Richard Sherman: 500 Years a Slave
I watched the whole game on Sunday and I thought Sherman’s actions afterward were hilarious. I noticed that when he went up to Crabtree after the game and stuck out his hand Crabtree pushed him away. I noticed that he was extremely amped up and I don’t think by any means his response in the interview was appropriate. But for me it was just hilarious. That’s it. In real time my response was basically this is a hilariously entertaining thing that happened as part of a sports broadcast.
In my opinion that should have been the end of it. Unfortunately there was an eruption of responses from people all over the internet about Sherman’s response. As a Black man in America I feel that all of them were racist in some context or another. From certain people on the internet we had outright racism where they just called Sherman racial slurs, pretty much proving to most of society that they are ignorant. This invites curiosity as to how widespread those sentiments really are in America. There is a saying that goes “you can’t legislate morality.” In other words you can make laws to make people appear to treat everyone equally, but you can’t make someone who has a racist attitude, reject that racism because of a law. In that sense, racism will probably always be with us in one way or another. We can do our best to make sure that the laws don’t reflect it, but we must always be on guard for the insidious ways racist attitudes distort our reality.
The other thing I was concerned about was an often quoted tweet from the basketball player, Andre Iguodala. He tweeted of Sherman, “We just got set back 500 years.” I feel that this type of response is the consequence of being forced to live under a racist construct which makes it appear that every black man in a high profile role is a representative of the race everywhere. This premise is racist and unfair on its face, but at the moment it seems a lot of Black people buy into it, and it comes out in sentiments like that.
It is hopelessly impossible for all Black men in American society to take upon themselves the burden of trying to lead perfect lives out of fear that if we don’t then somehow we will undo all the so-called racial progress that has happened in this country the last 400 or so years. I mean what is that mentality anyway? How awful is it that Black people live in fear that the actions of one man…an athlete speaking in his role as such, could say or do anything that might set back civil rights progress at all? It’s ridiculous and these sentiments only serve to reinforce racism. Whether Iguodala was speaking sarcastically or seriously, I think his comments touch on an uncomfortable and appalling truth.
The truth is that Black people feel that White society views us as inferior, therefore we always try to live up to some unattainable standard of behavior that governs how we should act. The truth is that a lot of these standards were set by White people out of fear and ignorance.
The fear was that when Black people were slaves and later second class citizens, that if Blacks, particularly Black men did not act in a docile manner, it could reflect a will to violently overthrow a blatantly inhumane and unjust system.
The ignorance was a view that all ways that are normal to White people should be taken as the norm and anything out of synch with that should be viewed as abnormal.
I said before that these standards are unattainable, and they are unattainable by design. They are standards set by White people that Black people can never reach, because the premise is based on racism of the highest order. It will mark a turning point in the social development of African Americans when we all finally decide to stop trying to attain them at all.
The sad part is that it is unlikely we ever will, because we depend on society for our economic progress and as long as our economic progress is tied to how well we can act in a “socially acceptable” (read White) way, then we will always try to reach toward that standard to ensure our economic survival and viability.
Interestingly the only place where this is not the case is in Hip Hop. In Hip Hop it is the exact opposite. The more ignorant a Hip Hop entertainer acts, the more likely he is to succeed. But what people need to understand is that mainstream Hip Hop is nothing but propaganda at this point and it perpetuates an image of Black men that society uses for entertainment. Let us take a rapper like 2 Chainz. 2 Chainz is a caricature. People would be surprised to know that despite his outlandish escapades, 2 Chainz finished second in his high school class and attended college on an athletic scholarship. But the perversely racist nature of our society induces us to think that every Black man has a 2 Chainz lurking inside him just waiting to be let loose on the unsuspecting public. It allows some Whites to subconsciously indulge in their racist fantasies about what they think Black people are and it reinforces a stigma that Blacks feel they have escape.
This leads to a great waiting game in our society. A waiting game wherein some White people wait for a black person to expose their inner 2 Chainz so that they can say “Aha” I knew he was a (insert your favorite racial slur here) and Black people try to navigate society by gingerly walking on eggshells trying to avoid the one social mishap that could cause other Black people to comment that they “set us back 500 years.”
Last Sunday Richard Sherman was part of a playoff victory, but experienced a sad racial defeat. He wasn’t able to sufficiently contain his emotion after a clearly emotional win in which he made a season saving play.
The real question is not whether or not Richard Sherman acted appropriately or not. The question is do we want to be part of a society where Black men in particular are asked to bottle up their emotions so viciously that they cannot express a genuine emotion without being in fear that they will “set back the Civil Rights movement 500 years?”
No wonder the Life Expectancy of African American Males lags behind every other group. The stress alone could take those years off a life.
One last point, Richard Sherman botches an interview after a football game and the response is national outrage. Richard Sherman is sent out by himself to defend his character. He apologizes to his team although I haven’t seen any evidence that his teammates are rallying behind him and supporting him.
Riley Cooper says a racial slur and under pressure from the nation his team generally rallies behind him and supports him.
I admit being hyperbolic, but as a Black man I can say that’s how it feels. One misstep and you’re on an island by yourself. Other people get different treatment. I don’t remember anyone commenting that Riley Cooper set race relations back 500 years and he did something that was clearly racist.