Duke vs. Michigan – Not A Game For Tom

As Duke and Michigan meet in the Third Round of NCAA March Madness, two teams, with a total of 28 players, will fight to make the Sweet Sixteen.  Twenty-eight players will hope to be crowned national champs.  Twenty-eight players of different hue and background, size and ability, beliefs and opinions, will take the floor.  Twenty-eight players will gut it out.  Twenty-eight players will take pride in representing their respective schools, and none are called Tom.

Before and since “The Fab Five” documentary, produced by former Michigan star and now ESPN analyst Jalen Rose, aired, there’s been a vigorous discussion over Rose disclosing as an eighteen year old, he considered Grant Hill, his rival Duke star, an “Uncle Tom” and “bitch.”  More discussion and rhetoric spewed when the New York Times ran Hill’s response, who took clear umbrage with Rose’s words.  The verbage continues as sport analysts, other writers, friends, co-workers, and strangers take “a side.”

For myself, I found … Rose’s thoughts on Hill et al and Duke to be refreshing.  Too often a discussion on race and discrimination both within and outside the Black community is couched in niceties and political correctness dancing around real feelings and attitudes.  Sometimes to truly “deal,” things just need to be spat out.  I found … Hill’s response unsatisfying.  While I agree with Hill that successful Blacks should be inspiring, and not denigrated, for me (note for me) the tonality of the piece was lecturing, coming off partly arrogant and condescending.  This plays exactly into the picture the eighteen year old Rose painted – successful Black “haves” look down on the Black “have nots” and the Black “have nots” resent the Black “haves.”  That while the word “Uncle Tom” is rarely spoken by Blacks and nonBlacks, these feelings still reside, in the recesses and above.   I also found the calls that Rose should have excluded, distance, and/or apologize for using the word “Uncle Tom” confusing, sad, troubling, and understandable.

How far have we progressed if the word “Uncle Tom” used by an 18 year old almost 20 years ago, raises a stronger discourse than those same words uttered by a grown up Ralph Nader regarding Barack Obama?  How far have we progressed when words like thug, animal, ghetto, uppity, and she/he White are derogatory stereotypes acceptable as truisms in most general conversation? How far have we progressed when Oprah Winfrey is labeled ‘she likes Whites too much and doesn’t give back,’ while other well-off Blacks are rarely discussed?  How far have we progressed when how one’s Blackness is labeled based on who is liked, resented, or popular?

I’m a Tar Heel fan.  I don’t like Duke.  I see Duke as uppity.  I also think the same of UConn, Kansas, and Ohio State.  I don’t root for Black players who went to Duke, except Carlos Boozer who is now with my beloved Bulls.  I DO respect Coach K, Duke University, and their players.

Recently a cousin who I often hang out with said, “When we were growing up we were told y’all (my sister and I) were better than us.  We thought y’all thought you were too good for us.”  In her eyes I could see a part of her wondered if I felt that way today.

“Child please,” I replied.  “I thought y’all thought y’all were too good to hang with us.”

Then we laughed.  Then we talked.  Then we laughed some more.  Yes, we had dissimilar economic backgrounds, but our families shared similar values such as honesty, integrity, hard work, and the importance of family.  Yes, we had dissimilar education backgrounds, but we  could see any perceived differences where in our childhood.  We were now grown, not so much different, and mature.  We, all of us, need to talk TO each other, and not at each other, with maturity and understanding.

Today, when 28 Duke and Michigan players take the floor, some will see the game as a referendum on who was right, who is better – Rose or Hill.  In actuality there will be no Toms.  There will be no statement.  It will just be game.  Let us not be the real losers after the buzzer is sound.

March 20, 2011

1U.S. Census Bureau, 2010 Estimates

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