March 17, 2011

Jalen Rose, Grant Hill and Uncle Toms

Although thousands of people have already weighed in with their thoughts and reaction to Jalen Rose's “Uncle Tom” comment during ESPN's Fab Five documentary, I thought I would pile on my opinions as well.

In the documentary Jalen Rose talked of how he felt about Duke's players during his college days. At that time he said that he felt Duke only recruited players who were “Uncle Toms”. For Rose, Duke only wanted players who were affluent, polished and safe . He spoke specifically of his dislike for Grant Hill, Duke's most prominent black player at that time.

On Wednesday, Hill responded with a great article in the New York Times. He wrote of how his grandfather was poor and illiterate and how his father went to Yale and worked hard to provide a better life for himself and his family. Hill basically wanted to make it clear that his background didn't make him (or other black Duke players) any less black.

The disconnect between Rose in Hill is one that is really about class.

Because of our history in this country, being black became tied to struggling to overcome hardships in varying forms. There was a time when virtually every black person in America was a slave and faced basically the same struggle. Over the years the black experience has become less monolithic. All black people don't share the same outlook on society. Every black person doesn't grow up in a poor, single-parent home. All black people don't listen to the same type of music or speak in the same way. Today there are black people at every point of the socioeconomic spectrum.

Rose spoke of how bitter he felt about not having the life that Hill had: Two wealthy, well educated parents who were happily married. I think that bitterness is understandable, especially as a young person. As a teen, it's hard to accept the fact that some people have more money, opportunities and societal acceptance, simply because they were born into families who were better off than yours. You always feel a need to prove that you are as good as they are. And at times, deep down, you may feel like you aren't. But as an adult, you realize that the black people who are educated or wealthy or happily married, are that way largely because of hard work and effort.

On the other hand, those who are fortunate to grow up in families like Hills, should grateful for what they have and compassionate towards the sentiments of those who grew up like Rose. Understand that most people don't have the advantages you do. Have patience when they don't realize that your affluence doesn't insulate you from all of life's difficulties.

Class shouldn't be used as a litmus test to determine blackness. We can work together and support each other, no matter our station in life.
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1 comments:

Mike said...

I agree Trevor. The days of calling black folk “Uncle Tom” and “Aunt Thomasina” should be over. If those who “make it” to the upper class give something back to help those who follow them, that’s really all we can ask for. Today, many black folk in the upper class give back behind the scenes in ways that we will never know.

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