Grant Hill

A friend posted this — a letter by Grant Hill discussing his career and its relationship to race and education. Specifically, he is responding to comments made by Jalen Rose about his life rising as a basketball star. The crux of the article is that Rose said that Duke recruited black players who were uncle toms, i.e., those black people who like to act “white” or more precisely, those who like to accept white norms of conduct in order to better themselves in society.

Throughout this article, I’m going to discussing some points about race, and I am white, and further, from a very privileged white background. Given that, my perception of these issues is likely to be impoverished (in fact, it certainly is impoverished), but I think Hill’s point, and a more broadly philosophical point, is that everyone is allowed to comment on race and try to learn from others and extract the significance of each other’s struggles.

The whole article was very interesting, and of course, the world of punditry is filled with various small points that deserve to be noted. First, as I understand things, Rose’s comments were in the past, saying how he felt at the time. Second, I could understand why Rose might make this point. Hill is also guilty of a little argument by redefinition. He says what Rose’s point is, and then attacks THAT POINT, but its not clear to me that he characterized Rose’s point in the best light before responding. In fact, he seemed to interpret Rose’s general comment as a very narrow point about people in backgrounds that are very similar to Hill’s.

The big points that I got out of things though are the following, the first one leading, non-too-rigorously, to the second.

The first point is that as many Blacks become more successful, there will become a growing issue concerning the best way to work toward further equality in justice, and a discussion that I foresee fracturing ideas and strategies. Now this is laughable how ivory-tower my experience with this issue is, but listen. I took a class about African American politics, and one of the consistent themes was the clash between liberalism broadly construed and a kind of colored communitarianism.

The former says that all along Blacks were working so that individual Black people could become autonomous and choose their life paths without the constraints of bigotry, low access to social and economic opportunities, etc. In other words, victory for a utopian civil rights movement would mean that someone who was black could go about their life without their race playing a role. What the hell does “playing a role” mean? Well, its controversial, but you might think of it like this. Take two people are exactly alike in personality and dispositions and interests, and economic circumstances. One is white and one is Black (see, notice how i capitalize Black but not white? I’m just playing it safe because I don’t know the conventions, but just the fact that I don’t feel comfortable not capitalizing both of them shows how uneducated well-meaning whites are about the appropriate ATTITUDE one should have toward race). Equality would be reached if the two people could lead the exact same lives.

The latter — colored communitarianism — has roots in the “black power” and “back to Africa” movements, which emphasize brotherhood and black solidarity. I won’t say too much about this because I don’t know enough to characterize it properly. But there is an idea that Blacks have formed a unique type of social harmony due to enduring oppression and that it would be best to foster this type of social organization and to INJECT IT into society at large. On this model, rather than Blacks assimilating or being accepted to white culture, blacks would adjust social conventions so that we are all, “a little bit black,” and feel that solidarity.

These two modes of racial struggle come into conflict, and this Rose/Grant story demonstrates this fact. As some Blacks become increasingly comfortable in respectful and valued positions, there will be questions about how much solidarity they will be able to show to others who have not yet made it. Are these people “uncle-tomming?” There is a risk of that — in other words, a risk that the white world too-eagerly embraces those it has damaged and in a welcoming embrace, crushes Black identity.

All this brings me to my second point, which is that I think white people love to hear MLK’s message about love and getting along. After all, who wouldn’t want to hear that we should all be friends after doing something really bad to someone else for a long period of time? And in Hill’s comments, I imagined many hang-wringing liberals and others applauding vigorously “can’t we all just get along.”

But what this misses, and this is my crude historical point, is that black power and love go hand in hand. Would people have latched on to MLK’s message of peace without Malcolm X’s aggressive challenges to white power. AND VICE VERSA. Thank god I was taught about the Black Panthers and Black Power, and the OTHER SIDE of the civil rights struggle, because otherwise, I would have bought into what Cornell West has called the SANTA-CLAUSIFICATION of the civil rights movement.

Anyway, the big wrap up point is that forgiveness and love always, as a historical matter, work side by side with solidarity and aggression, and that while people are applauding Hill for giving an admittedly, ADMIRABLE, and WONDERFUL expression to racial healing, we should not forget that there is another side (and perhaps Rose’s comments don’t even capture it) to racial justice that by nature requires banding together, expressing solidarity, and in contrast to liberal ideals — putting one’s autonomy and freedom to pursue a life path, BEHIND one’s racial duties.



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