The Latest "Uncle Tom"

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Until Rob Parker, ESPN's resident bigot, accused Robert Griffin III, Washington's sensational rookie quarterback, of being a "cornball brother" (i.e., someone who "acts white"), I had not even heard of the man. I'm no fan of the practice of holding athletes out as examples to children of how to lead life, but RGIII, as he is known, sounds like a decent person by all accounts. As USA Today's Deborah Barrington put it, "Griffin III is exactly who my ancestors would want a young black man to be: successful, talented, respectful and rich. Who wouldn't want to hang out with him?"

I have been happy to see that lots of commentators, like Barrington, have spoken up to condemn Parker's bigotry. I was about to say "defend Griffin", but it is clear that he is independent enough that he probably doesn't need it. (Still, I see that he has been man enough to acknowledge and thank his supporters.) What is also clear is that the real target of remarks such as Parker's and the kind of "thinking" they exemplify isn't a man who can clearly take care of himself, but black children all across our country who can't yet do the same. It is the real purpose of cowardly remarks like this, of which Parker's are only the most recent example, to make sure they never can.

If you don't believe me, read the long litany of black-on-black psychological abuse described by Lee Habeeb of National Review. Such is the corrupt, life-hating state of the main part of the black intelligentsia that anyone who dares to be different (like RGIII) or who raises concerns about it (like Bill Cosby, as Habeeb notes at some length) becomes a target. Oh, and of course, anyone who self-identifies as black (or is generally regarded as black) can come under fire for merely having some white ancestry, as Shaun Powell points out. (It speaks ill of the President that he goes along with this, as exemplified by the example Powell gives of him pandering to a roomful of reporters by deliberately showing up late.)

I am happy to see from Barrington's piece that Griffin did not dignify Parker with a direct answer: Parker doesn't deserve one. [Update: Actually, I realized later that it was Griffin's father who ignored Parker's bile. I do not know what reply to it, if any, RGIII himself has made.] Nevertheless, the kind of thinking that led to those remarks bears closer examination. Ayn Rand, whose "prophecies" aren't limited to our current slide into an economic depression, nailed Parker's mentality to the wall decades ago:

Like every other form of collectivism, racism is a quest for the unearned. It is a quest for automatic knowledge--for an automatic evaluation of men's characters that bypasses the responsibility of exercising rational or moral judgment--and, above all, a quest for an automatic self-esteem (or pseudo-self-esteem).
Parker has nothing of value behind his black skin, so he has to ascribe all kinds of magical qualities to it. Parker sees someone who rejects his magical thinking and so he feels threatened, but he never really bothers to ask why. Parker resents Robert Griffin because Robert Griffin is a man, and Parker is afraid that his example might lead to too many kids growing up to become men. Parker sees himself for what he is for a moment and faces a choice: change himself or destroy someone else. We see what Parker tried to do, and it is little different than what any cowardly white supremacist might have wanted. Showing himself to be the kind of animal that sees safety in numbers, Parker tried to get RGIII kicked out of the pack. Further showing himself to be not even sub-human, Parker also tried to snuff out the spirit of any young black man who might see that quarterback as a hero.

The real Uncle Tom here is Rob Parker -- and that term, even as it is commonly used, is really too good for him. Parker is trying to do what no Klansman could ever hope to do, which is to get black people to marginalize themselves. I hope the folks at ESPN have the sense, decency, and courage to fire him.

-- CAV


Today: Added an update to correct a factual error.


Snedcat said...

Yo, Gus, excellent post! Parker is sadly all too typical of the leftier sort of public figure parroting the noxious notions of many American intellectuals. The irony is that the ideals of Black Power wrapped up in such attitudes are so indebted to European intellectual trends--it grows out of the Parisian milieu of the 30s and 40s that francophone African intellectuals participated in and that gave rise to movements like Negritude that struggled to come up with political, social, and artistic ideals compatible with the anti-colonialism and socialism universal in those circles.

Mind you, there were similar trends in the US many decades preceding among Black intellectuals like Du Bois, but while socialism had some attraction and anti-colonialism a lot, their social ideals were a far sight better, Talented Tenth and all that. But then they weren't ensconced in the advanced radical intellectual circles of Europe or, later after so many of that crowd of figures immigrated away from the Nazis and filled the American professoriate. It's that that added the peculiar barbarism and cult of violence of the 60s.

It's no accident Stokely Carmichael got a degree in philosophy from Harvard in 1964, or that he was shaped so by Franz Fanon's Wretched of the Earth, with its preface by Sartre worshipping violence, similar to what he wrote in prefaces to Negritude works, as by so many francophone African intellectuals who later became political leaders of independent African nations (president of Senegal, for instance). And so on--similarly, Pol Pot was a student in France about the same time active in Communist movements and probably had the seeds of his inhumanity to man planted then too.

So yeah, you're righter than you stated: Such people are stereotypical Uncle Toms dancing to the tune of long-dead (white) intellectuals and their epigones and overseers of every color.

Snedcat said...

And furthermore: I left the last comment on a nastily ironic note no crueler than the subject deserves, but it deserves further comment all the same. More subtle colorations atop the ink sketch I made, as it were, since black history and black culture are abiding interests of mine.

There really was a sea change among black intellectuals by the early 60s, but it was just the same thing you saw among white intellectuals trained in the 50s and active in the New Left and stemmed from the same thinkers at root, though with the special features owing to Negritude and the like I mentioned in the last comment. You can point to a fine thread of admirable works by black intellectuals from Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man to Black No More to Shadow and Act to Stanley Crouch, to name works I know you know, but the historical context of each is vastly different.

For instance, going to third on that list, Ralph Ellison, that particular book is one of the best critical works and pieces of cultural criticism in the US before the explosion of the Counter Culture. As I told you when I gave you a copy, the introduction to S&A is I think one of the finest works of autobiography about the artist's self-shaping in American letters, and many of the essays in it are brilliant.

It's also remarkably revealing of Ellison's weaknesses, especially taken in conjunction with his novel--literary high modernism, Freudianism, youthful Communist activism, and a snapshot of all the intellectual trends of American liberal culture of the 1950s. There's a story one of the next generation of black writers told of meeting Ellison at a literary to-do in the early 60s and asking him how he felt being the token black man of the New York literary world. Ellison was offended, of course, but I think it's got some truth to it. (I forget who told the story, but it was someone famous.)

Snedcat said...

But while you can see so many mainstream mid-20th century ideals and ideas in Ellison, and in the writings of his friend Albert Murray (another very interesting, talented, and readable black intellectual; the two were a major influence on Stanley Crouch, who alas I think is not quite their equal), you don't see the ideals and ideas of the next generation. (Except in reaction, like Murray's comment in the early 70s that there are few things he hates more than harebrained white intellectuals telling blacks what their life is really like, and the black intellectuals who listen to and parrot them--his words are even more mordant, but I don't have a copy to quote.). And that has caused them to be somewhat scanted by black intellectuals. Not ignored, certainly, but they have lessened influence and reputation because of all the viler ideas active among modern intellectuals and mainstream in academia, especially in grievance studies. And in this too the situation of white intellectuals is not so different at root, and the counterbalancing vileness of preaching barbarity and violence is mightily potent for both groups.

Gus Van Horn said...

Thanks, Snedcat, for the compliment and the additional information and insight. Those last two have added greatly to the value of this post.

Anonymous said...

As someone who is black, I'm embarrassed by individuals such as Parker. In their racist views individuals such as Frederick Douglass and Booker T. Washington would be considered not "black enough".

Parker and his ilk have taken the leftist bait. I'm so sick of the racism coming from many blacks. I'm glad to see at least one being called out. Rand's essay you quoted was what I thought about too. Good job.

Bookish Babe

Snedcat said...

Yo, Gus, glad to pitch in on it. It's a topic a lot of nonsense gets floated about. Here's a pair of paragraphs from towards the end of the introduction to Shadow and Act that also puts Murray's comment in perspective:

This [finding his own voice as a writer] was no matter of sudden insight, but of slow and blundering discovery, of a struggle to stare down the deadly and hypnotic temptation to interpret the world and all its devices in terms of race. To avoid this was very important to me, and in light of my background far from simple. Indeed, it was quite complex, involving as it does a ceaseless questioning of those formulas through which historians, politicians, sociologists, and an older generation of Negro leaders and writers--those of the so-called "Negro Renaissance"--had evolved to describe my group's identity, its predicament, its fate and its relation to the larger society and the culture which we share.

Here the questions of reality and personal identity merge. Yes, and the question of the nature of the reality which underlies American fiction and thus the human truth which gives fiction viability. In this quest, for such it soon became, I learned that nothing could go unchallenged, especially that feverish indistry devoted to telling Negroes who and what they are, and which can usually be counted upon to deprive both humanity and culture of their complexity. I had undergone...the humiliation of being taught in a class in sociology at a Negro college...that Negroes represented "the lady of the races." This contention the Negro instructor passed blandly along to us without even bothering to wash his hands, much less his teeth. Well, I had no intention of being bound by any such humiliating definition of my relationship to American literature. Not even to those works which depicted Negroes negatively. Negro Americans have a highly developed ability to abstract desirable qualities from those around them, even from their enemies, and my sense of reality could reject bias while appreciating the truth revealed by achieved art.

Along those lines, remember the titles Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man and Black No More, and recall the title of Ellison's big novel, Invisible Man. There's a certain common theme there, no? That point's a staple of black American literature and literary criticism, and what those novels have in common is an essentially individualist solution to the problem of living in a society that pays so much attention to the color of your skin--so much so as to make you yourself individually invisible.

Snedcat said...

That is very different from the solutions adopted by the figures of Négritude: "The Négritude writers found solidarity in a common black identity [though what that identitiy consisted of was a matter of strong debate --Sned] as a rejection of perceived French colonial racism. They believed that the shared black heritage of members of the African diaspora was the best tool in fighting against French political and intellectual hegemony and domination."

And for this act of collectivism in response to collectivism they were solidly praised by the likes of Sartre: "In this essay, Sartre characterizes négritude as the polar opposite of colonial racism in a Hegelian dialectic and with it he helped to introduce Négritude issues to French intellectuals. In his view, négritude was an "anti-racist racism" (racisme antiraciste) necessary to the final goal of racial unity."

Alas, far too many intellectuals, black and white, agree with Sartre here on all essentials, even (perhaps especially) those who have no idea he wrote anything like that, and probably many black thinkers and doers imagine in dancing to his tune that they're defining themselves as "essentially black" (whatever that might mean) without any input from whites.

Snedcat said...

And three more paragraphs from Ellison's introduction to Shadow and Act, since they're so interesting and well-written, split into two comments for length:

...our youthful sense of life, like that of many Negro children (though no one bothers to note it—especially the specialists and "friends of the Negro" who view our Negro American life as essentially nonhuman) was very much like that of Huckleberry Finn...Like Huck, we observed, we judged, we imitated and evaded as we could the dullness, corruption and blindness of "civilization." We were undoubtedly comic because, as the saying goes, we weren't supposed to know what it was all about. But to ourselves we were "boys," members of a wild, free, outlaw tribe which transcended the category of race. Rather we were Americans born into the forty-sixth state, and thus, into the context of Negro-American post–Civil War history, "frontiersmen." And isn't one of the implicit functions of the American frontier to encourage the individual to a kind of dreamy wakefulness, a state in which he makes—in all ignorance of the accepted limitations of the possible—rash efforts, quixotic gestures, hopeful testings of the complexity of the known and the given?

Spurring us on in our controlled and benign madness was the voracious reading of which most of us were guilty, and the vicarious identification and empathic adventuring which it encouraged...We were seeking examples, patterns to live by, out of a freedom which for all its neglect by the sociologists and subtle thinkers was implicit in the Negro situation...Thus we fabricated our own heroes and ideals catch-as-catch-can, and with an outrageous and irreverent sense of freedom. Yes, and in complete disregard for ideas of respectability or the surreal incongruity of some of our projections. Gamblers and scholars, jazz musicians and scientists, Negro cowboys and soldiers from the Spanish-American and first world wars, movie stars and stunt men, figures from the Italian Renaissance and literature, both classical and popular, were combined with the special virtues of some local bootlegger, the eloquence of some Negro preacher, the strength and grace of some local athlete, the ruthlessness of some businessman-physician, the elegance in dress and manners of some headwaiter or hotel doorman.

Snedcat said...

And the balance and comments:

Looking back through the shadows upon this absurd activity, I realize now that we were projecting archetypes, re-creating folk figures, legendary heroes, monsters even, most of which violated all ideas of social hierarchy and order and all accepted conceptions of the hero handed down by cultural, religious and racist tradition. But we, remember, were under the intense spell of the early movies, silents as well as the talkies, and in our community, life was not so tightly structured as it would have been in the traditional South—or even in deceptively "free" Harlem...we felt that somehow the human ideal lay in the vague and constantly shifting figures—sometimes comic but always versatile, picaresque and self-effacingly heroic—which evolved from our wildly improvisionary projections, figures neither white nor black, Christian nor Jewish, but representatives of certain desirable essences, of skills and powers physical, aesthetic and moral.

Of course, I'm not quoting so much just because it's interesting; it's a view of a much different world than today, at least as the stereotypes play out, and part and parcel of a world in which education and culture open to and attractive to all people regardless of color were accepted as proper goals, and reading was a gateway to them (as well as just damn fun). In this respect it's reminiscent of Derek Walcott's description of himself and his schoolmates in the Caribbean as "solemn Afro-Greeks eager for grades."

It's also a vastly different, distinctly American view of things far different from the procrustean bed of Pan-Africanism that (ironically) tosses all African and African-American cultures into one melting pot in the name of a singular "African identity," or as one discussion inadequately puts it in the mind-numbing chop-logic of the contemporary cultural studies mess of pottage: "Negritude, then, was in a certain sense a product of its time; despite its own claims to the contrary, its primary shortcoming was perhaps that it drew unconsciously on the binaries of the colonial era." That is, it borrowed and elaborated the ideas of the white thinkers of the era without even thinking to reject the unreason, collectivism, and fascination with skin color that overlay and underlay them.

Gus Van Horn said...


Thank you for your support!


Thanks for the additional information. I found the following, from the first of your two new comments especially poignant:

"That point's a staple of black American literature and literary criticism, and what those novels have in common is an essentially individualist solution to the problem of living in a society that pays so much attention to the color of your skin--so much so as to make you yourself individually invisible."

In the comments of scoundrels like Parker, it is easy to see that we are in danger of becoming a whole nation of "invisible men".