Saturday, December 22, 2012

ESPN Rob Parker and the Black Culture Police

Black culture sheriff
Rob Parker was justifiably excoriated for his inarticulate comments about the lacking authentic "blackness" of Redskin QB Robert Griffin III, aka RGIII. Parker, in a very clumsy way, stated:

"Some people I've known for a long time. My question, which is just a straight, honest question, is ... is he a 'brother,' or is he a cornball 'brother'? He's not really ... he's black, but he's not really down with the cause. He's not one of us. He's kind of black, but he's not really like the guy you'd want to hang out with. I just want to find out about him. I don't know, because I keep hearing these things. He has a white fiancée, people talking about that he's a Republican ... there's no information at all. I'm just trying to dig deeper into why he has an issue. Tiger Woods was like, 'I have black skin, but don't call me black.' People wondered about Tiger Woods early on -- about him." source

As stated, the rebuke (including a 30 day suspension from ESPN) was swift -- even here at HGP. The broad-based consensus was that Parker was race baiting and playing the role of the black conformity police: as if the black American experience, dynamic and culture is monolithic.

But the consensus was not unanimous. Some writers believe the conversation is relevant and important but, Parker's delivery was unintelligent and cartoonish:

While Parker was widely condemned for his remarks, media critic Eric Deggans of the Tampa Bay (Fla.) Times wrote that suspension should take place only after Parker goes back on "First Take" and has the right kind of discussion about race.
"It's understandable that some people would be wary of black celebrities who might seek to minimize, disavow or downplay their connection to black people as if they are sidestepping something undesirable. . . .
"If any ESPN executives are still reading, let me suggest you avoid the corporate reflex of burying this controversy and instead have Parker return to First Take with some people who can talk about this issue with intelligence and insight." source

Even in his tweeted apology, Parker maintains that the topic is in-bounds:

Although Parker apologized in his Tuesday Twitter post, he insisted, "I believe the intended topic is a worthy one. Robert's thoughts about being an African-American quarterback and the impact of his phenomenal success have been discussed in other media outlets, as well as among sports fans, particularly those in the African-American community.
"The failure was in how I chose to discuss it on First Take, and in doing so, turned a productive conversation into a negative one. I regrettably introduced some points that I never should have and I completely understand the strong response to them, including ESPN's reaction. source

Once again, from a sociological perspective, I understand the intent of the conversation. But, first of all, ESPN is not the place for the conversation. ESPN is for sports reporting, highlights, interviews and analysis. ESPN is not the forum to discuss nor question someone's racial identity.

More importantly, as our society becomes more diverse, who has the authority to be the black culture police? Following this logic: Should Jeremy Lin have to pass the Asian culture police? How about Blake Griffin? Will he have to pass an inspection by the bi-racial police?

By all reports, RGIII is a class act and he enjoys inspiring our youth of all backgrounds. He voluntarily wants to be a role model for urban, suburban and rural kids. He is a solid citizen. And that all that matters.


  1. I thought Parker was way off base in his topic choice and in how he approached it. He often has a disconnect between his brain and mouth. He has been, however one of the few black media personalities willing to discuss race. But with RG3, it was just not the place to go.

  2. @Shady...I agree with you that Parker was over his head and outside his intellectual abilities when attempting to be insightful in his race discussion. This topic is much to sensitive and volatile to speak off the cuff in the "First Take" format. It requires informed and researched experts speaking in measured tones.