Please Wake Up

By Todd A. Smith

            Early Spike Lee movies became famous for their weird endings.  In 1988’s School Daze, Laurence Fishburne, weary of the internal prejudice within the Black race, urged Blacks to “please wake up.”

            That plea for Blacks to wake up is still relevant today as our community still struggles with division and self-hatred.

            Like many sports fanatics, I was anxious to watch the documentary entitled The Fab Five about the meteoric rise of five freshmen who lead the University Michigan basketball team to the NCAA championship game in 1992, following it up with another visit to the championship game as sophomores. 

A team known for controversy and water cooler conversation created another controversy when former point guard Jalen Rose referred to Grant Hill and other Blacks from Duke University as “Uncle Toms” for being from affluent backgrounds and not sharing the same street credibility as his former teammates Chris Webber, Juwan Howard, Ray Jackson and Jimmy King.

            Tuesday on ESPN, Rose reiterated that opinion came from a 17-year-old kid who had grown up with an absentee father who happened to be NBA star Jimmy Walker and he resented the fact that his mother had to work so hard to make ends meet.  But his comment about Hill being an “Uncle Tom” because his parents were successful brings up a larger problem that is still prevalent in Black America and needs to be addressed.

            Many Black Americans from the inner-city grow up resenting the fact that there are Black people who have achieved the American dream and live very affluent lifestyles.  What they do not know is that many of those same people came from impoverished backgrounds as well and are simply enjoying the fruits of their labor and creating a better opportunity for the next generation.

            Rose’s comment that Black people such as Calvin Hill (former NFL star) and his wife Janet (college roommate of Hillary Rodham Clinton) are “Uncle Toms,” meaning they are subservient to Whites, was off base and those with that mentality need a reality check.

            What people with that mentality fail to realize is that divisiveness amongst Blacks is more subservient to Whites than Black success. 

            During slavery, White slave owners would separate light-skinned Blacks from dark-skinned Blacks to create bitterness between the two skin tones, which in turn caused them not to unite as one to fight the evils of slavery. 

When poor Blacks try to demean affluent Blacks because of their success they are doing the slave masters job for them, making them the real “Uncle Tom.”  And as long as Blacks stay impoverished, then we are winning the battle for racists who want to keep us down.  Nothing makes a racist more upset than Black success, and the success of the Hill family and others like them should be commended, not ridiculed.

Nevertheless, the “Fab Five” represented a movement that was needed in American sports at that time.  In the early 1990s, Black athletes were applauded if they acted conservatively like the athletes from Duke and ridiculed if they represented the hip-hop culture like UNLV and Michigan.  Twenty years ago, the five hoop legends showed young Black Americans that it is OK to be themselves and not what society wants them to be.

But any Black American that calls an educated and affluent Black an “Uncle Tom” needs to truly wake up and learn their history.  Because if you call Calvin, Janet and Grant Hill “Uncle Toms” you are also calling educated Blacks like Martin Luther King, Jr., W.E.B. DuBois and Lena Horne “Uncle Toms” and anyone with that mentality is the real sell-out.

Smith is publisher of Regal Black Men’s Magazine, a publication dedicated to the African American community.

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