Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III (RGIII, as he is known) has a problem. It turns out that some black commentators, and probably some black elites, don’t think he is black enough — because he dared to publicly state that he didn’t want to be judged solely by his skin color as an NFL quarterback.
Last Thursday morning on First Take, ESPN’s Rob Parker uttered a comment for which he was later fired, although he probably only said what some African Americans think but don’t publicly express: “My question is, and it’s just a straight, honest question: Is he a brother, or is he a cornball brother?”
I’d never heard the term before, so I did a quick search and landed at UrbanDictionary.com. Here is the definition I found there:
Cornball brother: An African-American man who chooses not to follow the stereotype . . . life choices include marrying white women, being a Republican, and not being ‘down with the cause.’
UrbanDictionary also lists “corn dog brother” as a related term and gives this example in its definition:
Leroy is a Republican who listens to country music, enjoys golfing on weekends, and drives [an] eco-friendly car. He is a corn dog brother.
I love it when I get an example with my definitions!
Little did Parker know, he was performing a public service by reminding the country of the interesting concept of the not-black-enough brother.
And you wonder why there are not more black Republicans?
Things got more interesting as Parker continued his riff.
“He’s black, he does his thing, but he’s not really down with the cause,” Parker continued. “He’s not one of us. He’s kind of black, but he’s not really like the kind of guy you really want to hang out with.” Parker admitted that he needed to learn more about Griffin’s personal life before he could accept him as authentically black. “I just want to find out about him,” he said.
It could be a comedy routine on Saturday Night Live — the notion of a black man standing before some kind of Blackness Panel to determine if he’s black enough. What would be the qualifications? Who would the questioners be, and what would they ask? How would the scoring work, and would there be a talent requirement? Singing and dancing, possibly? And an oath of black allegiance at the end?
A comedy routine is exactly what this should be. But it is a reality that black people face, although I hope it affects only a thin minority of African-American commentators and elites.
But there are those words on UrbanDictionary.com, those made-up, ugly words.
“I don’t know because I keep hearing these things,” Parker explained. “We all know he has a white fiancée.”
There you have it! Exhibit A for expulsion from the Blackness Club. What kind of authentic black man falls in love with a white woman?
“Then there was all this talk about he’s a Republican,” Parker continued. “There’s no information at all [about that].”
He is marrying a white woman, and he might be a Republican? That’s automatic disbarment from the Blackness Club. And a lifetime pass to the Cornball Brother Hall of Fame.
Parker finished his rant with this observation about another not-so-black black man: “Because we did find out with Tiger Woods, Tiger Woods was like, ‘I’ve got black skin, but don’t call me black.’ So people got to wondering about Tiger Woods.”
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.”
You would have thought Cosby would be celebrated for the speech, and for the courage it took to make it on such a big night.
But no. Out came the Blackness Panel’s chief enforcement agent. In a New York minute — or a Philadelphia nanosecond — University of Pennsylvania professor Michael Eric Dyson challenged not only Bill Cosby’s comments, but Bill Cosby’s black bona fides.
“All who have made it need not have ‘Afroamnesia,’” Dyson told a University of Michigan audience, referring to successful blacks such as Cosby who forget where they come from. Dyson described the subsequent speeches Cosby made in defense of his original speech as Cosby’s “Blame-the-Poor Tour.”
Dyson even managed to mock Cosby’s successful TV series for not being black enough. It pandered to whites, he said, because the show was about an intact black family — father and mother together — living a traditional, upper-middle-class life.
How utterly unblack!
Dyson wrote the book Is Bill Cosby Right? to offer a counterpoint to Cosby’s speech. In it, he attacked Cosby’s character — and his heart.
“No matter how you judge Cosby’s comments, you can’t help but believe that a great deal of his consternation with the poor stems from his desire to remove the shame he feels in their presence and about their activity in the world,” he wrote. “There’s nothing like a formerly poor black multimillionaire bashing poor blacks to lend credence to the ancient assaults they’ve endured from the dominant culture.”
Like Cosby, Tiger, Barack, Condi, and Colin, RGIII will hear more challenges to his blackness in years to come. Luckily, he has his priorities lined up. When recently asked by a sports reporter what his biggest fear was about coming to Washington, D.C., to be an NFL quarterback, RGIII had a simple answer: “You try not to fear too many things. I fear God.”
After receiving an outpouring of support from African Americans all over the country, and white Americans as well, RGIII had this to say to his fans on Twitter about the whole ESPN incident: “I’m thankful for a lot of things in life, and one of those things is your support. Thank You.”
Pure class. He never bothered to dignify the claims of his critic, whose shrill commentary is a reflection not of Griffin’s blackness, but of Parker’s refusal to respect the rich diversity of his own people and the choices they make.
Blackness enforcers such as Parker are the ones fixated on race as America lurches forward to a truly post-racial society, one in which black people fall in love with white people and get married and few people care.
Just the racists — white and black alike.
— Lee Habeeb is the vice president of content at Salem Radio Network, which syndicates Bill Bennett, Mike Gallagher, Dennis Prager, Michael Medved, and Hugh Hewitt. He lives in Oxford, Miss., with his wife, Valerie, and daughter, Reagan.