When does one become ‘black enough?’


— Seattle Seahawks Super Bowl-winning quarterback Russell Wilson published a revealing article a month ago on ThePlayersTribune.com in which he discussed being a bully in grade school. Wilson evidently concluded that it would be beneficial to tarnish his squeaky-clean image so more fans and players could relate to him. But now it’s been reported that unnamed “sources” within the Seahawks locker room claim some players don’t consider Wilson “black enough.”

It seems like just yesterday that Barack Obama, was questioned about not being “black enough” while running for president in 2008. In fact, he showed up late for a speech to the National Association of Black Journalists and jokingly asked was that black enough for them. Former Miami Dolphins lineman, Jonathan Martin was deemed not “black enough” by his African-American teammates a year ago, when being bullied and called the N-word by Richie Incognito, a white teammate.

A year earlier, Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III, whose father boasted that he and his wife had reared their son to be colorblind, faced similar charges.

The ongoing and bitter history of African-Americans who mistrust, ostracize and bully one another into following certain stereotypical traits, beliefs and concerns of the community has been a long and conflicting battle.

On one hand, certain group decisions are still needed to benefit the race as a whole, in particular on issues of politics that may affect fair education, employment, housing, taxation and the fair practices of American law. But when it comes to individual beliefs, ideas, habits, likes, dislikes and behaviors, all bets are off. Each person, has a God-given right and license to be who they are. There have been far too many disputes about how someone looks, walks, talks, dresses, who they hang out with, what music they listen to, and who they marry.

Let’s put it out there: Griffin’s wife is white and Wilson’s ex-wife is white and that’s the source of some discontent among blacks, especially women. Again, that’s their business.

I participated in such race bullying in my college years, where certain small town kids were teased for being less than urban cool. When you are born and reared in such big cities as Philadelphia, New York, Washington, Chicago,

Detroit, you tend to set a higher bar of what black is supposed to be. Everything else becomes “country,” “corny,” “backwards,” “bama” and “not black enough.”

However, the most harmful type of black-on-black bullying is when we accuse someone of “acting white,” “talking white,” “selling out” or being an “oreo.” Without realizing the many

societal implications involved, “acting white” becomes a label for African-Americans who have higher academic standards, speak correct English, read books, live in higher economic neighbors, have attained their goals, and are accepted and sociable with white American peers as well as African Americans.

Wow, that sounds like Russell Wilson. But the problem is, if all of that is “acting white” and not being “black enough,” then what is “acting black” and being “real”—having low academic standards, speaking broken English, never reading anything, living in poverty, never reaching your goals, and not being accepted or sociable with white America?

Think about it. What exactly are we saying, when we quantify the words “black” and “white?” Because the last time I checked the dictionary, everything “white” is deemed fresh, clean, innocent, angelic, perfect, ideal, good, honest, bright, new, beginning, exact and unmarked. In contrast, “black” is labeled soiled, dark, evil, deadly, mysterious, deceptive, violent, secretive, demonic, tragic and the end of things.

Ironically, the color “black” is also identified with power and elegance, like Black Power, black-tie affairs and businesses finishing the year “in the black.” However, that’s not the identification of the word “black” that African-Americans are referring to when they claim that someone isn’t “black enough.” I’ve never used it, because I understand that there are degrees to everything and one person’s “not black enough” may be someone else’s “too black.”

Omar Tyree is a New York Times bestselling author, an NAACP Image Award winner for Outstanding Fiction and a professional journalist. Visit him at www.OmarTyree.com