Sunday, March 20, 2011
Duke and Michigan Renew Rivalry Amidst 'Uncle Tom' Controversy
The Duke Blue Devils are set to square off against the Michigan Wolverines today for a trip to the Sweet 16.
No matter the outcome of the game a storyline that will not be avoided is the Fab Five’s (Jalen Rose, Jimmy King, Chris Webber, Ray Jackson, and Juwan Howard) recent documentary which aired on ESPN recently.
Controversy swirls around both teams resulting from controversial statements made by former Fab Five standout and current ESPN Analyst Jalen Rose.
While the entire piece was rather telling it was Rose’s statement suggesting Duke largely recruited African-American players who were “Uncle Toms” that raised many eyebrows.
Does Rose’s statement have credence?
Being called an Uncle Tom is arguably the most damaging slur one can hurl at another African-American.
Whether or not you agree with Rose’s statement at least he had the stones to say exactly what he felt.
To put Rose’s assessment into perspective it’s important to define what an Uncle Tom is.
An Uncle Tom is defined as an African-American who turns on the community while they seek admittance into the white community.
He or she doesn’t associate with African-Americans to any substantial degree. Furthermore, they rarely speak up on controversial topics that affect African-Americans in the mainstream, such as racism.
In short, it’s someone who is African-American by race but white by heart.
In my opinion, the preeminent example of an athlete being an Uncle Tom can be found by studying the institution of slavery: There you had house slaves and field slaves.
House slaves are the modern-day Uncle Toms. They lived close to the master’s house and in some instances they lived in the house. They dressed better than field slaves and ate better food.
House slaves were spies. They utilized to report back to the master of any slaves who were planning to escape or not working hard enough in the fields.
Field slaves were just that – they worked in the field. They slept away from the slave-masters quarters and were treated like dirt.
They wore the worst clothes, ate the worst food and were watched with a keen eye by the master, the plantation overseer and the Uncle Toms house slaves.
The master treating the field slaves worse than the house slaves created a division between them: Simply put house slaves were led to believe they were better those who worked in the field.
Field slaves disliked the house slaves because they were selling them. They were making a racist master happy who really didn’t care about them.
During the Civil Rights Movement, there were African-American leaders and citizens who were willing to accept white-rule. Many feared the wrath of white oppression so much they simply did not act.
Due to their unwillingness to fight oppression while simultaneously trying to live white they were often characterized as Uncle Toms.
There were groups like the Black Panthers and Nation of Islam who did not bow down to racism. There were leaders like Malcolm X who would not embrace oppression-they fought it with all their might.
Such activists were characterized as militants who didn’t accept racism.
Today in sports perhaps the classic example of an Uncle Tom would be Tiger Woods. Woods has never embraced being African-American. He felt so strongly about being associated with African-Americans he made up his own race called “Cablinasian.”
Woods has never taken any controversial stands or aligned himself with the African-American community. He has done all he could to evade controversial issues and remains silent on hot-button topics, such as race.
Myself and others were quick to blast Woods for not speaking up when Golf Channel announcer suggested other golfers on tour should take Tiger in a “back alley and lynch him” to curtail his dominance on tour.
Uncle Tiger did all he could to sweep the situation under the rug. On January 18, 2008 I issued the following: “I’m disappointed in Tiger. Oh, I’m sorry, ‘Uncle Tiger.’ I know he doesn’t want to be, but Tiger is an African-American male living in white America”
Let’s not forget the media. FOX sports writer Jason Whitlock has sometimes produced commentary that doesn’t bode well in the African-American community.
Most notably in 2007, Whitlock made rather ludicrous comments when radio personality Don Imus referred to several Rutgers female basketball players as “nappy headed hos.”
Whitlock suggested Imus was not the problem. He made anti-African-American comments by issuing the following: “Imus is not the real bad guy.”
Whitlock continues, “I am sure at least one of the marvelous young women on the Rutgers team is somewhere snapping her fingers to the beat of 50 Cent’s or Snoop Dog’s or Young Jeezy’s latest ode glorifying nappy headed pimps and hos.”
Now there’s hopefully a better understanding of what an Uncle Tom is and who it has been associated with let’s address Rose’s assessment.
Isn’t true Coach K goes after African-American players that are raised in affluent homes?
Apparently he doesn’t want to worry about his players taking money under the table, corresponding with agents, or having their parents brokering deals on the side.
Translation, Coach K doesn’t recruit in the hood.
Case and point: Duke’s top recruit for next year is Jeremiah Rivers, the son of the Boston Celtics head coach Doc Rivers.
Rivers is African-American, comes from a well-to-do home, and plays great basketball.
Is the latter right or wrong?
Even though Coach K has historically recruited African-American players with a distinct background does, that doesn’t mean the African-American players themselves are clearly Uncle Toms?
Perhaps if we look beyond Rose’s comments we’d realize his choice of words and line of reasoning indeed has credence.
Bottom line: Rose ignited a discussion that was needed.
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