I don't know how many of you have been keeping up with the fall out from the ESPN documentary on the Fab Five that aired last Sunday. For those not in the know, the Fab Five refers to the 1991-1993 Michigan basketball starting line up comprised of Detroit natives Chris Webber and Jalen Rose, Chicago native Juwan Howard, and Texas high school stars Jimmy King and Ray Jackson.
The documentary was executive produced by Jalen Rose. In the piece, he detailed how the Michigan team was viewed as threatening and thuggish merely based on their music choices, style of dress, backgrounds and other superficial criteria. He contrasted this with the world view of Duke (a team that defeated the Wolverines consistently) and their star player at that time, Grant Hill. He referred to them as "bitches" and "Uncle Toms" - inflammatory wording to say the least.
Grant Hill took a moment to respond to this Wednesday afternoon in the New York Times:
It was a sad and somewhat pathetic turn of events, therefore, to see friends narrating this interesting documentary about their moment in time and calling me a bitch and worse, calling all black players at Duke “Uncle Toms” and, to some degree, disparaging my parents for their education, work ethic and commitment to each other and to me. I should have guessed there was something regrettable in the documentary when I received a Twitter apology from Jalen before its premiere.
Mainstream media, Twitter, Facebook and the blogosphere exploded. People quickly aligned #TeamJalen or #TeamGrant. On the one hand, people felt that Grant "bit on Jalen's bait" and missed the entire point Jalen was trying to make about being a stereotyped black youth only valued for his athletic prowess. On the other hand, others felt that Jalen went too far and Grant was within his rights to respond.
Okay sure, it's hard to get whipped up about two multi-millionaires beefing over hurt feelings and misconceptions from over ten years ago. But then it became about so much more than that. Out of the ether came the more disturbing comments about "uppity negroes" and "house negroes" vs. "real n****as" and "street negroes." Phrases like "actin' white" as opposed to "keepin' it hood" started getting bandied about. It was at this point that I threw a miniature Twitter tantrum. Here we effin' go again. The whole reason I named this blog Black 'n Bougie was right there for the world to see. Aren't I still black whether I listen to T-pain or Tchaikovsky?
Yes, I came from a two parent household and had to look up ghetto in the dictionary. Yes, I was a member of Jack and Jill and my sister was a debutante. Yes, I went to private school. No, I didn't grow up on welfare or worry that the lights would be cut off at any minute. Fine, I'm way more Cosby Show than Good Times - does that make me less black?
Was I less black when Nanette Albaum called me "just a nigger" in third grade while explaining why I needed to allow her to cut ahead of me in the lunch line? Was I less black when the swim coach told me there was no way I was qualified for the team because "my kind" weren't known for our swimming prowess? Was I less black when I got caught in the rain on a field trip and my press 'n curl turned into an Angela Davis fro and the whole bus started laughing? Was I less black when my university professor asked me (the only black in a room full of 300 people) to describe what it was like growing up in the hood? [For the record, my answer was "I know not from ghetto, sir"] Was I less black anytime I ever did a phone interview and then met the interviewer in person only to have them be confused by the color of my skin? One of them going so far as to say, "You don't sound black on the phone." [The equivalent of "you speak so well"]
Sure, those are mostly bougie-ass problems to have but they are black problems nevertheless. When the hell are we as a people going to get past colorism and classism? As one person said on Twitter, "Don't blame Grant for being light-skinned and having a Daddy." Damn, is it like that? Still????
Truthfully, I've been more hurt by the barbs sent my way by my own damn people. "Bet yo' high yella ass never has to wait on a table." "Why doesn't Daddy's pampered princess click her pumps together three times so we can get home?" "Oh Chele, you didn't grow up black enough to understand what I'm going through." Actual quotes from people of my race who were supposed to be my friends.
Someone I used to admire on Twitter said Grant Hill was a "pampered bougie bitch ass who had everything handed to him on a silver platter and didn't understand the real black experience." I called bullshiggity and they told me I didn't get it because I was "barely passing for black" myself. To which I replied by private message, "Would it be more black if I cussed you out publicly then came to your house and kicked your ass? How would you like that?"
He apologized. Several times. Starting with, "Sorry black, I'm from the streets and I get passionate about defending my own."
Let me respond to that right here: Apology not accepted, black. Funny how between the two of us, you're the one with the narrow-minded definition of blackness. I am your own, regardless of my zip code, bank balance, and ability to annunciate syllables.
I reached out to a friend of the family who went to Duke to ask him what he thought of all the swirl. As I expected, he had a viewpoint similar to mine:
I was angry about it before, because it just parroted the classism that I used to hear from my family growing up. I remain amazed at how we put ourselves down and make it impossible to succeed because we have so many internal forces trying to tear us down. [...]All that being said, the fact that it existed then and now, makes me sad but I think I'm past apologizing for knowing how to read a book. Basically... I can't apologize for having two parents love me and push me to be all that I could be. I can't apologize for having the academic skills to do some stuff that others can't. I can't apologize for NOT living in the ghetto (because my parents made sure that I wouldn't have too.. because they didn't also want that for their kids). And I can't apologize for not wanting that stuff for my progeny. Either way, I can't help what people think.
And so it continues.... we are beyond a full decade into the twenty-first century and issues like this make me wonder if we've made any progress at all. We don't have to agree with each other but we do owe each other some basic damn respect. My black experience may not be your black experience but no one has the right to diminish my reality and question my ethnicity. I have fought too many battles because of the color of my skin to be accused of trying to pass for something other than what I know myself to be: A woman of African, Spanish, Scottish and Native American heritage... otherwise known as black.
Here endeth the rant.