Debating Blackness: Duke and the Fab Five
Back in the ’90’s, when given the choice, I preferred Duke (though I wasn’t exactly a “fan”) to the much-hyped Fab Five of Michigan (who actually won, well, nothing and lost 3 out of 3 to the same Duke Blue Devils). Duke had a bunch of white guys who seemed sorta privileged (and won…always it seemed) while the Fab 5 had all that sizzle and swagger–and no results. In truth, to most fans of other teams, we couldn’t really abide either bunch. Sore losers and all that.
Recently, the Fab Five had one of their own ESPN documentaries (produced by Jalen Rose, who was one of the Fab5 and works for ESPN). In the documentary, Jalen Rose said:
For me, Duke was personal. I hated Duke. And I hated everything I felt Duke stood for. Schools like Duke didn’t recruit players like me. I felt like they only recruited black players that were Uncle Toms.
In his garbled but sweeping comment that Duke recruits only “black players that were ‘Uncle Toms,’ ” Jalen seems to change the usual meaning of those very vitriolic words into his own meaning, i.e., blacks from two-parent, middle-class families. He leaves us all guessing exactly what he believes today.
I am beyond fortunate to have two parents who are still working well into their 60s. They received great educations and use them every day. My parents taught me a personal ethic I try to live by and pass on to my children.
I come from a strong legacy of black Americans. My namesake, Henry Hill, my father’s father, was a day laborer in Baltimore. He could not read or write until he was taught to do so by my grandmother. His first present to my dad was a set of encyclopedias, which I now have. He wanted his only child, my father, to have a good education, so he made numerous sacrifices to see that he got an education, including attending Yale.
This is part of our great tradition as black Americans. We aspire for the best or better for our children and work hard to make that happen for them. Jalen’s mother is part of our great black tradition and made the same sacrifices for him.
Comedian Chris Rock tackled the sensitive issue in his groundbreaking 1996 HBO television special, “Chris Rock: Bring the Pain.” In it, Rock does a bit about how some blacks have more respect for people who return home from prison than those who earn master’s degrees.
Obviously, Rock was using hyperbole to get laughs. But he made a valid point about the need for greater emphasis on academic achievement in some segments of black society….But this is about more than Rose’s inaccurate generalization, which he could not possibly support without knowing the background of every African-American player Krzyzewski has recruited during his more than three decades at the school. Rose’s comments stirred thought on a much bigger issue: What constitutes a “true” black experience?
Reed also pulls from his personal experience.
I’m happy my son and daughter live in a two-parent home and that we’re able to provide for them. I take comfort in knowing I have a partner who shares my views on the educational foundation we’re laying for our kids together.
I don’t think that makes me any “less black,” though, than I was when I watched in amazement at how hard my mom worked as a single parent to send three sons to college. I still feel as black as I did when I lived next door to abandoned buildings and held my brothers at night when they were scared by gunfire.
My children won’t have those experiences. But to imply that because of that, their racial identity is somehow compromised is insulting — not only to them but to all of us who know how our skin color has shaped our lives.