Why Rob Parker Was 100% Right And 100% Wrong To Question RG3′s “Blackness”

When people say things like “I’m in love with…” it’s generally understood that, unless they’re specifically referring to a person they have/had/wish to have a romantic interaction with, it’s always hyperbole. You are not actually in love with chocolate cake, Brooklyn, H&M’s fall line, or Kendrick Lamar, but you like/adore/admire these things so much that “in love” is used as an exaggerated substitute for a legitimate feeling you’re unable or unwilling to fully describe.

That being said, since first learning five years ago that he was going to run for President, I’ve been “in love” with Barack Obama as much as a person could be “in love” with a politician. While I don’t believe he’s perfect and I’m also aware this “love” could be more about the idea of Obama than Obama himself, as the unexpectedly primal scream I let out when seeing that he won Ohio last month indicated, I am an unabashed fan.

Yet, as I watched him on TV yesterday, addressing the Newtown school shooting, I’m reminded this “love” wasn’t unconditional. In fact, one of the main details allowing me to get to this place of “love” had nothing to do with his status as a politician and everything to do with a decision he made twenty years before I first knew he existed.

He married a Black woman. 

Now, would I have supported Obama any less if I learned he was married to a White woman. I’m not sure, but I doubt it. I doubt it would have had that much of an effect on who he was as a person and politician to make me do a complete 180 on how I currently feel about him.

There are two things I am sure of, though.

1. I’m not the only Black person who “loves” and supports President Obama the way I do

2. I’m not the only Black person whose “love” and support for Obama was helped by the fact that he has an authentically Black wife

And yes, while technically there’s no such thing as “authentically” Black—being Black is all the authenticity you should need—it matters that his wife wasn’t just Black, but a dark brown-skinned big-bootied chick from Chicago whose last name was Robinson. We still would have supported and voted for him, but I’m certain we wouldn’t have “loved” him as much. (I even have doubts he would have received the same unconditional “love” and support from the Black community if his wife was light-skinned.)

None of this should matter. But it does. And, because it does, I have to call bullshit on the tidal wave of post-racial self-righteousness coming down on ESPN commentator Rob Parker for questioning the blackness of Washington Redskins star quarterback Robert Griffin III (RG3). Was Parker wrong for his comments? Yes. (More of that later.) Should he have been suspended? Definitely. But, was his opinion—and the line of thinking behind the opinion—any different than the thoughts many of us of had about prominent Black men? No!

What he said about RG3 is said in many of our heads about every Black male politician, actor, athlete, co-worker, supervisor, neighbor, friend, and family member we know. Shit, as much as you all “love” VSB, I have no doubt our support would dwindle if one of us married a White woman. Sure, it wouldn’t change who we were as people or writers, but for many of our readers, we’d be a tad less “authentic,” and I can’t chide Parker too much for using the same means to calibrate Blackness that many of us also use.

It’s ironic that Parker mentioned “talking to some people in D.C.”—a clear allusion to the type of “barbershop” convos Black people have with each other—before going in on RG3 because that’s exactly why he was still wrong for saying what he said. These discussions about authenticity and “levels of Blackness” are definitely had…but they’re not meant to be had in mixed company. You do not ever question another Black person’s Blackness if any non-Black people are within earshot. In fact, you don’t even have that conversation if certain type of Black people are around. It’s only for people you trust to be able to fully appreciate and handle its nuance. Shit, doing that repeatedly will get your Black card revoked quicker than dating any White woman would.

Interestingly enough, I don’t even think Parker’s statements are the result of RG3 having a White fiancee. If dating White women was the NFL’s barometer for Blackness, you could have this same conversation about 80% 30% of the league. It’s more due to the fact that RG3 doesn’t act the way a typical young Black athlete acts. It’s not about him speaking proper English or even him not being seen at KIng of Diamonds every other weekend, but just the fact that the way he carries himself is outside of the range of behavior we expect from people like him.

If he was Rob Griffin the IT guy, his Blackness wouldn’t be questioned because his behavior is within the range of behavior we expect from people like that. But, between his behavior, his background, and his hair—yes, the fact that he has plaits in 2012 definitely matters—he’s “different” because he’s not what we expect. And, for too many of us, a “different” Black guy = “a Black guy who’s not really Black” or even “gay Black guy.” The criticisms leveled at him—questions about his Blackness and his sexuality—are no different than the types of criticisms hurled towards Ricky Williams, Chris Bosh, Tim Duncan, Dennis Rodman and other high profile Black athletes who acted in a way outside of what we expected from them.

Ultimately, RG3 is a 20-something quarterback of an NFL team, not a politician whose personal life choices directly influence his policy decisions—policy decisions that can affect the lives of millions of people. Basically, so what if he isn’t authentically Black? He throws a f*cking football for a living. Who gives a damn who he dates?

Well, Rob Parker (obviously) does. And, as long as it’s true that our “love” and support for Black men is influenced by the color of whoever they decide to marry, we do too.

—Damon Young (aka “The Champ”)