column called “Colorblind,” in September of 2007, Debra Dickerson, the popular African-American columnist for Salon, explained to her large following why she had waited so long to write about then-candidate Obama. At the time, if you remember, the battle was between two firsts: the first major-party female presidential nominee and the first African-American presidential nominee.

“Which brings me to the main reason I delayed writing about Obama,” Dickerson wrote. “For me, it was a trick question in a game I refused to play. Since the issue was always framed as a battle between gender and race, I didn’t have the heart (or the stomach) to point out the obvious: Obama isn’t black.”

There goes that historic win for racial equality in 2008! Dickerson thinks there should be an asterisk in the record books next to Obama’s title as the first black president — because he has white blood.

Wasn’t it white racists — along with eugenicists — who deployed the “single drop” rule to perpetuate their worldview?

Colin Powell, too, came under fire for being inauthentically black. Powell had the temerity to accept a position working for President George W. Bush as America’s first African-American secretary of state. Harry Belafonte lead the charge against Powell on Ted Leitner’s popular San Diego talk show, in 2002:

There is an old saying, in the days of slavery. There were those slaves who lived on the plantation, and there were those slaves who lived in the house. You got the privilege of living in the house if you served the master, do exactly the way the master intended to have you serve him. That gave you privilege. Colin Powell is committed to come into the house of the master, as long as he would serve the master, according to the master’s purpose. 

And you thought the Taliban was tough? These race brownshirts show little tolerance for people who don’t meet their code of blackness, and even less for intellectual disobedience. Their law is simple: Kiss the ring, and behave and believe as we tell you, or face excommunication from the race.

Belafonte had similar unkind words for Condoleezza Rice, who responded with a simple and strong statement: “I don’t need Harry Belafonte to tell me what it means to be black.”

Poor Condi. She was thrown out of the brotherhood and sisterhood for the role she played in a Republican administration.

And then there was Bill Cosby.

It was the NAACP’s 50th-anniversary celebration of Brown v. Board of Education, in 2004, and Cosby had the audacity to talk about some of the serious challenges facing African Americans, particularly in America’s inner cities.

Brown versus the Board of Education is no longer the white person’s problem,” he said. “We’ve got to take the neighborhood back. We’ve got to go in there. Just forget telling your child to go to the Peace Corps. It’s right around the corner.”

Not exactly fighting words, you’d think. Cosby then addressed the problems confronting black Americans: senseless black-on-black crime in America, failing public schools that so poorly serve young black men, and a dysfunctional welfare state.

“There’s no English being spoken, and they’re walking and they’re angry,” he said. “Oh, God, they’re angry and they have pistols and they shoot and they do stupid things. And after they kill somebody, they don’t have a plan. Just murder somebody. Boom. Over what? A pizza?”

He went on to talk about the problem of illegitimacy as it affects black America:

Five or six different children, same woman, eight, ten different husbands or whatever, pretty soon you’re going to have to have DNA cards so you can tell who you’re making love to. You don’t know who this is. It might be your grandmother. I’m telling you, they’re young enough. Hey, you have a baby when you’re twelve. Your baby turns 13 and has a baby, how old are you? Huh? Grandmother. 

He closed out the speech with some words about the legacy of all of those who fought the civil-rights battles of the 1960s: “I just want to get you as angry as you ought to be. When you walk around the neighborhood and you see this stuff, that stuff’s not funny. These people are not funny anymore. And that’s not [my] brother. And that’s not my sister.”