It’s 2011: Do You Know Where Your Uppity Negroes Are?

Uppity Negro: N.—a Black person who is committed to reversing the crimes of self-refusal, self-denial, and self-hatred that are endemic to the Black community and detrimental to the Black psyche. Syn.—UNAPOLOGETIC. VAINGLORIOUS. MULTIFARIOUS. JUST AUDACIOUS. ~ The Urban Dictionary

Having written on both LeBron and Kobe it should be pretty clear that I like sports. What I find particularly fascinating is how a combination of selective logic and the availability heuristic drive almost all sports discussions, be they on “sports talk radio” or during the ostensibly more journalistic major network coverage. In the case of Kobe, I was amazed that something as innocuous as a video game could draw so much discussion, but then again, the discussion of irrelevant crap even remotely involving sports has spawned an entire profitable network. Just ask Disney. (FTR, I openly admit to watching way too much of this particular network.)

Recently, I found myself Tweeting about LeBron James quite a bit. (Yes, I obviously have time to kill.) I have also found myself responding to several negative posts about him among my Facebook friends. Over the last few days, people I don’t even know have exchanged barbs with me about James. Ironically, this is despite the fact that I was fiercely hoping for a Dallas victory. How did this author—a staunch supporter of Dirk, J-Kidd, and the Mavs—morph into a protector of LeBron’s image? Truthfully, I do not know. Well, I did not know, until I watched a particularly interesting telecast on “The LeBron Network,” which is occasionally also referred to as ESPN.

During the episode, amid ample dissection of the game itself, much was made of a statement James made during the post-game press conference. At some point during the presser, after he had been asked a breathtaking variety of insipid questions ranging from “Did you choke?” to “Why do you think you perform so poorly during the clutch?” James was asked, “What do you think about the people who hate you?” (or words to that effect). No, I am not making this up. Whatever happened to asking sports figures about, well, sports—Xs and Os and the like?

LeBron responded with some variant of, “Tomorrow those people will wake up with the same life they have, and so will I.” I was proud of him. The reporters on ESPN were aghast! Surely, he will regret saying that later, they opined. My question is simply, “Why?” What LeBron said was accurate. Maybe he should have been more sheepish in his response. Sheepish always plays well for the cameras. Maybe he should have continued to respond politely to even more insulting, vapid, and frankly, silly questions. Good for him that he did not. After some consideration I now realize that LeBron’s biggest offense that night was the same as his biggest offense throughout this whole saga, dating back to The Decision.

LeBron James is an uppity Negro!

I’m not the first person to draw this conclusion. Skip Oliva implies a similar conclusion in his piece, “LeBron and the Collectivist Mentality.” Says Oliva:

James is the ongoing target of one of the most vehement public racism campaigns in recent memory. And when I say racism, I don’t mean he’s being targeted because he’s African-American. That type of racism is generally taboo. James is a professional athlete, which is one of the few groups the mainstream press not only condones racism against, but also actively promotes.

Oliva stopped short of saying James is a target of died-in-the-wool racism. This author won’t pull up short. LeBron James is an uppity Negro. In fairness, Oliva made the above statement over a year ago. He now says, “I’m 100% on-board with the notion that this is straight-up anti-black racism.” He shared with me that this wonderfully even-handed piece from Deadspin provided the tipping point for his point-of-view. (Parental guidance suggested for anyone following that link, and by the way, it is not even-handed.)

If there is one thing the press doesn’t like, it’s an uppity Negro—particularly when those members of the press think they have somehow bestowed greatness upon that Negro. (“We made you, nigger, and we can break you.”) In this case, James had the gall to actually collude with two other darkies to decide for whom he and they would play basketball. The nerve! He did this with the stated goal of winning the NBA championship. Say what? He even had the moxie to openly state that he and his compadres would win multiple NBA championships. Tacky? Sure. It seems pretty clear to me that he was, at that point, just mugging for the camera (i.e., not having a serious discussion of his team’s prospects), but apparently statements made during a made-for-fans celebration are fodder for public debate and reprisal. Tacky statements from sports figures ain’t exactly something new, are they? Again, if we return to Oliva, we get a clue as to what really galls me about this situation:

I’ve heard reasonable basketball minds differ as to whether James might be closer to a championship in Chicago or New York. Such debate is normal and fun. What I’m critical of is the collective consciousness of the press harping on nonsensical talking points that seek to portray James as somehow antisocial or mentally unbalanced. I believe such criticism originates from the false belief that professional athletes like James must conform their behavior to social norms that the critics themselves would not adhere to. (Emphasis added.)

Exactly. We can debate if The Decision, i.e., the announcement of his plans to “take his talents to Miami,” was handled properly, but as Oliva states elsewhere in his piece and as I state in mine—previously posted here—the movement of high-profile players around the NBA, and elsewhere, is routine. Anyone who seriously thinks LeBron is the first superstar to be teamed-up with another superstar would do well to repeat one phrase to himself:  Boston Celtics. (Boston even calls their three studs “the Big Three,” just as sportswriters have dubbed the Miami triumvirate of Wade, James, and Bosh.) As an aside, Kobe Bryant publicly pouted in Los Angeles—while privately threatening to leave—until the Lakers went out and stole “the most skilled big man in the NBA” and brought him to L.A. to help Kobe win, which he promptly did. That the Miami case can be presented as somehow unique is laughable, except for one thing—the Miami case happened because the players directly pulled the strings, versus the normal course of events, whereby team owners and management do so. Damned uppity Negroes!

Conclusion

Will the Heat win multiple championships? I don’t know and, really, I don’t care. Did LeBron choke against Dallas? I’ve played a lot of sports and I actually have no idea what that phrase even means. (Wiki didn’t help, since the definition they gave didn’t apply to this case.)  More to the point, as Wade so eloquently answered that tacky question, the terminology “choked” is overused. The use of such a designation suggests that the Mavericks do not deserve due credit. Basically, saying the Heat choked is tantamount to saying that Dallas won by default. What a compliment! (Apparently, Dallas has the power to make four consecutive teams, even the vaunted Lakers, who they swept, become chokers.  The Force is strong with the Mavs!)

That the same group of supposed journalists can simultaneously ask if Miami choked while celebrating Dirk Nowitski’s clutchness is testament to the cognitive dissonance that we’ve come to expect from the typical coverage of U.S. sports and embrace as we enjoy it.  That the same people who over-praised, over-promoted, and over-hyped a 26-year-old basketball prodigy now attack him for being audacious is par for the course. After all, unapologetic audaciousness is the very definition of being an uppity Negro.

For a little historical context, one has only to look at the post-NBA career of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Kareem was always, always the prototypical uppity Negro—and now, one of the smartest men to ever play in the NBA, cannot get a sniff at an NBA coaching job. Clearly, not pandering to the press and not displaying appropriate levels of “humility” is not only a recipe for ridicule and personal attacks, all too often from people who should know better, but also a way to make sure you spend lots of time watching other guys get opportunities while you do not. While I can appreciate the age-old wisdom of “going along to get along,” part of me also hopes folks like LeBron James continue to follow the advice offered by Frederick Douglass, in his Narrative, when he says:

I prefer to be true to myself, even at the hazard of incurring the ridicule of others, rather than to be false, and incur my own abhorrence.

Granted, Douglass was speaking of issues far more important than basketball. It strikes me that amazingly negative attitude toward LeBron James is about more than basketball as well.

7 comments… add one

  • *ATTENTION MODERATORS*

    Could you please delete my initial post – the first one at the top – that I am replying to? I submitted it without proofreading and noticed a few minor errors I would prefer to fix and then re-submit after the first has been deleted.

    If this is not possible it really isn’t a big deal, but I’m a bit of a writing perfectionist and would rather have the chance to correct the mistakes. The post ended up being longer and more detailed than I originally intended… it is actually more of an “answer” than a comment.

    Awesome website by the way ;)

    Reply
    • Michael,

      Done. If you register and log in before commenting, you should be able to edit your comments afterward.

      And thanks for the compliment on the site!

      Reply
  • Thanks for your comments.

    For my part, I think several things LeBron has done could be termed both mistaken and somewhat childish, including the thing you mentioned and some you did not. (In this regard, he is remarkably similar to other professional stars who are, somewhat shockingly, not hated in the same visceral way. Some of these stars are even more narcissistic–a code word–than LeBron will ever be. Go figure.) As such, it strikes me that he’s not unique and the hate for him is overwrought, which is the point I tried to make.

    Your comments did not lessen that feeling, but instead confirmed it.

    It also strikes me that pretty much everything LeBron has done, he did before he made “The Decision” and yet, the three minutes hate didn’t get in high gear until he took his talents to Miami. Maybe his arrogance and lack of humility–another code word–only became apparent with the glow of South Beach in the background.

    As far as role models, I agree with Barkley: finding them in professional sports is a fool’s errand. (For example, pregnant, unmarried ex-girlfriends, both in and out of jail, are not uncommon among the NBA elite.) As far as I can tell, off the court, both Wade and LeBron and frankly, a number of NBA elite, strive to be role models for the only people for whom they should maintain that role–their own kids. Do they fall short? I am certain they do, but neither those failings, nor the inconsequential happenings during “crunch time” on a basketball court, should engender the visceral animosity that seems so prevalent.

    Reply
  • Hey Wilt,
    Please list all the adjectives that you know are code words for racism so that white people know how to self censor themselves when saying anything about anyone who happens to be black.

    Reply
    • I could try, but it would be a waste. Besides, racism, like value, is subjective. In this case, it was pretty easy though. Feel free to sensor yourself anyway, if you like!

      Reply
  • “Humility” and “Narcissism” appear to be code words for the same thing they’ve been code words for since Ayn Rand’s day. Respectively they denote the lack of and presence of self-respect in an individual with more talent than the speaker. Someone who is good and knows it has “Narcissism”, someone who is good and pretends not to know it (as though someone with talent like their’s and an agent wouldn’t) has “Humility”. Just more envy from the “can’t do it so I write about it” crowd.

    Reply

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