I remember it like it was yesterday when Dr. Julianne Malveaux, the former President of Bennett College dropped this nugget of wisdom regarding institutional racism and the forgiveness it affords white males. In her famed style, the remarkable economist remarked that ‘a skinhead ain’t nothing but a white boy who needs to grow some hair. And when he does, he can walk into any company and be assured of securing some semblance of employment, regardless of his qualifications for the position.’
The alluded to wisdom that Malveaux shared with a room full of African-American collegians was daunting, yet true. Every American should realize that white privilege is enjoyed by whites regardless of their effort to secure it or desire to receive it. Hence, it is puzzling, if not bewildering to hear former NFL Quarterback Michael Vick, a black man who once was the personification of a thug in the eyes of white America, offers the following advice to Colin Kaepernick on FS1’s show “Speak for Yourself.”
“First thing we’ve got to get Colin to do is cut his hair. Listen, I’m not up here to try to be politically correct…I don’t think he should represent himself in that way in terms of just the hairstyle. Just go clean-cut. You know, why not? You’re already dealing with a lot of controversy surrounding this issue. The most important thing that he needs to do is just try to be presentable.”
Vick’s uninformed diatribe continues below,
“(I) didn’t listen until the end, until I was going through the turmoil and the hardships…Listen, I love the guy to death. But I want him to also succeed on and off the field…It’s not about selling out.”
When one considers Vick’s words, it is evident that life’s experiences have taught him the primary lesson that educator Jane Elliott reveals as the only path for black people to get ahead in America, “Conform!!!! Act white!!!! That’s how you get ahead in America!!!!”
As an educator privileged to watch thousands of young black males transform during their undergraduate years, I have always found it humorous when a figure that white America and a particular segment of ‘well to do’ black America would consider a ‘thug’ transforms into “the company man.” The company man is ironically a desperate attempt by the disenfranchised to replicate the persona and worldview of those that have historically taken glee in vilifying him. The alluded to figure is impeccably groomed, never found in anything less than designer clothing, and arrives at informal social gatherings dressed business casual. Shockingly, the alluded to transformation often extends far beyond physical appearance as it affects their word choice and diction; I swear that a few of my students picked up a strange accent that vacillates between British and French to complete the transformation. This persona that Harlem Renaissance Poet Paul Laurence Dunbar termed “the Mask” is always an uncomfortable fit for those that consider it an indispensable accessory.
We Wear the Mask
We wear the mask that grins and lies,
It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,—
This debt we pay to human guile;
With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,
And mouth with myriad subtleties.
Why should the world be over-wise,
In counting all our tears and sighs?
Nay, let them only see us, while
We wear the mask.
We smile, but, O great Christ, our cries
To thee from tortured souls arise.
We sing, but oh the clay is vile
Beneath our feet, and long the mile;
But let the world dream otherwise,
We wear the mask!
(Paul Laurence Dunbar)
There is no doubt that those who wear Dunbar’s “mask” do so with the realization that it is the most certain means of having their material needs satisfied. However, if given enough time, these same individuals will realize that they have made a lopsided deal with the Devil that ultimately leaves them as one of the “tortured souls” that Dunbar writes about in his poem.
In many ways, Michael Vick’s advice to Kaepernick is revealing as it displays what he has learned from his very public troubles. Apparently, Vick believes that one must curry favor with white power-brokers ‘by any means necessary.’
I guess that silly is as silly does, and Michael Vick’s silly advice to Kaepernick has actually achieved one thing for certain; that being, it has ensured that he is firmly entrenched as the starting Quarterback on an All-Star team of unwise and stupid athletes who should have been benched long ago when it comes to addressing racial matters, a duty they are incapable of doing well.
Dr. James Thomas Jones III
© Manhood, Race and Culture, 2017