I’m a pretty mild-mannered lady. I go to church. I make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for my four kids. I love the library. However, there is a small list of people who I would really like to punch in the face. This week, ESPN analyst Rob Parker joined that list.
I’m not a huge sports aficionado, and on most occasions when somebody on ESPN says something dumb about an athlete, I’m not likely to take notice. But Parker happened to hit a hot button for me. He felt the need to question Robert Griffin III, not on his ability to throw a football or lead a team, but on his blackness. Is RG3 really a “brother” who is “down with the cause” and “one of us,” Parker wants to know. What’s the evidence against RG3? Parker brings up his white fiancée and rumors that he might be a Republican. But thank goodness he wears braids because according to Parker, “You’re a brother if you’ve got braids on.” Whew. I’m glad we’ve got that all figured out.
So why is a German Mennonite mom like me ready to slug a sports analyst? Because my son is black. We adopted him from a West African orphanage shortly before his first birthday with the full understanding that, while we were likely saving his life (he nearly died of malaria just weeks before we were able to bring him home), we would also be complicating his life. And ours.
I assumed we might face some criticism for our decision to adopt across racial lines, but I think the greatest burden by far will fall on my child. A child who is clearly African — who is clearly black — may have to fight to prove he’s a “brother” if he doesn’t fit cultural stereotypes. I’d like to tell my son that he can be whoever he wants to be. He can marry who he loves. He can graduate from college. He can vote his conscience. But do I also have to tell him that may ostracize him from the black community?
I remember my anger when I heard Juan Williams debating Warren Ballentine over the fall-out of Rush Limbaugh’s failed bid to buy a stake in the St. Louis Rams. During a particularly heated moment, Ballentine said to Williams, “Go back to the porch, Juan.” I was dumbfounded. Williams was being called a house negro? My heart broke for my son who might someday be called the same thing, maybe even for the simple act of loving his mother.
I felt that pain again after Utah mayor Mia Love’s speech at the RNC caused her Wikipedia page to be hacked and filled with slurs questioning not only her blackness, but also her dignity as a woman. And what was her crime? She’s a conservative black woman. Clearly not “down with the cause.”
It’s time to call these cowardly actions what they are: bullying. It’s an attempt to shame somebody into behaving in a way that doesn’t challenge your perceptions of what it could mean to be black in America today. It puts people in a box based on skin color and says any deviation from those expectations will be met with public scorn. It may mean a false choice between ethnicity and conscience. And it makes me sick.
Whatever my son chooses to do with his life, they will be the choices of a black man. He won’t be just “kind of black,” as Parker called RG3, any more than I could be just “kind of a woman” based on the choices I make that aren’t stereotypically female. I hope we can raise my son to have pride in his identity and the ability to decide for himself what he wants out of his life without caving in to social pressure.
And I’m thankful my son can have heroes like Robert Griffin III who has said that he doesn’t want to be the best African-American quarterback. Rather, he wants to be the best quarterback… period. Let’s stop letting race set the bar for what can be achieved and start seeing a world of possibilities open up. Our children — of all colors — will thank us for it.
This guest post was written by Maralee Bradley. Maralee is a mother of four kids ages six and under. Three of them were adopted (one internationally, two through foster care) and her fourth baby came the old-fashioned way. She is passionate about caring for kids, foster parenting and adoption, making her husband a fairly decent dinner every night, staying on top of the laundry, watching ridiculous documentaries, and trying to do it all for God’s glory. Maralee can be heard across Nebraska on My Bridge Radio talking about motherhood and what won’t fit in a 90 second radio segment ends up at www.amusingmaralee.com.