It’s been a while since I’ve done an “Authentically Black” commentary, but today and this week deserve it. It deserves it because of the 45th Anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, not the Democratic National Convention.
It was said of Jackie Robinson, “Everyone knew Jackie Robinson could hit, but he could never hit back.” As Robinson integrated baseball, there were certain things he simply was not allowed to do. His wife, even now, speaks about the torment Jackie experienced, feeling that he had to do everything perfectly. As he faced death threats and verbal abuse from the dominant culture, Robinson had to commit himself completely to both excellence on the baseball field and non-violence and graciousness off it, regardless of the abuse he took. When he excelled on the field, people said, “Of course, blacks are stupid, but they can do sports,” but when he did not perform well, they said, “Sorry, nigger.”
This was the case for Jackie Robinson and it remains the case for blacks in America.
As I watched the Democratic National Convention last night, I was amazed — and somewhat sickened — by what I heard. According to the pundits, Michelle Obama’s task Monday night was to humanize herself and tell her narrative about growing up poor. And she did. She spoke about her father’s MS and growing up poor on the south side of Chicago. Apparently, it is a problem for some that she and Barack are Columbia, Princeton and Harvard educated. Elections in America now are like some of my old college conversations were we try to “out-poor” one another.
Are you serious?
I’m not telling anyone who to vote for, but we are a nation deserving of ignorant and under-performing government if we want to punish people for excellence or have a president who we would enjoy having a beer with. (By the way, the president is not having a beer with you!)
My father and mother taught me that success was about playing by the rules, working hard, getting the best education you can, serving your fellow man and giving to others. They also told me that whatever the standard was for others, as a black man, I needed to be twice as good. Apparently, my parents were wrong. When black people do what America ask, when they work hard, get a good education, play by the rules and love their neighbor, they are “elitist” and “arrogant” (which is the new way of saying uppity). I was shocked earlier this year when someone told me that because I was college and post-graduate educated, I was an “elite.”
Like Barack and Michelle, I have been accused of being “too black, not black enough, too smart, and arrogant.” I can think of a number of job opportunities in my life that were refused me because people were concerned about whether I could “relate” or I was “too intellectual.” One church told me, as if it were a bad thing, “Your resume is intimidating!” People ask me why I believe in Affirmative Action and the answer is simple: My career is in a field where Affirmative-Action doesn’t exist and I’ve seen how opportunities for qualified (and over qualified) African-Americans don’t exist when they don’t have to.
Like Jackie Robinson, many African-Americans are trapped in a no-win situation. When you under-perform, people ask why you don’t speak properly or call you lazy. When you excel, you’re arrogant, um, excuse me…you’re uppity!
It all makes me wonder: What does America want from African-Americans? This country certainly doesn’t want us to be a permanent underclass. That co$t too much — which is the ONLY concern in some people’s political equation. But apparently, they don’t want us to be successful either.