What if Touré were White?
Honorée Fanonne Jeffers
Touré on the ESPN website, entitled “What if Michael Vick were white?” Above the actual article was adisturbing sight: Michael Vick in “white face” with light hair and light eyes. (This article also appears in the latest ESPN magazine.)
I know next to nothing about sports, and I don’t find sports interesting, either, so I almost didn’t read the article. (To read an analysis of Touré’s piece by someone who does know about sports, check out this brilliant post by David J. Leonard.) I knew that I would encounter certain “insider” terms about sports in a, well, sports magazine. I only read on because of the provocative title. But luckily, I need to know absolutely nothing about sports to understand Touré’s inflammatory and downright rude article, because it wasn’t about sports. It was about the pseudo-science of analyzing “race.”
Only in this article, Touré wasn’t analyzing the constructed concept of “race;” instead, he was making sweeping generalizations about Black culture, and reinforcing coded cultural and class stereotypes. Throughout my reading this article on Michael Vick, instead of asking myself the question I was su pposed to—what if Vick were white—I found myself asking instead, what if Touré were white?
Now, before I go any further, let me say that I’m no fan of Michael Vick. I think what he did to those poor animals was horrible. And I’m also past tired of Black (and some White) folks trying to give Michael Vick a bleeding heart pass for inhumane treatment to God’s creatures and whining about he caught a bad break because he was African American. I don’t care what race he was; I think he should have done way more time than he already did.
Yes, I said it. Snatch my Black card, and I don’t care. I can always get me another one down at the Target.
But let me say that the sort of strange racial rhetoric on the other side of this debate, about the “nature” of Black men and Black culture is infuriating as well. And seriously tacky. In Touré’s defense, this rhetoric was going on long before he waded into this fray with his singular, accented moniker and “throwback jam” Enlightenment philosophy.
However, Touré’s article takes this rhetoric to the next, unsavory, near-skull measuring level. Again, this article is not about sports, though Touré begins with bloviated, quasi-lyrical language, using such terms like “in the pocket” and (I guess) establishing his Black bonafides with the use of the Black vernacular, as when he writes: “I’m not saying that a black QB who stands in the pocket ain’t playing black. [Emphasis mine.]
What the heck does “playing black” mean? I’m not even a sports fan and I know that’s not one of those complicated technical terms. And if a White writer said some sort of essentialist crap like somebody “plays black” that we’d be all over him. Why doesn’t Touré just start talking about antebellum slave breeding practices that produced better athletes while he’s at it? Like we haven’t already heard that one before.
Then, Touré goes on to imply that is Michael Vick were white and middle-class, he wouldn’t have been dogfighting in the first place.
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