Generally speaking, racial conflict is certain to sprout when groups conflict over the meaning of an event/issue, discord that flows from both groups inability to properly contextualize, or see, the event within a larger American tradition. Put simply, we view events/occurrences through glasses that are tinted by our larger understanding, or the lack thereof, of an extended tradition of race, gender, class, and religious beliefs.
The selection of Michele Roberts as the new National Basketball Players Association Executive Director is ripe for such an occurrence. The selection of an African-American woman to head a major sports union is unprecedented in the world of sports, however, it means so much more for those who understand the tumultuous tradition of intra-racial discord. Those who simply want to attribute the players selection of Michele Roberts to serve as the Executive Director of the NBPA (National Basketball Player Association) as simply a matter of union members selecting the best available candidate, are unable to contextualize this moment within a larger tradition of in-fighting between powerful Black men and women.
Historically, African-American women who possessed innate genius and unprecedented courage in the most tenuous situations were discounted by their male counterparts who were seeking to emulate white patriarchy during myriad pivotal moments in our people’s history. The alluded to vilification of Black women by their brethren is one of the reasons that the vast majority of African-Americans have no comprehension of the following women/institutions: Jo Anne Robinson, Mary Fair Burks, the Women’s Political Council, Ella Baker, Kathleen Cleaver, Assata Shakur, Barbara Jordan, and the list goes on and on.
Brilliant and courageous Black women have been marginalized by their brethren at moments where Black solidarity was critical to our advancement.
One of the most classic examples of such non-sense was documented when noted Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee leader Stokely Carmichael quipped that “the role of women in the movement is prone.” Put simply, what the vaunted Carmichael was insinuating was that the role of Black women in the Civil Rights Movement is laying on their backs with their legs spread open. Such views have historically run rampant within the African-American community. At moments when we should have been calling for all decks on hand to stem the pernicious and reverberating effects of racism, Black male leadership spent much of their energy muting what would have been significant contributions from their sisters.
So it is from this historical context that I recognize that the selection of Michele Roberts to the Executive Director’s position of the NBPA as significant and I likewise tip my hat to the brothers who make up the National Basketball Association for not only arriving in unprecedented numbers to participate in the process, but also celebrate their being able to see beyond the pervasive gender bias that affects the decision making ability of ALL men in this patriarchal society and selecting the best candidate for the future of their union.
So please excuse me for taking a moment, particularly as I know that it will be a fleeting one, to celebrate this rather rare occurrence of unity within the Black community; a moment wholly created by “brothers and sisters working it out.”
Dr. James Thomas Jones III