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Monday, January 22, 2007

With Dungy and Smith In Super Bowl XLI, African Americans Forced To See Positive Role Models

Yes, I know the title of my post is controversial. But it's also true. It comes from several episodes in my personal life that I will never forget and caused me to think that we -- African Americans or "blacks" if you will (I use the terms interchangebly) -- have actually conditioned ourselves to accept a second class place in American Life. (Oh, if youre wondering, that's me on the left, in the suit.)

Now, with the two teams in Super Bowl XLI being coached by African Americans -- the Chicago Bears by Lovie Smith and the Indianapolis Colts by Tony Dungy, Blacks are actually forced to see ourselves in positive role model positions. It's about time and will help me reduce, but not erase the memory of the following occurences in my life.

The first one was when I was 14-years-old. (I'm 44 now.) I was just leaving a McDonald's Restaurant located in South Chicago and just off Avalon Avenue, when an older Black man walked in and yelled "I want the manager! Where's the manager?!" I don't know what his complaint was but he seemed angry. So a tall, well dressed Black man walked out from behind the counter and identified himself as the manager. "Can I help you?" He asked.

"Naw. You're not the manager. I wanna see the White Man." That's what he said, and I obviously never forgot it. I left the place as my Mom was waiting for me outside, but those words "I wanna see the White Man" never left my head.

The second occurence was during a visit to see my auntie in Tennessee when I was 17-years-old. One of her family friends was bragging about how he purchased a new car almost every year "Like the White man does" he said. And he kept saying it. It was annoying to me and so I asked Mom about it. "That's how some of us think," she said. "It's not right, but you're being exposed to it."

No kidding.

I was never told or even allowed to think that I could not do something because I am Black. I was never instructed that there are "two rules" -- one for Blacks and the other for Whites. I was also never discouraged from seeing the late Economist John Kenneth Galbraith as my hero even though he's White. No one ever told me that his position or way of thinking was not attainable to me or anyone else because they were or I am Black. I was never told not to date interracially because I was Black. I was never told that I could not be with Asian or White or Latino or any "different" friends because I am African American. Never.

I was always instructed to expect to see Blacks in important positions and indeed my Mom knew Blacks who were. Blacks like Arnold Grant, who was the first African American Regional Director of Kentucky Fried Chicken in the 60s. Or my father, who I'm named after, and who invented an electric ladder. Or my late stepfather Chester Yerger, Jr., who fought in World War II and who's father was part of one of Arkansas' most prominent families. Thus, I'm happy that at least one of the members of the Federal Reserve Board are Black -- there should be more. The point is, I was brought up to expect greatness from Blacks.

But I digress.

I've seen more examples of Black self-hatred and dislike of other Blacks who rise to positions of power or prominence than the opposite. You can take the examples I gave, or San Francisco Radio Station KNBR's Personality Rod Brooks' recent statements calling Black Coaches "one of those" as if they were a bad thing, or Black on Black crime, I could go on and on.

But now, with Colts Coach Tony Dungy exorcising the demons of Patriots past, and Lovie Smith expecting his Chicago Bears to be Super Bowl champions and then willing his team to the game, I have a reason to smile. And Blacks everywhere do as well.

This adds to the expected greatness of Tiger Woods, and the rise of Barack Obama to Senator and perhaps President of the United States of America. It means we can expect greatness from us, and indeed should insist on it. Tony Dungy and Lovie Smith coaching in the World's largest single day sports event seen by almost 1 Billion people, will do almost as much for Black self-esteem as Martin Luther King did decades ago and today. A tall statement, perhaps. But consider the size of the Super Bowl TV audience once again and then think about it.

Still, it's a jarring experience for some of us to see this. Derrick Bell, the noted Black law professor formerly of Harvard and now at New York University, told the story of an African American cab driver who asked what he did, and when he told him, the driver said "Man, it's guys like you that make it hard for me." What he meant, was that he could not easily use the fact that he's Black as a reason for not succeeding. Indeed, it's a reason to at least try. We all know that racism is alive and well but it makes life harder when we as Blacks don't expect to excell because of it. It's better to fight racism and battle through it, but not destroy one's self because of it.

Thus, the next time -- regardless of who you are as we need all hands on deck to rid ourselves of this self-esteem problem -- you hear someone Black ask "Where's the White Man?" when an African American manager appears, don't slap the crap out of him, just say to him "He's in line, ordering from the Black man who runs the place."

Coming to Miami? Come to the Bauer's Super Bowl Party!


Chris said...

Well said, sir.

Anonymous said...

Nice article. Could have used the names Colin Powell, Condi Rice, Ron Brown, Jim Brown, and Rod Paige.

Anonymous said...

Brother I respect what you are saying and where you are going but, the fact is being black does matter in just about everything in todays world. I am not by any means trying to use extenuation, and or mitigating facts for using the term (Just because I'm black)as an excuse but, in other words don't ever forget that you are black because you best believe they won't. (The white man)

Zennie Abraham said...

Yes, being Black is certainly a source of both pride and considerable discrmination. What I hope that is lessened is our habit of attacking each other -- the more we pull together, the more we can change the World.

Here's an example: Emily's List is a famous organization that finances the political campaigns of women. But why isn't there a Black version? Because no one has started one at all. In other words, a non-profit that finances the political campaigns of African Americans and those who support policies that are favorable to women and people of color.


Euro-Phonetically Challenged said...

Very good article, now I know I am not alone in the way in which I think. African Americans are great and have made great strides, but there are still a large number that suffers from the Stockholm Syndrome. The tendency to be like the powerful is to be assimilated by its addictions.

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