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.

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One Comment to “On Rob Parker vs Robert Griffin III”

  1. Jake, just found your blog here. You have some beautiful and well thoughtout words here. Very impressed my friend! God blessed you with the ability to write. Continue the use of His gift. Merry Christmas to you and your family!!

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