Why is “blackness” always up for debate? Soledad O’Brien addressed the complexities of racial identity in her documentary, “Who Is Black In America?” and days later, ESPN correspondent Rob Parker came under fire for chiding Washington Redskins Quarterback Robert Griffin III (RG3) for not being black enough.
When asked about race and how it impacts his public image, RG III had this to say:
“I am an African-American in America. That will never change. But I don’t have to be defined by that. [...] We always try to find similarities in life, no matter what it is so they’re going to try to put you in a box with other African-American quarterbacks – Vick, Newton, Randall Cunningham, Warren Moon [...] That’s the goal. Just to go out and not try to prove anybody wrong but just let your talents speak for themselves.”
Rob Parker responded by questioning Parker’s “blackness”:
“We keep hearing this so it makes me wonder deeper about him. I’ve talked to some people in Washington D.C. My question, which is just a straight, honest question, is he a brother or is he a cornball brother. [...] He’s black, but he’s not really down with the cause [...] He’s kind of black, but He’s not really the guy you want to hang out with. He’s off to something else. We all know he has a white fiancee. People always talk about how he’s Republican. There’s no information at all. I’m just trying to dig deeper into why he has an issue.”
Parker’s comments define blackness by a host of arbitrary qualifiers like political affiliation and the skin color of who you choose to love. This happens too often in our communities. It’s as if there’s an imaginary list of characteristics every black person must adopt; and once you step out of that box, you’re viewed as a sellout or in Parker’s words, a “cornball brother.”
Black people are not a monolith. A man should be able to vote for the Republican party, marry outside his race and desire to be judged on his talent alone without being considered a traitor to the race and culture. Parker’s words are not only offensive to Griffin, but they limit us as a race of people with varied interests, beliefs and behaviors.