Bernard Hopkins’ Hating On McNabb's "Blackness"

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[The New Century]

Last week boxer Bernard Hopkins made headlines, not for his May 21 fight against Jean Pascal, but for his comments about NFL quarterback, Donovan McNabb. Hopkins questioned McNabb’s blackness, saying of McNabb, “He’s got a suntan. That’s all.”

During the critically acclaimed Fab Five documentary which chronicled the Michigan recruiting class of 1991, Jalen Rose and Jimmy King spoke of how they thought All-American forward Grant Hill was an “Uncle Tom” when they played Duke. Unlike Hopkins, Rose and King were freshmen in college when they formed their opinions about Grant Hill’s blackness and have since recanted their remarks as not representative of the way they see things as adults. Exposure and maturity has a way of changing one’s perspective.

Some of this is just a matter of class differences that anyone can relate to. It’s not unusual for whites from poor or working-class communities to harbor some resentment of upper-middle class whites. People who come from blue collar backgrounds often refer to their white collar counterparts as “soft”. Questioning another man’s “machismo” is a manly ritual that has been going on since the beginning of time. Referring to someone as “soft” because of a perceived privileged upbringing is just another iteration of that ritual.

Part of what Hopkins, King and Rose were expressing was that they felt McNabb and Hill respectively are --were-- “soft” due to their middle class upbringing. If they had used the word “soft” to describe their feelings it probably would have gone mostly unnoticed. However, their poor, but deliberate choice to take it a step farther by also questioning McNabb’s and Hill’s blackness made public what was a very private, but real gulf between poor and middle-class Blacks.

Having spent the first part of my life in poor and working-class neighborhoods, I now understand how isolated we were from the middle class existence in which I live today. Back then I rarely travelled socially outside of a 10 mile radius of my exclusively black neighborhood. When I did it was to other mostly black areas. We were bussed to schools in white neighborhoods that were firmly middle-class, but we weren’t necessarily welcomed their after school hours.

The lack of exposure and diversity that comes from growing up in a poor or working class black neighborhood can shape how you view yourself and other black people. If all of the people that you know and have access to are black and poor what does that say to a young or immature mind about who black people are? How does it shape one’s opinions about self and other people that look like you? If we are lucky, we mature, our world expands and we gain insights into ourselves, our people and how diverse we truly are. If we are not so lucky, we engage in the kind of self-loathing that results in labeling blacks that achieve as not really being black. Their logic dictates that if you speak proper English or get good grades in school, you can’t be black because only white people do that.

I was 14 when I met my first truly middle-class, black friend, Obren (nicknamed O). O and I are still friends today. His family lived in an all black community with beautiful custom-made homes. Not surprisingly, O’s mother was the first of my friend’s parents that ever asked me what I wanted to be. I had never been asked that and hadn’t even considered it myself.

I have to admit, because I came from a tough neighborhood, I did assume that I was superior athletically to all of the guys I would eventually befriend in O’s neighborhood. I thought they were a little “soft” compared to what I was used to. That was probably wishful thinking on my part. Athletic superiority was the biggest virtue a teenage boy could have in my neighborhood.

I will tell you this. I never felt anything short of immense pride to see black people living the way they lived. I never felt an ounce of jealousy or envy of what their parents had achieved. The kindness, respect, inclusion, and genuine concern I felt from O’s parents, as well as other families in that neighborhood had an impact on me that is still with me today.

It would never have occurred to me to see them as “Uncle Toms” or “not as black as me” because of their middle call status. I knew from talking to them that what I was seeing was the culmination of years of hard work from O’s parents and prior generations. Even more impressive, his parents were setting the stage for their kids to continue build from where they left off. Just as important, being the proud son of hard working parents allowed me to see them as equals in spite of their status.

Donovan McNabb and Grant Hill are both products of great families that continue to represent themselves, their families and their race in a manner that uninformed, small-minded people like Bernard Hopkins will never understand. While Hopkins’ boxing prowess has allowed him to travel the world and achieve wealth that he probably never thought possible, his mind apparently still lives in the same isolated neighborhood that he grew up in.

"Speaking Truth To Empower."

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