Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Uncle Tom's Basketball Team - What Jalen Rose Understood


Despite the fact that we are standing upon the precipice of college basketball's most exciting event, I still can't help but laugh at a few comments made by a retired basketball player in a two week-old documentary, recapping events that took place almost twenty years ago.

When ESPN aired its ratings-shattering documentary on the legendary "Fab Five" collective, one thing was taken away from this introspective look into the revolutionary power of five black kids in the 90s – Jalen Rose had crossed the line.

Take a listen:


Now I’m not the sole authority on racial moments in America, but after some years of doing this whole "being a black male" thing, I think I'm starting to catch my stride.

So allow me to break this down for you.

When watching the documentary, THIS is what Grant Hill, Bobby Hurley, and pretty much every other person with an opinion CHOSE to hear:

"Black people who go to Duke care less about black people than Bush did after Katrina. Coach K introduced crack into the black community in the 90s to destroy our brothers and sisters. Wojo killed Biggie. Duke sponsored the Tuskegee Experiments. And Christian Laettner is a really big pussy." - The Honorable Minister Jalen Anthony Rose

Withstanding the Christian Laettner part, all of the aforementioned comments are completely disgusting and ungrounded and would justifiably deserve backlash. But unfortunately, Jalen Rose said none of these things.

So now allow me to better articulate what brother Jalen ACTUALLY said.

When Jalen Rose used the term "Uncle Tom," he wasn't calling anyone a sellout or a race traitor. In reality, he was situating individuals like Grant Hill in their exact terms.

Grant Hill, Shane Battier, and the vast majority of black guys that go to Duke are the Jack & Jill-attending children of light-skinned AKAs. They probably own ascots. And have at least one seersucker suit. Jalen was just calling a bougie Spade a bougie Spade.

Sweaters by Gordon Gartrell

You may not like my brashness, but we all know the makeup of the Grant Hills at Duke. If your father wasn't a former ball player (Seth Curry) or a white collar success (Andre Dawkins), you currently don't exist as a black player on Duke's roster today. Seriously, I checked. So in that sense, Jalen Rose is right. But what everyone seems to forget is that Rose made it very clear that he respected the achievements of Hill's parents, Cliff and Clair. In fact, his resentment came from the fact that he DIDN'T have that. Poor Jalen just wanted to eat cucumber sandwiches in Nantucket like everyone else.

Realistically, most of you got caught up on a simple error in language. The term "Uncle Tom" has been misappropriated to mean a lot more than the 70s Blaxploitation era may have intended.

I was called a "Tom," "sellout," "white boy" and pretty much every other disparaging term by all-black city schools when I was the only black kid on my 7th grade basketball team. Mind you, these kids knew nothing of me, except for this fact. Perhaps they saw my two parents sitting in the crowd cheering me on. No matter. This type of vernacular has been extended to hurt pretty much any black person from a privileged background and/or solid diction.

That type of language almost forced Carlton Banks into selling fake Gucci handbags in MacArthur Park. It made Grant Hill write the most misguided rebuttal in the history of athletics, which is pretty funny considering he's supposed be the intelligent Duke grad.

What I'm trying to say is that if there is anyone out there that truly understands exactly what Jalen Rose was trying to say, it’s me. I'm the white-bred, supposed “black elite” who has watched all of the “Jalen Roses” I knew who grew up on the other side of town tossed aside because they stepped outside of the imaginary lines of what a “good negro” is supposed to be like.

I was clean cut, wore khakis, and always had my pants pulled up. I was EXACTLY what the establishment wanted me to be. I learned to carefully assimilate into the larger white society. And for this I was elevated to the status of “safe.” My black comrades, who chose to wear their jeans with a careless swag only juxtaposing the intricacies of their patterned braids, saw a completely different side of reality. They were judged in the worst way.

Because this is what society does. And Duke is no better.

Duke recruits kids like me. The ones who always stayed out of trouble and never crossed the line. Duke is a system school with system kids. Duke DOESN’T recruit the freethinkers. The kids you feel you have to worry about being too outspoken. And Duke surely doesn't recruit the Jalen Rose because those kids shaved their heads, pierced their ears and wore black socks when the standard is white.

And that pretty much sums it up. The Fab Five never wore white, they wore their own cultural trends; that being their biggest crime. The crime had absolutely nothing to do with their basketball abilities. It was identifying themselves TO the bigger culture AS the “other.”

What exactly is the "other?"

Ask Allen Iverson.


The crime that the Fab Five committed was only followed by Iverson who saw every media outlet position his “streetwise” demeanor against the “clean cut” image of Kobe Bryant (a Duke recruit...seriously). This is the reality of how we assess black athletes, but also black people as a whole.

If you fit into a certain paradigm of blackness (or lack thereof to some…) you are safe and accepted. If not, like Jalen or Allen, you are turned into the “other.”

And that’s all Jalen Rose was saying. He admitted that much of his assessment of Duke's athletes was completely misguided and wrong. He learned that the background of Duke’s players had absolutely nothing to do with their ability to play the game.

But the issue isn’t necessarily how these black athletes dress OR act. Because, in reality, there is nothing wrong with the outward appearance of Jalen Rose OR Grant Hill, at least not in terms of basketball. Some days I wear no socks and boatshoes and other days it’s black socks and Jordan XI’s. Regardless of the day, I'm still not going to shoot anyone.

The real issue is the fact that we choose to assess certain people on two ends of the spectrum. You're either a showboating jigaboo or a well-mannered, hardworking "class act." Either way, you're rarely given a fair judgement, and I think Jalen Rose understood that.

So before we attack Jalen, let's take a hard look at how we generalize young black males on and off the basketball court.

Oh and Grant Hill needs to be worried about keeping me away from Tamia. (That's my only cheap shot for the day...anything said about Christian Laettner is simply fact by majority opinion. Sorry big guy.)

1 comment:

  1. Exactly. Jalen gets it. You can't blame Grant Hill for having a musically talented father. http://bit.ly/hRxF0N

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