Monday, November 11, 2013

A Word On Richie Incognito and other So-Called "Honorary Blacks"

By now you're probably aware of the recent controversy surrounding Miami Dolphins players Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin.  If not, let me briefly summarize: Incognito (who is white) regularly harassed Martin (who is biracial) both on and off the field, at one point saying that he (Incognito) wanted to slap Martin's mother and calling Martin a "half-nigger piece of shit." Martin quit the team shortly thereafter and Incognito has since been suspended.

Now, as you can imagine this has sparked yet another national conversation about race.  As is customary during national conversations on race, some people take the position that no racism occurred whereas other people take the position that racism did, in fact, occur.  Typically when a situation involves a White person being accused of racism towards a Black person most of the supporters for the proposition that no racism occurred tend to be White and vice versa with respect to Black people and the proposition that racism did occur. What makes this Miami situation interesting is that we've seen a quasi-reversal of that understanding as certain Black people -- namely Incognito's Black teammates -- have taken the position that it's "OK" for Incognito to use the word "nigger" because he's an "honorary Black."

Come on in and let me rap to you for a minute about these so-called "Honorary Black People."

Being a member of the Black community as I am and running in Black circles as I do, I've frequently encountered groups of brothers or sisters who have a racially diverse entourage.  And why not? This is, after all, 2013 right? Time for people to come together and heal the racial divides in this country.

Generally speaking, most Black people understand that not every White person is ready to hold our collective hands and sing Kumbaya so we appreciate the White folks who genuinely feel comfortable hanging out with Black folks.  In many cases we adopt those brave souls into our lives and treat them the same as we would any other person of color. So I understand why Incognito may have felt comfortable using the word "nigger" around Blacks to describe another Black person. But see, where you, Mr. Incognito, messed up -- and where your Black compadres fell short as teachers -- is that even though you may have a lot of Black friends and you may have grown up in Black neighborhoods and you may listen to Black music and date Black women or men, at the end off the day you are not Black.

When you walk through your neighborhood on your way to your father's house holding a bag of Skittles, you are not shot for looking suspicious.  When you apply for a loan at a bank you are not red-lined (Google it). When you speak up in a classroom at school you do not represent your entire race with what comes out of your mouth.  When you walk into Barney's to buy an expensive belt with your own money, you are not followed and then accused of stealing it after you've already paid for it.  You do not have to worry about talking to your children about the dangers of wearing hoodies, knocking on other people's doors late at night looking for help after being involved in an auto accident, or any other situation where they may be viewed as a threat.  You can use impressive vocabulary words in public without being "complimented" as a credit to your race.  Whenever you come across "flesh" colored band-aids they coincidentally match your skin.  Whenever a new season of TV shows come out on any major network,  most of the cast (if not ALL of the cast) will look like you.  When you go to the movies,  most of the actors who star in any given film will, with a few exceptions, look like you.  Whenever you try to hail a cab, an available cab driver rarely ever keeps driving past you as if you don't exist.  Whenever you interview for a job, even if you have a felony conviction on your record, you are still at least twice as likely to get a call back than Black folks are even if they have no criminal record. And if you should happen to get said job anywhere in corporate America, chances are most of the people who work there -- including your bosses -- will look like you. In fact, you can go just about anywhere in America and find that most people look like you.

So, as we say in the Black community,  "don't get it twisted."

To all of the "honorary" Black people out there, let's get one thing clear: just because you may like hanging out with Black people doesn't mean you ARE a Black person.  Our life experiences are fundamentally different from yours. We still love you and we still value our friendship that we have with you,  but please understand that we like you for WHO you are on the inside which has nothing to do with WHAT you are on the outside which, rightly or wrongly, is still a factor in American society.  In other words, race may not play a role in our friendship but that doesn't mean that the issue of race ceases to exist simply because we're friends.  At the end of the day, when we say goodbye for the night and go our separate ways, you are still perceived by society as a White person and accorded all of the rights and privileges pertaining thereto. Conversely, we are still perceived as a Black person and are subject to all of the aforementioned burdens and obligations pertaining thereto.

Stated differently, Incognito, we can appreciate the fact that you have Black teammates who you feel comfortable hanging out with, but that gives you no right to call other Black people "niggers".  And yes, when YOU use that word, that pretty much makes you a racist.  And before you invariably raise the ubiquitous "well why can Black people say it and I can't" defense, let me just stop you right there and make 2 quick points: (1) let me first remind you once again that YOU are not Black; and (2) the world is not equal.  What I mean by that is that even in our allegedly post-racial society, the same word said by 2 people from 2 different races can have 2 very different connotations.

As much as we may disagree with the use of the word "nigger" no matter who is saying it, the reality of the situation is that that word has a historical context that goes back to the days where Whites -- and not Blacks -- owned Black people as property. So right away, if you know anything about the word's historical context then you must concede that its use was never "equal" to begin with. Still to this day, when Whites say it, it has a much different connotation than when Blacks say it.  Personally, I don't think anybody should use that word but that's a side discussion that takes us away from the bigger point, which is this: Richie Incognito does not get a pass for using the word "nigger."

Sorry, buddy, you just don't.

I don't care how many Black friends you have or how many Black movies you've seen or how many Black women you've dated. At the end of the day, you are still White and American society dictates that it is inappropriate for White people to call Black people "niggers", ok? And to be clear once again,  I'm not saying that it's OK for Black people to call each other that either, but as we discussed above, there is a significant contextual difference between (A) a Black person calling another Black person that word and (B) a White person calling a Black person that word.  And if you still don't understand that, go watch 12 Years a Slave and then come back and holla at me.

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