Dwonna Know What I Think?”
A social/lifestyle advice and commentary column by guest contributor Dr. Dwonna Naomi Goldstone. Dr. Goldstone is a Professor of English and Coordinator of the African American Studies Minor at Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, Tennessee.
What do you think of some of the Miami Dolphin players referring to Richie Incognito as an “honorary black guy”?
Seems Weird to Me
Dear “Seems Weird to Me”:
For those who may have missed this story, Richie Incognito is a white, Miami Dolphins offensive lineman who was suspended indefinitely for essentially bullying (i.e., tormenting?) Jonathan Martin, an African American offensive lineman on the team. After saying that he could no longer handle “sustained harassment from inside the locker room,” in late October Martin took a leave of absence from the Dolphins. Shortly afterwards, Martin’s attorney released a transcript of a voicemail from Incognito—made more necessary since many players had accused Martin of being weak and of abandoning his teammates—to more fully explain why Martin had departed from the Dolphins. In this voicemail, Incognito uses a racial epithet and threatens to kill Martin, calling him a “half [N---] piece of (expletive)” and telling Martin that he’ll “(expletive) in your (expletive) mouth.”
Those unfamiliar with Richie Incognito’s past have since learned that he was kicked off the University of Nebraska football team by two coaches, that the University of Oregon football program sent him home after just one week in Eugene, and that three NFL teams have dismissed him because of his often egregious and erratic behavior. Moreover, it has since come out that Incognito was accused of molesting a female volunteer at the team’s golf tournament in August. (In the police report, the woman said that Incognito “used his golf club to touch her by rubbing it against her vagina, then up her stomach [and] then to her chest.”) To many people, Richie Incognito is a bad dude.
Still, many current and former teammates have come to Richie Incognito’s defense, with some players telling a reporter that Incognito is an “honorary black.” “Richie is honorary,” one former Dolphins teammate said to a white reporter. “I don’t expect you to understand because you’re not black. But being a black guy, being a brother is more than just about skin color. It’s about how you carry yourself. How you play. Where you come from. What you’ve experienced. A lot of things.” Jason Whitlock, an African American sportswriter for ESPN, was right on the mark when he titled his article about what happened to Jonathan Martin: “Martin walked into twisted world.”
In condemning African Americans for defending Incognito as someone who was simply trying to “toughen up Martin” while dismissing Jonathan Martin as weak, Whitlock writes, “Mass incarceration has turned segments of Black America so upside down that a tatted-up, N-word-tossing white goon is more respected and accepted than a soft-spoken, highly intelligent black Stanford graduate.” Like Whitlock, I don’t blame Jonathan Martin for leaving the craziness of the Miami Dolphins locker room, and I actually think it takes more brains and courage to walk away from a bully like Incognito than it does to confront and/or fight him, as so many others have suggested that Martin should have done.
Calling Richie Incognito an “honorary black” is, at best, nauseating, but it’s mostly disgusting. Are the black football players who bestowed Incognito with that title suggesting that only bullies who don’t know how to behave in a civilized society are worthy of being called black? Is an African American football player with two Harvard-educated parents and a degree in Ancient Greek and Roman Classics from Stanford University a sell-out simply because he doesn’t act like the goon and the thug that Richie Incognito does?
As Jason Whitlock suggests, too many black folks are taking their definitions of “authentic blackness” from hip hop, mass incarceration, and “Hurricane Illegitimacy,” all three of which have “created a culture that perpetrates the idea that authentic blackness is criminal, savage, uneducated and irresponsible.” “The blackest things a black man can do,” Whitlock writes, “are loudly spew the N-word publicly and react violently to the slightest sign of disrespect or disagreement.” It’s almost 2014. It’s time to debunk—once and for all—this label of “authentic blackness” that embraces goons like Richie Incognito, and it’s time to embrace an “authentic blackness” that embodies hard work, intelligence, kindness, and civility—like Jonathan Martin did.
*Dr. Dwonna Naomi Goldstone is a Professor of English and Coordinator of the African American Studies Minor at Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, Tennessee. She loves assisting her students and is willing to share advice with anyone who will listen. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.