Monday, August 28, 2006

Black Identity: Part 1

I am a Philadelphia Eagles fan. Strike that; I am a Philadelphia Eagles fanatic. No, I’m not one of those crazies who paints his face green and silver, but that doesn’t exclude me from fanatic status. Simply put, my mood is dependent upon the outcome of an Eagles game.

The Eagles had a very good (not great) run over a 4 year span, as they reached the conference championship three straight years and the Super Bowl once. The fact that they did all of this with a black quarterback as their leader made their success all the more enjoyable for me.

This brings me to their disastrous season last year, which is indirectly the purpose of this post. A battle for the hearts and minds of the Eagles locker room was fought between Terrell Owens (#81, who wanted more money from the team) and said black quarterback, Donovan McNabb (#5). Owens called McNabb the “company man” for not taking his side in the contract negotiations.

The details aren’t as important for the purpose of this post as what happened during the height of their disagreement. As the two players passive aggressively (and sometimes active aggressively) tossed verbal jabs at one another, the other members of the team chose sides. On the surface, it looked like the sides were chosen based on who also wanted more money from the team (Owens supporters) versus those who had recently cashed in on a contract and, most importantly, a signing bonus (McNabb supporters). But a funny (not very funny at all, actually...) thing happened under the surface of this battle.

The real division within the team came down to those members who identified with Owens (1 parent family, poor upbringing) versus those who identified with McNabb (2 parent family, middle class upbringing).

The seemingly unrelated disagreement between a player and team management turned into a disagreement between two players, which turned into a larger disagreement that fractured an entire team, exposing what I believe to be the biggest question (and largest problem) facing Black America today: what is the Black Identity? In other words, what is the racial (or ethnic, religious, etc) classification that we as African Americans identify with, and therefore look up to: T.O. or McNabb? This seems to be the same discussion that has mystified Blacks for a long time, just with a modern twist.

Side question: does it seem wrong to anyone that a black person who was raised in something other than urban blight is looked down upon by the masses of his own race?


Brother Tallness said...

I think you can probably extend the football metaphor further when you're talking about black identity in america. The idea of being a company man or a team player in the larger racial framework of our society means assimilating. You relinquish holdings in specific(in this case black) cultural values and become part of the larger team america. Generally this situation is seen as a win-win. Individual gets to be part of a more succesful whole, and the larger group reaps all the benefits of absorbing more talent and productivity.

With the TO situation, you got a cat who's putting the individual before the team and still demands all the benefits (big contract) that are only supposed to belong to those who buy into the team philosophy. this parallels with what we see in society when you look at the general conservative response to the situation of poor blacks. The argument goes that because poor black people choose not to play by the team rules they have isolated themselves from the game both socially and economically.

To bring it all back to black identity, middle and upper class blacks generally get caught between being the upwardly mobile team players and siding with the TO's of the world who receive hatred for not playing the game "the right way". You focus too much on the one side and you'll be considered a sell out. Too much on the other and you'll get the Craig Hodges treatment.

Brother Spotless said...


So, Tallness, if I understand you correctly, a black person has a very fine line to walk if he wishes to "keep it real" while becoming successful.

By the way, I completely agree with your assessment that "this parallels with what we see in society when you look at the general conservative response to the situation of poor blacks. The argument goes that because poor black people choose not to play by the team rules they have isolated themselves from the game both socially and economically." I believe I've heard Mr. Bill O'Reilly himself say that poor black people "choose" to not enter the capitalistic environment and enjoy the opportunities America has blessed them with...

The entire "Black Identity" issue troubles me. We as blacks constantly search for the correct identity to view ourselves through. Should we see ourselves as the black business person, ripe with upward mobility and debonair fashion sense (but lacking true ontological blackness), or the hard working blue collar laborer, who lacks the shiny suit but retains his organic roots?

Is there something in between that is palatable to both sides??

If what Tallness has explained possesses even an ounce of truth, choosing a black identity does nothing but polarize the two sides, making it virtually impossible to walk that line with any sense of who you are. And what’s more problematic is that we do it to ourselves!!

(Ehem…I’m calm now)

So I pose this: no other racial category forces its congregation to go through such a daunting obstacle course as we do to our very own. How do they avoid it? I believe they either know exactly what their identity is, or simply don’t care. Either way, I don’t see Hispanics putting that undue pressure on one of theirs when he/she “makes it” (I am not Hispanic, so if a Hispanic reader has an opinion on this, I’d like to read it).

To be blunt: good or bad, poor folks act like poor folks, and rich folks do their thing too. Attempting to lasso the two together under the same identifying construct (an equal identity) seems to do nothing but harm. And since no one is doing this to us (and we are causing this harm to ourselves), why not do away with the entire construct?


Brother Darkness said...

Brother Spotless introduces two new ideas to a topic that has an abundant amount of tangents. Are African Americans the only race that ostracizes someone who is successful? Are we the only people that label someone a "sell out?" I'm not sure. I grew up with quite a few Hispanics and I can't say any of them had the same hopes and dreams as I did to get out of the ghetto. It wasn't until I went to a private school and met Eddie, a young Mexicano from the barrio who was similar to me. Yet, when I met his brothers and his family they were all about him getting out and making it. That can be said for most African American families though. They want their children to have better lives than they had. They want their children or their nieces and nephews to be successful. Its just those outsiders/non-relatives that want you to stay in the hood.

This brings me to an interesting discussion I had with a young cat at a bbq earlier this month. Kid's name is Richard Moss (no relation to Randy Moss, at least I don't think). I've known him since middle school. He was a grade behind me. We went to Horace Mann Middle School which was right across from the swap meet and down the street from the local "squabbing" (fighting)grounds Colina Park. Anyways, Richard and I are shooting the breeze and talking about old times when out of the blue he says "How come you don't be in the hood no more? We ain't seen you in a while." This made me laugh nervously but I knew why I hadn't been back and I told him "I have no reason to go back."

For a lot of our brothers and sisters, the hood makes them who they are. To quote a famous rapper "I'm what the hood made me." But for some of us the hood isn't enough. We think outside the box, we look past the miles of concrete, abandoned buildings, we look past the "gun store, gun store, liquor store, gun store" and we see our future. We must remember that there are always going to be people trying to hold you down when you're successful or when you're trying to break the perpetual cycle of failure.

Why don't we stop hating on the middle class blacks for being middle class? Its jealousy. Its self hatred. Its anger for one's mediocre position. There are some poor that choose to be poor and they ruin it for hardworking poor that try to get out of their situation yet lack the resources to (i.e. education, money, or that parasidic family member that lives at home but doesn't work). I don't ever think there's ever going to be acceptance for someone that makes it because, as sad as it is to say, black people hate it when other black people are "eatin."