Friday, March 18, 2011

Sticks and Stones...

Last Sunday night, ESPN aired the latest edition to its 30 for 30 series. The subject this time was Michigan's Fab Five-Juwan Howard, Jimmy King, Ray Jackson, Chris Webber, and Jalen Rose. The Documentary was executive produced by one of the Fab 5 members-Jalen Rose. Many expected the doc to be polarizing because you either loved or hated the Fab 5. It, however, became polarizing for an entirely different reason. It all started with Jalen Rose expressing his thoughts as an 18 year old out loud, "Schools like Duke didn't recruit players like me. I felt like they only recruited black players that were Uncle Toms." This would include Duke Standout, Grant Hill who responded on to the comment on Wednesday in The New York Times. Some have criticized both Jalen and Grant, while others support both Jalen and Grant. The fact is it is bigger than both men a fact that I appreciate that Chris Broussard, Jesse Washington, and Michael Wilbon discussed.

I didn't watch the documentary. Why you ask? Because I could not care less about the Fab 5. There I said it. I didn't like the Fab 5. So, what? (I didn't watch the documentary on the University of Miami for the same reason.) Why didn't I care about the Fab 5 at the time? One, it was my senior year in high school, and I was preparing myself for college. Two, I didn't care for NCAA basketball and had pretty much stopped watching NBA basketball. Three, my sports had been essentially limited to the Kansas City Chiefs, the San Francisco 49ers, the Atlanta Braves, and WCW wrestling. The only reason I even saw any of their games during March Madness was because we didn't have cable, and I was limited to 5 channels. Nothing else was on. I watched Duke's wins only because it was on. If you've read this blog, you have picked up on the fact that I'm rather an odd duck, but I have something in common with both Grant Hill and Jalen Rose. Let me explain...

I grew up in Natchez, Mississippi. I have always attended predominately white school where I was 1 of 4 or 1 of 5 black children in a class of maybe 20-25 students. It never really bothered me because my goal was never to actually fit in. I didn't understand the politics of Jr. High until when I was in 7th grade a girl called me an "Oreo." I didn't know what she meant, so I basically ignored her and went back to whatever novel I was reading. When it happened again, I asked her why she was calling me a cookie? She virtually yelled at me that I was "Black on the outside, but white on the inside." For a moment, I was dazed. I didn't have a witty comment, because I was in the 7th grade. I thought about this. Truth be told, most of my friends were white. Truth be told most of my friends were in the same classes as me. Truth be told, we were lumped together because we were honors students. Truth be told, it hurt.

My sister and I were born 11 months apart (If I had been born 3 weeks later, we would have graduated together). We both attended predominately white schools until Jr. High school. My mom lived on the North side of town; My grandmother lived on the South side. I lived with my grandmother and continued to attend predominately white schools. When my mom moved and her addressed changed, my sister had to change schools, and she was transferred to a predominately black school. Seemingly overnight, she changed, and we couldn't be more different. I'm a little bit pop/rock; she's a whole lot of hip hop. We started attending school together again when North and South Natchez combined my 10th grade; her ninth grade year. I thought it would be cool to go to school with my sister. One of her friends, however, called me an "Uncle Tom." Initially, I didn't know what they meant. So, nerd that I am, I looked it up-basically, she was calling me a sellout. When I called the girl on it, she didn't back down, and my sister didn't defend me, which shocked me. As a matter of fact, she agreed with them. My question to them, "Would you care to show me the handbook that determines just who is black enough?" That pretty much squashed that episode, but it was not the last time I was called that though. My feelings weren't hurt any more; I was pissed. By this point, however, I had developed a shield-sarcasm. Most people tended to leave me alone, which is essentially what I wanted.

When I first heard about Jalen Rose's comments, I'll admit I was pissed. I didn't comment then, because I didn't want to say something I would regret. Here's what I wanted to say. I've read Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin. Every year, I try to at least show the movie. Uncle Tom was not a sellout. He did what he had to do to survive in a situation in which none of us would want to find themselves. He had the opportunity to run when he found his master had sold him; he chose not to in order to prevent his wife, his children or other slaves to be sold. He knew of the where abouts of Eliza and her son Harry, who had run away because Harry had been sold. He refused to tell. He put his faith in God that his former master would buy him back so he would be with his family. When he was sold (after his owner was killed before giving him is freedom) to the evil master Simon LeGree, he continued to help his people. He refused his master's order to beat another slave, for which he is beaten. Two of LeGree's female slaves escape, and when Tom refuses to help LeGree find them, he is beaten to death by two other slaves Quimbo and Sambo, who later regret what they've done after Tom forgives them. You see, Tom was suppose to be a Christ-like figure.

Over the years, minstrel shows took the character and made him into the stereotype of the subsevient who will do anything to please his master. I understand how some became frustrated with Tom in the novel, by continuing to do as he was told, by not fighting, by continuing to turn the other cheek. What most of these fail to realize was that the master Tom was trying to please was not the master who "owned" him, but God. As a teen, I read biographies on both Dr. Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, because I admired both men. I was shocked to learn that in an interview with Louis Lomax that Malcolm X called Dr. King, an "Uncle Tom." I also know that toward the end of his life Malcolm X had softened that stance and was fighting for unity among the race.

We as a people cannot move forward if we continue to divide ourselves with names. We as a people cannot move forward if we continue to kick our brothers and sisters who are trying to better themselves with education rather than hip-hop and sports. Like Jalen Rose, I didn't have a father in my home. We were poor, but my grandmother taught me to act like Maya Angelou and "walk like I've got oil wells/Pumping in my living room." She also taught me not to allow anyone else's inferiority complex to tear me down. Like Grant Hill, I speak well, dress appropriately, and try to culture myself. I realize that Jalen Rose was 17 when he thought that way, if he had clarified that he no longer felt that way in the documentary, I don't think most of this would have been an issue. Grant Hill felt that he need to defend himself. I don't have a problem with that either. Both men took different paths to achieve the same goal-success. This was a teaching moment, a moment I will use in the classroom. I imagine many will disagree with me. I imagine some will agree. To each, his own...

Until next time, "Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today."~Malcolm X

1 comment:

  1. First of all, an excellent job in describing what Uncle Tom truly represented. However, I don't agree with two things:

    A) I did watch the documentary and Jalen said that when he was a freshman @ Michigan, he was jealous of Grant. He also said that he felt that way as an 18-year old kid and that he was now cool with Grant Hill. I think the media tend to leave that part of the quote out when hyping this misunderstanding.

    B) I thought the best thing for Grant to do, if anything, was to dismiss the thoughts of an 18-year old kid. Instead, his letter made it seem as if Jalen Rose made those comments just recently. I thought his letter was completely unnecessary and really blew things even more out of proportion. Why have a documentary on someone's life if they're not going to be honest about how they felt?

    How many of us would piss someone off if we revealed how our minds worked as children? I thought my ex-girlfriend from 10th grade was a horrible person, but I wouldn't expect her to write a letter to the NY Times tomorrow because I revealed it 20 years later.

    For this even to be a story (aside from a teaching lesson about Uncle Tom) baffles me. I also hated Duke as an early teen simply because they were portrayed as an elitist team that always got the referee's calls when it counted. If someone wants to hold that against me, then I feel sorry for them.

    Sorry that I got long-winded, but despite the fact that I'm a Michigan fan, this story got me worked up when I first saw it on ESPN and even more when Grant Hill thumped his chest and made it worse.