Wealthy African Americans: The Double Standard

By Todd A. Smith

            The breaking news was a total surprise.  Football fans who had tuned in to ESPN to see a preseason game between last year’s two Super Bowl teams, the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Arizona Cardinals, were immediately transfixed with the news that Michael Vick was the newest Philadelphia Eagle.

            Vick, one of the most celebrated football stars in history and one of the wealthiest African Americans in professional sports, had become somewhat of a social pariah because of his involvement in a heinous dog fighting ring.  After the allegations became public two years ago, Vick instantly went from one of America’s most beloved stars to probably its most hated.

            Despite the fact that Vick’s actions in the aforementioned dog fighting were indeed heinous, the punishment and the public fallout were extremely excessive.  Many critics believed, and still believe, that the former Atlanta Falcons quarterback should be barred from making a living in the National Football League permanently.

            As a publisher of an online magazine, I marvel how technology has transformed the way in which the media communicates with its audience.  What once was a one-sided relationship, has become reciprocal, as readers of various publications and viewers and listeners of television and radio shows can voice their opinions just as easily as the manager of a media enterprise.

            However, as an African American it shocks me to hear the anger that many non-Black members of our great nation have when it comes to their opinions of wealthy African Americans.  Practically all of the protestors against Vick’s signing with the Eagles were White, and practically all of Vick’s supporters were African American.  The fact of the matter is the uproar over Vick’s crime would not have resulted in such a harsh sentence if he was not one of many wealthy African Americans in the NFL with a football contract worth over $130 million at the time, in addition to his many endorsement deals.

            Although we have come far as a nation when it comes to race relations, incidents always occur that lets us know that we have so far to go.  When President Barack Obama was elected many believed we were in a post-racial America.  However, the threats and ridicule he has received from a certain bigoted segment of our population lets us know that many are not willing to accept powerful and wealthy African Americans.

            Furthermore, many falsely believe if they do not utter racial epithets and say all of the political correct things in public, that somehow they are immune from expressing prejudice and racism.  In actuality, many times our racist thoughts are subconscious, and deep down all of us our prejudice in some form or fashion.  Subconsciously, what many Americans have a problem with is not that Vick tortured dogs, which he was totally wrong for, but that this African American male from the ghettoes of Virginia can come out of incarceration and become an instant millionaire by jotting his signature on the dotted lines.

            Even for those of us who are not blessed with a million dollar contract, everyone from wealthy African Americans to poor White Americans, deserve an opportunity to right the wrongs in their life.  No matter how severe the crime, we all need and deserve forgiveness, including Vick.

            “I know what Michael was accused and convicted of, and I don’t like it at all,” Eagles teammate Donovan McNabb wrote on his blog.  “I have had dogs all my life and consider myself a dog-lover.  I am in no way excusing Michael for what happened, but he was punished for his crime.  He served his time and, at least I believe, he has learned from it.  I believe Michael is a changed person, and that he deserves a chance at putting his life back together.”

            Nevertheless, the hatred that is aimed towards wealthy African Americans does not have to stem from criminal activity.  After the shocking death of Michael Jackson, his family began receiving the type of media scrutiny that they once received at the height of their popularity. 

            Much attention was placed on Jackson’s three young children and the details of the will that gave 40 percent of his earnings to his mother Katherine, 40 percent to his three children and 20 percent to charity.  When CNN’s Nancy Grace asked another legal expert on her show if Katherine could give her portion of the earnings to her children and husband, Grace shook her head in disgust that all of the money would not go to his children.

            I often wonder, if the fact that the skin of Jackson’s kids is fair had anything to do with the media’s concern for their welfare.  If the three children had darker skin would news outlets such as CNN have been so concerned about their welfare and the allegations that their grandfather Joe had physically abused his own children?

            Furthermore, would Grace had been so disgusted to think that Jackson’s parents and siblings could inherit hundreds of millions of dollars if all parties involved had dark skin? Throughout the history of this country, many wealthy White Americans have earned their fortune through inheritance.  If one is blessed to have a highly successful member of the family, why should they not benefit from “old money?”

            It just seems that because we now have more powerful and wealthy African Americans in our country, some in society have become offended that wealth does not have a color complex, which has resulted in many wealthy African Americans.  Unfortunately, many seem to have a cash complex when it comes to people of color.

Smith is publisher of Regal Black Men’s Magazine.

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