Nick Westbrooks: Why Black Athletes Should be Educated

By Nick Westbrooks

Detroit Lions linebacker Justin Durant

In the midst of the controversy over Chick-Fil-A’s opposition to gay marriage, Detroit Lions linebacker Justin Durant decided to chime in on the debate. On Twitter he first talked about the company’s position on gay marriage and asked how “people not gon get the best chicken sammich and lemonade on the planet because of a personal belief…” Durant was then asked if he would continue to buy Chick-Fil-A if the company supported slavery. He said he would because the “chicken too tasty.”

Whether Durant was joking or not, it’s needless to say that his comment was ignorant and only reinforces the stereotype that Black athletes and entertainers are unenlightened. There is truth to the claim that historically slaves were trained to be physically strong and mentally weak. I won’t debate on whether the Willie Lynch letter is real or fake, but it’s undeniable that Blacks were bred and trained to be strong workers in the field, and the present-day manifestation is the superb athletic ability of slave descendants as Michael Johnson said.

We inherited the physical strength gene, but unfortunately, many of us inherited the mental weakness gene as well. Slaves were bred to be mentally weak as a method to dissuade them from resisting the oppressive force of the slaveholders. In 2012, White supremacists want Black athletes as well as the entire Black race to remain in a state of psychological slavery, and this is a reminder that our athletes should be educated even if they earn millions of dollars yearly to play sports.

We often make the mistake of stressing the importance of education to our elementary, middle and high school student-athletes merely for the purposes of meeting the minimal GPA and standardized test score requirements for the NCAA Clearinghouse, and we stress education as a “back-up plan” just in case they don’t make it to the NFL or NBA. Sadly, too many parents and coaches don’t even consider these reasons.

It’s true that student-athletes have to perform academically to play sports in college, and it’s true that the odds of going pro after college are slim. According to Beyond Sports U, 1.7% of college players go to the NFL and 1.2% of college players get drafted to the NBA.

But for those aspiring professional athletes and those who’ve already made it and are multi-millionaires now, they should realize that being educated is much more than earning a living. Education is a key that opens doors of opportunities and options, but it’s much deeper than employment and dollars and cents. It’s important that our Black athletes, both aspiring and professional, be educated in order to change their consciousness and not to make themselves and the rest of the race look like buffoons.

Furthermore, Black athletes should be financially literate. They hire agents and lawyers to ensure they receive the correct amount of millions, but with so many sports stars going broke, one has to wonder who’s managing the Black athletes’ finances and if they’re operating in the best interests of their clients. I also wonder about the conspicuous consumption and materialism that’s all too common with our Black professional competitors.

If Black athletes aren’t educated for themselves, they should at least be educated for the young Black boys that look up to them and aspire to the dream of becoming professional sports stars.

I’m not suggesting that every athlete needs to enroll in a university and get a degree. There are many professional athletes, who finished college or spent some time in college (Durant attended Hampton University), but a degree doesn’t make one educated, and a person can become educated without attending college. Additionally, we all know people — either personally or in the public scene — that graduated from Ivy League schools but make some mainstream rap artists look like scholars.

Black athletes should be able to read and think at a college level and most importantly, have adequate knowledge of themselves and their history, so they won’t make comments similar to Durant’s. With this, we can take steps to combat racism and stereotypes by proving to the world that we can be both athletic on the field and court and mentally competent as well.

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Reconstruction-Era Disfranchisement and Present-Day Voter Suppression

By Jasmine Tucker

Blacks exercising the right to vote during Reconstruction

Disfranchisement for African-Americans has been one of the many hurdles that Blacks have had to jump over. As early as the late 1870s, southern Democrats have worked to weaken Black political power. Violence and intimidation scared many Blacks from voting. White landlords would sometimes threaten or bribe Black sharecroppers and renters not to vote or to vote for the landlord’s candidates.

White leaders were concerned that if they forced what were then legally suitable barriers to voting – literacy tests, poll taxes, and property qualifications – they would also disfranchise many White voters. However, in 1882, South Carolina passed the Eight Box Law, a primal literacy test that required voters to deposit separate ballots for separate election races in the proper ballot box. Illiterate voters could not recognize the boxes unless White officials assisted them.

Mississippi made the most triumphant attempt to eliminate Black voters without openly violating the Fifteenth Amendment. In 1889, Black leaders from 40 Mississippi counties protested the “violent and criminal suppression of the black vote.” In response, White men called a constitutional convention to do away with the Black vote.

With 1 Black delegate and 134 White delegates, the convention formulated meticulous voting standards that – without mentioning race – disfranchised Black voters. Voting required proof of residency and payment of all taxes, including a $2 poll tax. A person convicted of arson or petty theft – crimes the delegates linked with Black people – could not vote. However, people convicted of so-called “White crimes” such as murder and rape could vote. The new Mississippi constitution also required voters to be literate, but illiterate men could still meet the criteria to vote by proving that they understood the constitution if it was read to them.

Black voting in South Carolina waned since the end of Reconstruction. Unhappy that even so few voters might decide an election, U.S. Senator Benjamin R. Tillman won support for a constitutional convention in 1895. The convention followed Mississippi’s lead and fashioned an “understanding clause” but not without a protest from Black leaders. Six Black men and 154 White men were elected to the South Carolina Convention including Robert Smalls who had been a delegate to the 1868 constitutional convention. The six Black men protested Black disfranchisement, even though their cries were not considered. White delegates didn’t even pretend that the elections should be fair.

In 1898, Louisiana added a new twist to disfranchisement. Its grandfather clause predetermined that only men who had been eligible to vote before 1867 – or whose father or grandfather had been eligible before that year – would be qualified to vote. Because most Black men had just emerged from slavery, practically none were qualified to vote before 1867, thus the law instantly disfranchised almost all Black voters. Except for Kentucky and West Virginia, each southern state had enacted complicated limitations on voting by the 1890s. As a result, very few Black men continued to vote, and none were elected to office.

In the meantime, Congressional Republicans made a last, ineffective attempt to protect Black- voting rights. In 1890, Massachusetts Congressman Henry Cabot Lodge introduced a bill to necessitate federal supervision of elections in congressional districts where fraud and intimidation were suspected. White southerners were furious and labeled it the “Force bill,” because they wrongly believed that it would force Black rule over White people.

This Federal Elections bill easily passed the House but failed in the Senate after a 33-day Democratic filibuster. That ended the last important congressional attempt to defend Black-voting rights in the South until the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

This week, Gene Demby of the Huffington Post wrote a truly compelling article that put a major emphasis on the importance of Black participation in the upcoming election season. The National Urban League recently posted a report that acknowledged the importance of black voter turnout in this upcoming election. The report focused on North Carolina, Virginia, and Ohio, which are significant swing states during the election period.

According to the report, from 2004 to 2008, the Black voter turnout rate increased from 60% in 2004 to 65% in 2008. The study also revealed that Blacks are more likely to vote if they are registered. About 93% of registered Blacks voted in national elections compared to 90% of Whites and 84% of Hispanics. Young Blacks were the driving force behind the rush of African-Americans at the polls.

Voter ID laws may prevent certain groups of people from voting.

Due to these significant trends, Republican-dominated legislatures have approved voter ID laws that will require voters to present certain forms of official ID in order to vote. Proponents of the laws say they are intended to reduce voter fraud. However, voting rights organizations like the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU, pinpointed that voter fraud is extremely uncommon, while others noticed that the demographic populations most affected by the legislation are African-Americans, Latinos, young people, and the poor, who usually vote Democrat.

In light of this new information, I could only think back to the many methods that were imposed on African-Americans to prevent them for voting. The ludicrous thing about this circumstance is that it’s preventing Blacks, but young people, the poor, and Latinos from voting for a Black man. I still find it hard to believe that there are still people trying to institutionalize racist acts and policies on people. However this time, it doesn’t only affect African-Americans, but a whole rainbow coalition of people.

The question now is, how do we make it stop? We teach our young children about all the barriers that Blacks had to fight to receive the right to vote. Nonetheless, they are living in a time were these barriers are being recycled into legislations that now require IDs to vote. All I can hope for is that in the midst of this political war of a campaign, someone in Congress will find the heart to deter these acts, so that our children will not have to fight for the same rights our ancestors fought for years before our time.

Jasmine Tucker is a senior sociology major/African-American Studies minor at Howard University. She’s also an educational issues intern at the American Federation of Teachers. Follow Jasmine on Twitter @YourQueen2Bee and friend her on Facebook.

The Fourth of July Isn’t for Black People

On July 5, 1852, Frederick Douglass gave a speech in which he asked, “What to the American slave, is the Fourth of July?” His answer was “a day that reveals to him [the slave], more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelly to which he is the constant victim.” And prior to this question and answer, Douglass tells his predominately White audience “I am not included within the pale of this glorious anniversary.”

In 2012, this message still holds true. Whether enslaved physically by mass incarceration and the prison industrial complex, or enslaved mentally by the psychological chains of Black-on-Black carnage, the myth of Black inferiority, dysfunctional families, overall disunity and economic disempowerment, the Fourth of July still isn’t ours. African Americans who have a false sense of freedom and believe that they’ve “made it,” aren’t exempt either.

But, keep in mind that regardless of whether we’re slaves or free people, the Fourth of July will continue to not belong to us. As long as racism endures, Blacks will be excluded. Years of loyalty, building the United States into what it is today, fighting in wars (including the Revolutionary War that led to the colonies’ independence from Great Britain) and contributing to America’s economy doesn’t mean anything. With all of our contributions, we remain to be considered second-class citizens, or worse, less than human beings.

Yes, we are excluded from the Fourth of July celebration, but on the other hand, we must ask ourselves this fundamental question: Should we even want to be included in a celebration that continues to be, as Douglass calls it, “mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy—a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disagree a nation of savages?” I’ll leave that up to you to think about and decide. By the way, there’s no need to expound on the crimes and hypocrisy America is guilty of.

Despite America’s corruption and racist ideologies, African Americans have been surviving and making the best of their situation. At the end of his speech, Douglass said he does not “despair of this country,” and I do not despair of it either. The signers of the Declaration of Independence, as Douglass acknowledged, were brave men who were able to achieve freedoms that may not have been available to Americans had they not taken the courage to break away from Britain. Much work remains to be done, but the United States has come a long way.

Today, I have the limited freedom to write this post speaking critically of this country without being detained, tortured or executed unlike other countries in the world. In conclusion, the message to my brothers and sisters of color is this: As you eat barbeque, watch fireworks and snatch sale items off of the racks, be aware that America’s celebration of independence still isn’t ours. It is a celebration for the descendants of the Founding Fathers, but it’s mockery to the descendants of slaves.