Thursday, May 19, 2011

Hear The Words: Bernard Hopkins, Cornel West, Melissa Harris-Parry Speak

A week ago, I was caught by surprise to see that an elite athlete I've had the pleasure to meet in Bernard Hopkins had unleashed a quiver of verbal darts at ex-Philadelphia Eagle quarterback, Donovan McNabb lethal enough to fell a herd of buffalo. Hopkins poison of choice was to attack the "Blackness" of McNabb, saying that he simply has a "sun tan", and that during his tenure with the Eagles he was more or less a house slave. As a Philly native, this spat strikes a chord because I know well that sports icons like McNabb, Hopkins, Iverson, and Vick all appeal to many, but also have their detractors. That being said, none of them is more or less "Black" than the other, so while I couldn't disagree more with Hopkins assessment of McNabb, I do think it is necessary to hear what he is saying and understand the context from which it arises because I believe that it speaks more to a class divide than a racial divide, which is growing not just in the Black community, but in all communities of color. As the week following Hopkins comments unfolded, another Black-0n-Black squabble erupted as the esteemed Dr. Cornel West aired his personal disappointment with President Obama and sunk to the level of questioning his Blackness. This is a dangerous practice which must be addressed, for it threatens to rip apart communities which need to be able unite in order to shift current power structures.

The immediate responses that I read to Bernard Hopkins comments were that he should largely be ignored because the misunderstanding of racial construction that his comments displayed was not worth validating with a response. Michael Wilbon, of PTI fame, and an ESPN columnist tweeted that "What he said is moronic and he ought to be ridiculed at every chance." Other Facebook responses I read noted that B-Hop may be feeling the effects of too many headshots. I agree that the degree of ignorance in the comments is sky high and have no intention of defending them. The irony of the comments is also high considering that I met Bernard Hopkins and his kids at a Country Club while he was a guest of his lawyer, which suggests that he, and more importantly his children, currently live a life that he suggests make one less Black. I do, however, disagree that the response should be to summarily dismiss B-Hop because like it or not, his comments represent a stream of thought which is prevalent not only in the Black community, but in every community of color. With the increasing disappearance of the middle class due to the changing formation of the labor force, there is an increasing poor class not content to see other members of their ethnic group "make it" and not reach back to help those who are struggling. This mindset brings to mind a verse from Philly rapper Freeway who describes a tendency towards violence when one's situation is disparate:

"If a sneak start leanin' and the heat stop workin'
Then my heat start workin' I'm-a rob me a person
Catch a n#*&a sleepin' while he out in the open...and I'm-a get him"

Bernard Hopkins embodies the mindset Freeway rhymes about despite his current lifestyle because before he became a champion fighter, he served almost five years for burglary, so he knows what it is not to have and seek to get by any means necessary. If you do a quick google search, you might be surprised to see how many pro athletes have been robbed either in their homes or in their cars because they are seen, particularly in the Black community as the elite. It is lazy to simply point out race as the reason for this contempt, because it's the easy common denominator, but as Cornel West proved this week, even the most educated among us can slip.

In the academic world, Dr. Cornel West, much like Hopkins, is seen as a heavyweight Champion. He's cited by young scholars endlessly, he speaks everywhere, and you could make the argument that he's America's scholar. This week, he showed that even he could be knocked off his normal academic posture in an interview he gave to Chris Hedges where he detailed his estranged relationship with the President. He then went on to offer the speculative analysis that the President has chosen a particular set of advisors based largely on his racial identity. Dr West asserts that because of his upbringing in a largely White context "He's always had to fear being a White man with Black skin. All he has known culturally is white." If you take away the visual in your mind of an afro-wearing brother in a Black suit making these comments, you could make the leap that they came out of the mouth of a fellow inmate of B-Hop's as opposed to a Harvard-educated, Princeton-tenured professor. Dr. West's racial analysis is as simplistic as Hopkins and he should know better. I was happy to see Dr. West's former colleague at Princeton, Dr. Melissa-Harris Perry pointedly note the flaws in West's analysis in The Nation this week because we do not get to the true root of the issue when we attack and discredit each other based on racial viability.

The point that gets lost in all of the racial dart throwing is that poor people in communities all across the nation are hurting more than ever, and they do not see help coming down the tracks anytime soon or lasting much longer than the CNN or MSNBC cameras stay in town. New Orleans is still hurting, Alabama and Memphis are currently hurting, and when those who have been blessed with financial and human resources do not lend a hand to help, then contempt is an inevitable result. So yes, Bernard Hopkins and Cornel West may be flawed in the presentation of their arguments, but the source and sentiment of the argument has merit. Hopkins took issue with how McNabb treated him and teammates. Fine. Dr. West continues to take issue with President Obama's commitment to the poor and downtrodden. Fine. Those critiques, however, can be offered without invoking historically provocative racial archetypes like the "house slave". A little research on life for folks who live around the Appalachian mountains will show you that times are tough for everyone, and race is only a piece of the issue. The best recommendation I can make is to find a way to spend some time in area where folks are hurting and lend a hand wherever possible. The disparity between haves and have nots will continue to rage if the privileged do not take it upon themselves to share their blessings with those less fortunate.