Call it the curious case of Rob Parker.
Previously only known to the most ardent sports fans who appreciate his commentary and writing with ESPN and its various concerns, Parker could be a household name because of what he asked about Robert Griffin III, the Washington Redskins quarterback.
Why? The following comments made Thursday morning by Parker on ESPN’s First Take explain it all:
“Is he a brother or a cornball brother?” asked Parker, who is black.
Later, he said he wanted to find out more about Griffin and how he deals with black teammates and others in Washington.
“We all know he has a white fiancée,” he said. “There was all this talk about he’s a Republican, which, there’s no information [about that] at all. I’m just trying to dig deeper as to why he has an issue. Because we did find out with Tiger Woods, Tiger Woods was like, I’ve got black skin, but don’t call me black. So people got to wondering about Tiger Woods early on.”
Those comments got Parker suspended indefinitely from ESPN’s hallowed airwaves. Were they ill-advised? Certainly. Were they worth suspending someone who has a history of making controversial statements? I’m not sure about that.
Parker’s queries just brought to the forefront one of those little secrets swept under the rug by much of the African-American community. Call it black-on-black bigotry, but it’s as old as slavery, the peculiar institution that spawned it. Rather than bore you with a history lesson, I will only say that, yes, it exists, and, no, it hasn’t gone anywhere.
I’ve had my “blackness,” as it were, questioned on more than a few occasions. Though predominantly of African descent, I have healthy amounts of Irish and Cherokee in my ethnic background. The result: while growing up, I was known as “high yellow.” While growing up in the 1970s and 1980s, being “high yellow” wasn’t a good thing. You were somehow perceived as being less black than those with darker skin.
For the record, the resentment may be well founded, given that after the end of slavery, a hierarchy of color with light folks occupying the top, held sway in the community.
I endured having the star basketball player spit in my face along with taunts of “Oreo,” “Uncle Tom” and “Zebra” as a way to question who I was, because for much of my high school career, I took what my grandparents and mother had to say to heart — do what you’re supposed to in school and everything else will take care of itself.
They were right.
Close to 30 years should have virtually erased those attitudes. My 18-year-old son is living proof that they haven’t. In his suburban school, because he chooses to speak properly and he has plenty of white friends, he’s been called a “traitor to the race” more than once.
Parker’s questions — I don’t assign the belief to him — show that they haven’t gone anywhere either. His mistake was asking on national TV.
Sometimes people can’t handle the truth. And the reality is that this is a part of black culture and Parker asked the questions that some of us ask in restaurants, barber shops and bars.
In this day and age, it shouldn’t matter about color, political affiliation and who RG3 is engaged to marry.
But, again, reality says something else.
George M. Thomas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the sports media blog at http://www.ohio.com/blogs/sports-media. Follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/GeorgeThomasABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.