El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz warned that Black athletes, entertainers and comedians are not leaders in the Black community. He called that subgroup of folks “puppets and clowns that have been set up over the Black community by the white community… (To) say exactly what they know the white man wants to hear.”
So, in light of that, should Black athletes shut up and dribble?
No, because that’s not what El-Shabazz is saying to us this many years later. What he’s saying is that Black leadership is rooted in Black community amongst the people, whereas Black athletes and entertainers have proximity to capital, fame and fortune — they could not be aligned or reconciled with the “Black masses.”
Yet this class of Black folk should speak out against injustice. These people are still Black and most likely have experienced racism of some sort. They certainly see the injustices Black people face and wish to shed light on that darkness to change it.
But as Dr. Kyle T. Mays—assistant professor in the department of African American studies, American Indian studies and history at UCLA—says, it’s the media’s overemphasis on these voices—Black athletes and entertainers—that obscures the voices of ordinary Black people, whose lives are vastly different from those who have wealth and visibility.
… And because Black athletes specifically are vocal about injustice against Black people, which acclaimed sports writer Howard Bryant calls a continuation of the Heritage, the media continues to position Black athletes as spokespeople on matters of public policy, social injustice, and foreign policy. That may or may not be fair.
Most cases it’s not fair because the media will demand that Black athletes speak out against any form of injustice to justify their advocacy of injustice facing Black people.
Which is why it was satisfying to hear LeBron James call out the media for failing to ask him about the controversy swirling around a photo of Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones while Black students were integrating a Little Rock high school, when it willing asked James about the anti-Semitism controversy surrounding Kyrie Irving.
James said of it:
“I was wondering why I haven’t gotten a question from you guys about the Jerry Jones photo, but when the Kyrie thing was going on, you guys were quick to access questions about that. Okay, hold on, hold on, hold on, hold on, hold on. I only want you guys to say nothing. When I watched Kyrie talk, and he says, ‘I know who I am,’ but I want to keep the same energy when we’re talking about my people and the things that we’ve been through. And that Jerry Jones photo is one of those moments that our people, Black people, have been through in America.
And I feel like. As a Black man, as a Black athlete, as someone with power and a platform. When we do something wrong or something that people don’t agree with, it’s every tabloid; every news coverage is on. The bottom ticker is it’s asked about every single day. But it seems like to me that the whole Jerry Jones situation photo, and I know it was years and years ago, and we all make mistakes. I get it. They seem like it’s just been buried under like, oh, it happened. Okay. We just we just move on. And I was just kind of disappointed. I haven’t received that question from you guys. Appreciate it.”
James pointed out the double standard of the media… that Black people of stature and influence are held to a higher standard of behavior and decorum than white people of stature and influence. He was right to point it out.
Because Black people stand up for Black people when injustice happens, we are to answer for the Black person who makes a mistake of any sort, particularly when it involves their prejudice? The reason why this is wrong is because it is disingenuous on the part of the media.
It’s a “gotcha” question meant to make hypocrites of Black athletes because someone (some white person or group of white people) don’t like it when whiteness, white supremacy, racism, systemic racism or anything that may make a white person feel guilty is announced in public.
… And why might a white person feel guilty for being white? Why are people like Ron DeSantis after the “woke mob” for making white people feel bad for being white people?
Because whiteness is a social (and legal) construct that offer a series of political, economic, cultural and social powers and privileges to white people at the expense of non-white people, specifically Black people. To confront that fact, to wrestle with that truth, is uncomfortable and challenging for some and requires tangible changes that will require the ending of the very power and privileges that white people benefit from.
That’s a different conversation from writing Black Lives Matter on street signs or on hardwood floors.
So kudos to LeBron James fall calling this tactic of the media out. My message to the media is simply… instead of looking to Black athletes and entertainers like Kanye West, Ice Cube, and Killer Mike, as the voices of the Black community on matters that don’t impact them because they’re rich—because (Black) capitalism won’t save Black people—call on the intellectual and activist voices of those on the ground doing the activist and intellectual work of moving Black people forward.
That won’t happen though. Because El-Shabazz warned as he did of Black athletes and entertainers. Of the media, El-Shabazz said, “The media’s the most powerful entity on earth. They have the power to make the innocent guilty and to make the guilty innocent… The press is used to make it look like (the Black man) is the criminal and (the police force is) the victim.”
I wonder if they’ll ask LeBron James what that quote means?