As far as racial discussions go, it’s generally same ol, different day. But even for the race-phile, last week was one to remember.

There was the Cam Newton saga, which began when Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson shared on Charlie Rose the pre-draft conversation he had with his young African-American quarterback.

“Do you have any tattoos?”

“No, sir. I don’t have any.”

“Do you have any piercings?”

“No, sir. I don’t have any.”

“We want to keep it that way. We want to keep no tattoos, no piercings and I think you’ve got a very nice haircut.”

This seems reasonable. Newton just signed a $22 million contract and is set to be the visual of the franchise. Why not want a clean image? However on second thought, it seemed overly paternalistic. The Panthers have players up and down their roster with tattoos, including recently signed tight end Jeremy Shockey (who is white). One wonders whether their starting quarterback last season, Jimmy Clausen, was given this slick directive. And if he was, the owner didn’t go out of his way to make it public.

Clausen is white. Doesn’t take 20/20 vision to see what kind of slope this is on.

Then there was the Touré piece. Assuming a rock has been your dwelling place the last four days, here’s the gist: Touré (essayist and author) explores the complex nature of Vick and race in ESPN the Magazine. The piece — entitled “What if Michael Vick were white?” — was published on the site. If the title isn’t eye-catching enough, the multimedia accompaniment picked up the slack.

Picture Vick’s facial features and hair with a coat of all-white everything.

For a reputable and serious journalistic institution, it’s pretty silly; more irreverent than offensive. It set a “tone” that whatever was coming wasn’t interested in promoting serious discourse to a serious hypothetical question.

Then came the article.

I won’t address the piece in whole here, because many better than I have chimed their three cents. The points the writer made and posed that offended many (“Vick’s style is so badass, so artistic, so fluid, so flamboyant, so relentless — so representative of black athletic style” or “If Vick grew up with the paternal support that white kids are more likely to have [72 percent percent of black children are born to unwed mothers compared with 29 percent of white children], would he have been involved in dogfighting?”) aren’t new. If anything the piece was more derivative than outrageous. And it missed the main point: It wasn’t the crime, the act of killing dogs and starting the mother lode of dogfighting operations that activated the racial discussion.

It was the reactions — from PETA to Vick supporters to stakeholders in all things athletics and race – that spurred the polemics and polarizations. Implying one’s well-being based on race does two things: a) It victimizes people and minimalizes personal responsibility b) It assumes problems intrinsic to a race. That’s just a long URL of flawed thinking.

It’s clearly deeper than that, after all, people of all races are prone to bouts of ineptitude.

Here’s the rub though: The piece got us pissed. Got me writing. Got you thinking. Within the context of quick soundbites and media overload that is 2011 society, it was a rousing success. The strings yanking our shoulder blades amidst Geppetto’s guffawing should be noticeable to anyone paying attention to the use of race-based provocation in media.

A story about a young man overcoming the drastic mistakes he made has been blunted by the primitive economy of ethnic grouping. An essentially human story has been reduced to a parenthetical because of our fascination with race. The grand notion of Human Connectedness is given lip service, but always plays Racial Divide’s subordinate.

Quiet as kept, the Washington Post published a story that day about Hispanics now outnumbering Blacks in college enrollment. Only it’s not completely true. Actually, Hispanics between the “college student ages” of 18-24 outnumber Blacks in the same age bracket. Overall, Black students still outnumber Hispanics. But that doesn’t matter.

To the editors, the headline did.

Starting the week off, The Help finished another weekend as number one in the box office, which makes the disappearance of African-American-led sitcoms and movie leads even more appalling. As we know, race sells. And has sails, because that boat is in full steam, led by slave-owning descendants and crafty observers and even – gasps – descendants of slaves. Race is an intransigent part of the American landscape, that won’t wash away with memorials or elections or melanated figureheads.

The racial narrative has multiple pimps, many of whom make Iceberg Slim look like Ward Cleaver. I imagine an effort could be made to advance discourse about a subject that has burdened and constricted people for so long. That effort could generate eyeballs and spread mind unraveling memes that would push mankind forward. But…why abandon a sure thing?

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  • whilome

    Excellent piece. I’m exhausted with the race-baited lines used to fish for clicks in journalism. That Vick article was well timed. Not for nothing, Toure has a new book coming out. smh. Like, literally.

  • I think Cam Newton’s journey as a rookie black quarterback in the NFL has been riddled with racially motivated actions. when jimmy clausen was being drafted his leadership ability and lockerroom presence was highly questionable. But nonetheless he got the job and the panthers owner didn’t feel the need to make his quest for a clean cut qb public and clausen was supposed to be the face of the franchise until he proved he’s just not ready.

  • Clnmike

    I highly doubt white QBs are asked the same question, and given the scrutiny Cam is given for seeking payment in a system that exploits college athletes, vs the real life thuggery of Ole Big Ben in Pittsburgh whose actions are damn near erased from the public mindset, race is pretty much a factor. But unfortunately the owner is the owner and he has that right to ask the question and Cam put himself in the position to be questioned like that. The subtle way it was presented is all the difference, so his only course of action is to tear the league up and jump ship to a better team when the time comes. As for Toure, things are lining up nicely for him……………

  • Tisha

    Highly enjoyable read! When will we realize the puppeteer’s motives? It’s so natural to react a certain way until realizing that it’s what “they” want us to do.

    “A story about a young man overcoming the drastic mistakes he made has been blunted by the primitive economy of ethnic grouping. An essentially human story has been reduced to a parenthetical because of our fascination with race. The grand notion of Human Connectedness is given lip service, but always plays Racial Divide’s subordinate.”

    Love it.