Will My Son Be Black Enough for Rob Parker?

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.

  • Pingback: Who decide’s what’s “black”? | A Musing Maralee

  • http://www.nickcerda.org Nick Cerda

    As the father of a black daughter… well said. Thanks.

  • http://jonescabinetshopl.com David Christian

    Maralee, that is an awesome commentary. I didn’t know it was you until I got to the end! You are gifted and we are blessed, thank you, David

  • Kerri

    Bravo!

  • Katie

    Wow! So well said, Maralee!

  • Peter

    Really fantastic thoughts. Thanks for sharing!

  • Will

    This article is one-sided.

  • Jim

    It’s time to call these cowardly actions what they are: (for the right cause) a badge of honor.

  • Richard Clark

    Will – would you like to present another side in a way that is reasonable and edifying? We’d love to hear it.

  • Will

    Richard white privilege is written all over this commentary and so I have a few questions for you:
    1.Why did she really want to punch an African American man in the face? Did she have the same anger when Don Imus spoke about Rutgers Women? or was it Jan Brewer and President Obama kind of scenario?
    2.Why does she identify herself as a German Mennonite mom?
    3. Why does she assume that Parker was referring to stereotypes? Is Rob Parker the spokesperson for the African American community? Does she know what cause he was referring to?
    4. Why would she be more concerned about her son being ostracized by the black community? What about the ostracism from the white community especially the evangelical community?

  • http://www.amusingmaralee.com Maralee

    Will, I appreciate you being willing to dialogue about this and offering your perspective. I can’t argue with the reality that I am white and I realize I benefit from white privilege in many ways- even some ways I’m not aware of because of that privilege. If I wasn’t aware of that before, becoming a mother to a multi-racial family (I have other children of other nationalities) has made that more clear to me.
    I was frustrated and angry by the Don Imus scenario, but no one post can detail the breadth and scope of dumb things that have been said by analysts and talking heads over the years. I was attempting to confront the issue of how “blackness” is being defined by Rob Parker, which is something at this point he has already apologized for. Had he apologized prior to my writing this post, I don’t know that I would have even needed to address it. I’m glad when Don Imus said his hurtful words there were many who called him out and he also apologized. This is how we can help make change.
    I’m not sure how to answer why I identify myself as a German Mennonite mom. Some kind of description is necessary to show that while I have a black child, I am not a black mother which has its own sets of challenges. You have to know both of those puzzle pieces to understand why this issue would be personal to me although I am not a member of the African American community.
    I’m aware Rob Parker is not the spokesperson for the African American community any more than Don Imus is a spokesperson for the white community, but it is important to address these types of comments when they are made by public figures on either side. I’m not going to get into the specifics of the argument because Parker has acknowledged he was wrong so I don’t think I need to defend my position. I accept his apology as genuine and hope the dialogue about race keeps moving forward.
    I did not say I am more concerned about my son being ostracized by the black community than the white community. The reality is he may face difficulties in both. Again- this post was addressing a small area of our life and the issues of being a multi-racial family. There may be expectations that he will face challenges in relating to the white evangelical community (although that has not been our current experience), but my desire was to discuss the issues he (and many other transracially adopted children) may unexpectedly face within the African American community.
    Will, it’s great that you’re lending your voice to this debate. As you’ve seen, no one person can cover all the perspectives and issues this brings up.


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