Archive for December, 2012

December 17, 2012

On Rob Parker vs Robert Griffin III

Rob Parker asked on ESPN’s first take, “Is he…a cornball brother?” listing RG3’s white fiancé and possible Republican vote as evidence that he was not a “[true] brother.” The public backlash was merited and Parker was promptly suspended by ESPN. This is a multifaceted issue, and while I have various problems with Parker’s statements, I first want to address the one positive general issue to which Parker alluded.

Removed from RG3, Parker’s concern for racial pride is laudable. There is a history of shame in black skin that is rooted in slavery. It is not only the fact that one’s skin color was the basis for forced labor, but the fact that black skin was publicly declared as worthless, evil, lower than dirt. It is not merely physical, legal, institutional oppression over the matter of skin color but emotional, intellectual, and spiritual oppression. A study in African American literature will show a war over the self’s identity as it is tied to color. Nella Larsen’s Passing is an example of African American characters shamed into hiding their racial identity to ascend social echelons. Jean Toomer’s career post-Cane tanked as he shunned the classification of “black” and started referring to himself as “american.” He rejected his body and superior physical literature for a philosophical identity and poor ethereal literature. There is precedent for individuals of every race abandoning their racial heritage in the face of persecution and it is always tragic.

However, when looking at the specific case of RG3, Parker steps outside of the issue of racial pride on every point.

  1. The White Fiancé – How thin is Parker’s understanding of racial history that he can condemn interracial marriage? We can start with the fact that interracial marriage was at one point illegal but we can’t stop there. Black men have been beaten, imprisoned, lynched for nothing more than looking at a white woman, much less than freely marrying one.
  2. Possibly Voting Republican – Does Parker not understand the freedom to vote for whom one chooses a right that was denied to most black men and women for nearly decades after the Emancipation Proclamation? Whatever his political values, by exercising his individual, independent vote, RG3 represents the progression of his race.
  3. Braids – I’m sure that he was trying to flesh out Parker’s argument, but Skip Bayless could just as well be suspended for his question about RG3’s braids. Parker has constructed a racial box that he doesn’t want RG3 to be in and Bayless present an argument to put him back in the box. The problem is that between the two of them they have created a box. In trying to defend RG3’s racial identity, Bayless has presented his own picture of what that identity can be. Parker, uneasy with having his baseless argument so easily and uncomfortably trumped and yet complimented, refers to the braids as “urban,” not black.
  4. Professional journalism – Parker references “his friends” in the DC area. I understand that a journalist doesn’t always need to reveal sources, but they do need to verify their information. Parker hasn’t. Commentary and editorials are worthy when they are researched, not when shot from the hip.

In The Souls of Black Folks, W.E.B. Du Bois talks of The Talented Tenth, a percentage of African Americans who excel beyond the social strictures and pull up the rest of the race, advancing the racial cause. Parker, a talking head, had the opportunity to join Robert Griffin III, Barak Obama, Tony Dungy, Oprah Winfrey, Toni Morrison, and others in today’s Talented Tenth. He could have even been one of the ones being pulled up by the Talented Tenth. Instead, he spends his time engaging in babble tearing down a brother who was leading by example. No one needs RG3 to be Jackie Robinson; to insinuate as such is to diminish the work that Jackie did. We need RG3 to be RG3.

I bet I know Rob Parker’s problem: he is probably a Cowboys fan.

December 15, 2012

Wracked in Sorrow, Full of Joy

Today was the Christmas brunch at work. Amidst the celebration of the birth of our Lord, we were also celebrating the 50th anniversary of the company. In Connecticut, they were dealing with the tragedy of a school shooting. I was among those that had not yet heard about the shooting and it was not mentioned at the brunch. Throughout the afternoon, details trickled in, new spread in passing, and I threw myself into my work for the dual purpose of completing it and distracting myself from the ugliness. I still haven’t read anything more than headlines.

Late in the afternoon, a friend instant messaged me, unable to reconcile herself with a day featuring a school shooting and a Christmas party; the violent death of many children and the birthday party for one. I had nothing to say to her. Why was there a demand upon her to be reconciled? Why was there a demand upon me to respond to her confession? How could I myself be reconciled? How could I respond to her, especially when my response was to avert my eyes?

Ten minutes later, which felt like an hour, I could only offer a crude paraphrase of Chesterton’s Orthodoxy, “take them separately, I guess. Full of joy at the celebration. Wracked with sorrow at the shooting. In orthodoxy, Chesterton describes that as the Christian life. One of contradictory extremes that together keep us balanced.”

The man himself said (among other profound things in the fifth chapter entitled The Flag of the World):

Take another case: the complicated question of charity, which some highly uncharitable idealists seem to think quite easy. Charity is a paradox, like modesty and courage. Stated baldly, charity certainly means one of two things—pardoning unpardonable acts, or loving unlovable people… A sensible pagan would say that there were some people one could forgive, and some one couldn’t… In so far as the act was pardonable, the man was pardonable. That again is rational, and even refreshing; but it is a dilution. It leaves no place for a pure horror of injustice, such as that which is a great beauty in the innocent. And it leaves no place for a mere tenderness for men as men, such as is the whole fascination of the charitable. Christianity came in here as before. It came in startlingly with a sword, and clove one thing from another. It divided the crime from the criminal. The criminal we must forgive unto seventy times seven. The crime we must not forgive at all. It was not enough that [thieves] inspired partly anger and partly kindness. We must be much more angry with theft than before, and yet much kinder to thieves than before. There was room for wrath and love to run wild. And the more I considered Christianity, the more I found that while it had established a rule and order, the chief aim of that order was to give room for good things to run wild.

So, we must be horrified at an individual who would slaughter children. Christ said in the book of Mark that whoever causes a child to sin, it’d be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around his neck – definitely no love for sin. But this is also the same Christ who so valued the life of each every sinner that he died that they may have the opportunity for life.

In Fyodor Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, Ivan rejects Christianity, not so much on a demand for proof as his inability to reconcile the suffering of children with the idea of a benevolent, omnipotent God. His logic is impeccable. But it fails. In his rejection of sin he rejects any moral authority outside of his own dictation; in becoming his own moral compass he becomes his own deity, with no obligation, moral or otherwise, to anyone outside himself. The suffering of children is the basis of his atheism, but it is his atheism that allows him to be indifferent to the reality of sin, to the suffering of others, and to the murder of his father, to the point where he is not just indifferent, not just complicit, but directive in murder and suffering.

This is not a glib altar call. This is certainly not an altar call for those searching for meaning in the face of tragedy. There is no meaning or reason in murdering children. Trying to stare such in the face is as trying to stare directly into a bright light in a dark room – I am immediately forced to look away. To think that a child (such as my baby sister who is now eight years old) could die before me, to think of a family (like mine) being ripped apart as such, wrecks me. There is a chance I will live to be fifty one day; but there are twenty people in Connecticut who definitely will not – twenty children who before their deaths had not sinned as much as I have. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, but I have sinned more than a great many people, and certainly a child has sinned less than most.

I am just searching for a way to respond. A response that allows us to deny the existence of God only allows us to cope with the disaster only in as much as it allows us to deny the humanity of those who died, to deny the ravaged humanity of the sinner, and the humanity of the suffering. Instead, let us stare into the bright light and rend our souls for the dead, tear our clothes, and unseal our tear ducts. Let us put ash on our heads for the sinner but certainly let us not calmly reason away the horror of sin. I don’t know how to forgive the sinner seventy times seven times and yet condemn the violence to the fullest extent, but I know that it must be done. It is a paradox, but I want good things to run wild.