Rob Parker and the Deconstruction of Black Jesus

In today’s post-race society, it is not appropriate to ask , “Is he a brother or is he a cornball brother?”

No, it’s not even ok if the man in question asks you not to call him a black quarterback, but doesn’t make a peep about being proclaimed, “Black Jesus.” As the starting quarterback for the Washington Redskins, Robert Griffin III has been given the proverbial key to the city with the nickname “Chocolate City,” and the most racist sports moniker in contemporary American sports. Many sports commentators have gone as far as saying that Black Jesus will finally be the first black guy starting at quarterback to transcend race which is poppycock.

It is important to note that pockets of deliberate, public racism still exist. Perhaps the most alarming example of the past few months came during a public address by Obama during Monday Night Football concerning the Sandy Hook tragedy.

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In 2013, no one wants to be judged by the color of their skin; however, being different in a room where many look the same is going to make a person stand out. It’s the reason Eminem is called “a white rapper” instead of “a rapper” despite being one of the great hip hop artists of the past 15 years. It is inconsequential for the following points to determine if bringing up Eminem’s ethnicity is fair or not. The fact is that he is called a white rapper because white guys rarely become mainstream rappers.

The stratification of race in football by position is completely institutional. Historically, black guys can play any position on the field except for quarterback and kicker – this mostly remains true. Today, white guys are pushed to play linemen, tight ends, or quarterbacks, no skill positions (WR, RB, CB). As black quarterbacks are recruited to universities, they are often coerced into accepting a spot on a team at a skill position. The effects are clearly seen in the professional ranks of the NFL where black guys dominate the skill positions (I’m fairly certain no white guy started at RB or CB to begin the 2012-2013 NFL season), and 6 out of the 32 starting quarterbacks are black (four out of the six have not been in the league for more than two years – Robert Griffin III, Russell Wilson, Colin Kaepernick, and Cam Newton).

Donovan McNabb, Doug Williams, Warren Moon, Randall Cunningham and Steve McNair all had cool names and were smart, winning quarterbacks who happened to be black. Sadly, their success has done little to change the opportunities their successors have been given since their respective retirements. It is what it is, but this help illuminate why RG3 does not want to be called a black quarterback.

Here are Griffin’s comments on the importance of race and being called a black quarterback:

I am aware how much race is relevant to them. I don’t ignore it. I try not to be defined by it. But I understand different perspectives and how people view different things. I understand that they’re excited that their quarterback is an African-American. I play with a lot of pride, a lot of character, a lot of heart. I understand that. I appreciate them for being fans and not just fans because they’re African-Americans.

We always try to find similarities in life, no matter what it is so they’re always going to try to put you in a box with other African-American quarterbacks — (Michael) Vick, (Cam) Newton, Randall Cunningham, Warren Moon. Warren Moon and Doug Williams really didn’t run that much. That’s the negative stereotype when it comes to African-American quarterbacks, that most of us just run. Those guys threw it around. I like to think I can throw it around a little bit.

That’s the goal. Just to go out and not try to prove anybody wrong but just let your talents speak for themselves.

89787He stated exactly what he meant to say and left no wiggle room for us to question his position. Black quarterbacks are stereotypically known as guys who run out of the pocket well, but are are inaccurate passers when they need to stay in the pocket. He mentions that running is a negative stereotype which indicates he doesn’t want to be known for that. I do not believe that he meant to offend anyone as he put it that way, but he wants to distance himself from “negative stereotypes” by asking not to be labeled that way. RG3 said himself that Warren Moon did not run much and was still labeled as a running quarterback; the “negative stereotype” was still placed on him.

I believe RG3 is completely genuine about wanting to just be judged for his character and his game. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that at all. But he has to understand that who he is as an individual and the image people erect of him are two separate matters. Besides, something weird is going on if you don’t want to be called a black quarterback, but don’t care about being called Black Jesus, a much odder issue altogether.

Long story short (for loads of other reasons that would make this the length of a Grantland piece by the always excellent Jonathan Abrams), Rob Parker’s question was totally fair. The way he chose to ask the question was not.

 

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