Jeremiah Short, Feature Columnist
Kobe Bryant has disappointed the black community yet again. And I don’t know if he’ll ever recover from it.
Kobe Bean Bryant has a unique relationship with the black community. He’s loved for being the “Black Mamba.” The one-time MVP. The 16-time All-Star. The five-time NBA champion.
But Kobe Bryant, the person, is criticized for not being down for the cause…the black cause, that is. In a New Yorker interview, Bryant reminded the black community that he’s a race-neutral athlete when asked about the Miami Heat’s support of Trayvon Martin.
“I won’t react to something just because I’m supposed to, because I’m an African-American,” Bryant said. “That argument doesn’t make any sense to me. So we want to advance as a society and a culture, but, say, if something happens to an African-American we immediately come to his defense? Yet you want to talk about how far we’ve progressed as a society? Well, we’ve progressed as a society, then don’t jump to somebody’s defense just because they’re African-American. You sit and you listen to the facts just like you would in any other situation, right? So I won’t assert myself.”
Bryant’s comments didn’t sit well with most in the black community. He was destroyed on Twitter or should I say “Black Twitter.” Najee Ali, Project Islamic H.O.P.E’s director, even called for a boycott of his merchandise.
“African American youth should no longer buy Bryant’s jerseys or shoes and should boycott all products he endorses,” Ali said in a statement. “Bryant doesn’t identify with the struggle that our African-American youth face nationally. So why should we continue to support Bryant who has never truly identified with the African-American experience.”
Bryant’s products shouldn’t be boycotted. He does need to be taken to task for his insensitivity on a touchy subject, though. After he’s taken to task, the black community needs to address what his viewpoint truly represents: a critical divide in the black community. A divide between those in the black community who feel there isn’t anything to fight for anymore and those in the black community who feel there’s plenty to rise up against.
I’ve always referred to it as the “House Negro-Field Negro Syndrome.” Civil Rights leader Malcolm X explained the two types of Negros in a 1963 speech at Michigan State University.
“The house Negro usually lived close to his master. He dressed like his master. He wore his master’s second-hand clothes. He ate food that his master left on the table. And he lived in his master’s house–probably in the basement or the attic–but he still lived in the master’s house, “said Malcolm X.
“So whenever that house Negro identified himself, he always identified himself in the same sense that his master identified himself. When his master said, We have good food, the house Negro would say, “Yes, we have plenty of good food.” “We” have plenty of good food. When the master said that “we have a fine home here,” the house Negro said, “Yes, we have a fine home here.” When the master would be sick, the house Negro identified himself so much with his master he’d say, “What’s the matter boss, we sick?” His master’s pain was his pain. And it hurt him more for his master to be sick than for him to be sick himself. When the house started burning down, that type of Negro would fight harder to put the master’s house out than the master himself would.”
“But then you had another Negro out in the field. The house Negro was in the minority. The masses–the field Negroes were the masses. They were in the majority. When the master got sick, they prayed that he’d die. If his house caught on fire, they’d pray for a wind to come along and fan the breeze.”
I’m dismayed that Malcolm X’s speech still resonates in 2014. Black people as a community operate the same as they did when they were enslaved.
House Negroes, which are now blacks who have made it, derisively say blacks who haven’t made it are ghetto, don’t know how to talk properly and look for hand-outs.
Field Negroes, the ones who haven’t made it, ridicule those who have made it for being bougie, Uncle Tom’s who aren’t “bout that life.”
The behavior is destructive and serves no purpose. It forces you constantly question your blackness. I’ve had my own struggles with it. I was blessed to be one of talented 10%. I was in a gifted program as a child. I know how to speak properly when it’s necessary. And I was given the gift of knowing how to put words together.
I’ve been blessed with the ability to walk in both worlds. I can maneuver in any environment and most don’t realize I’m different from them. But it can be taxing at times. One minute you feel that you’re limiting yourself and the next you feel like a “sell-out.”
I’m not the first black person to have that struggle. But I’m one of few who’ve discussed it publicly. So, I understand Kobe’s position on race. I just think he’s misguided.
Bryant should look himself in the mirror and ask the person looking back one question: Is my reputation permanently scarred because America has progressed as a society or because I’m a black man who many feel raped a white girl?
If he answered that question honestly, he would see why the Miami Heat supported Trayvon Martin.