Sunday, October 30, 2005

Race to read this

I have just read what seems to be, to me, one of the best written, most thoughtful and closest to the mark writings on race in America that I have ever read or am likely to ever read. Michael Wilbon, a sportswriter for the Washington Post (he can be forgiven for that), has written a piece on the race issue vis a vis the Houston Astros lacking a single black player on their World Series roster as well as the comments that got Air Force Academy head football coach Fisher DeBerry in such hot water last week.

Mr. Wilbon says, hey, Coach DeBerry was right. Black kids are faster than white kids, so he is right to want more of them on his team. And he says that Aaron is wrong to expect the Astros to "move heaven and earth" to recruit more black baseball players because they aren't there. Mr. Wilbon says,
DeBerry has nothing whatsoever to apologize for. I understand that any kind of categorization, especially along racial lines, can be risky. One of DeBerry's former black players (who loves his coach) e-mailed me this week to point out that any such comments put the speaker on a very slippery slope, and that's certainly true.

But our fear of any discussion involving race should not eliminate common-sense observations. Since Jason Sehorn retired from the NFL a season or so ago, how many white starting cornerbacks are there in the NFL? The answer, as far as I can find, is zero. And even if I missed one or two, fact is that a position based largely on speed is 99 percent black in the NFL. That's not the same as making a presumption about the intelligence or character of cornerbacks, black or white. It's fact, jack. DeBerry didn't offer any cultural or empirical evidence about cornerbacks; he just said he would like faster ones, and as the NFL demonstrates, the fastest ones are black. That isn't even debatable.
Regarding Hammerin' Hank's comments, Mr. Wilbon says,
Even more misplaced than the fury directed toward DeBerry is Aaron's anger at the Astros for not having any black American players. For the record, the White Sox only had one -- Jermaine Dye -- in their starting lineup Wednesday night when they won the World Series. That's because we, black American men, have turned away from baseball. Overwhelmingly, we've cast our lot with basketball and football, and that's it. Only 9 percent of the players on Major League rosters on Opening Day were black and American. Black and Hispanic? Oh, there are plenty. Approximately 31 percent of major leaguers are identified as being of Latin descent. As for black Americans? The Washington Nationals had two on the Opening Day roster. The Baltimore Orioles had none, zero.
But Mr. Wilbon understands where each man is coming from.
Aaron and DeBerry are interested in inclusion, even if they don't articulate it eloquently. Because of people such as them, sports is the closest thing America has to a true meritocracy. Almost always now, the best players prove themselves to be the best players, whether they're black quarterbacks, white cornerbacks or Argentine basketball players.
That almost sounds like too much common sense to me.

Now for something in Mr. Wilbon's column that caused me to blanche. He mentions a part of Jimmy "The Greek" Snyder's infamous statement about,
... a drunken anthropology lesson of how the big black buck (to use his words) was mated with the big black slave woman to produce the best athlete.
The words "big black buck" just leaped out of the monitor at me. Did he really say that? I easily remember the bruhaha over The Greek's comment and I vociferously defended him at the time. I said that he was right and that it was unfortunate that no one else seemed willing to admit it. But I don't remember the "big black buck" part of it. So I checked. Mr. Wilbon is, I think, in error here. I checked some 20 different sources, including CNN, CNN/SI, CBS News, NYT and Mr. Wilbon's own WaPo and this is what I found, unanimously,
This goes all the way back to the Civil War when the slave owner would breed his big black to his big woman so that he could have a big black kid. See?
That's really what he said. And he was actually not correct. No doubt some selective breeding was forced upon the slaves, most likely in the deep South. But I really can't come up with a lot of examples or documentation of slave owners forcing big black men to mate with big black women to produce superior fullbacks and defensive ends. Please remember that there was no internet nor any www's when The Greek committed career suicide.

I wish that Mr. Wilbon had checked just a bit more before saying that "big black buck" and "big black slave woman" were The Greek's "own words". They weren't, at least not that I can find.

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