The casual acceptance of rioting by Philadelphia Eagles fans over winning the Super Bowl got me to thinking not only about how San Francisco 49er's quarterback Colin Kaepernick was blackballed from the NFL for simply taking a knee to protest police brutality, but how, in 2014, Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman was widely derided as a thug for his post-game rant against 49ers receiver Michael Crabtree. The idea that any expression that doesn't sit well with some white people, whether it be taking a knee or talking trash, equates to thuggery sent me to my archives for my last column I wrote for Black America Web in 2014....
Why is Sherman a ‘Thug’ for Boasting? It All Boils Down to Black and White
Who did that Richard Sherman think he was? Justin Bieber?
Making the memes this week is a comparison of Sherman, the Seattle Seahawks cornerback who Twitter racists labeled a thug because of his un-criminal act of boasting about his recent game-saving play, and Bieber, the pop star who Twitter racists have been fairly quiet about since he cursed out the police after they arrested him in Miami for his illegal act of drag racing.
The meme rightly points out the double-standard that black and white celebrities are held to; a Stanford-educated, exceptionally skilled black football player is quickly denigrated as a gang-banger and troublemaker simply for being loud and proud, while a white pop star’s lawbreaking craziness is excused as him being just a mixed-up kid.
To them, Sherman’s bragging equals incorrigibility, while Bieber’s antics amount to a cry for help.
To them, the Richard Shermans of the world deserve our condemnation, while the Justin Biebers of the world deserve our empathy.
But to me, the Sherman versus Bieber meme doesn’t just speak to a racial double-standard, but to the suffocating standards that many Americans still expect black men to adhere to no matter how accomplished they are.
Think about it.
All Sherman really did was crow about his victory over his opponent after he had played a brutal, bruising game in which his team wasn’t expected to win. That’s not thuggish behavior – and those who would call it that aren’t really responding to his bragging.
What they’re responding to is him being black and having the nerve to not be quiet and fade into the background after achieving something awesome; to not behave as background noise when he, in fact, brought the noise.
They don’t mind Sherman being black and smart and skilled. They just don’t want Sherman, a black man with dreadlocks and a Stanford degree, to verbally remind them that he’s, well, black and smart and skilled.
That’s a little tough for them to take.
We know this reality exists based on the racist responses to President Obama.
How many times has Obama been referred to as arrogant because he defied expectations and changed the health care system in this country? Or because he tries to find ways to do the job of getting legislation passed in spite of an intransigent Congress?
How many Tea Party racists and their ignorant ilk continue to overlook the fact that Obama is a Harvard-educated, constitutional law professor as they insist on saying he’s violating the Constitution? How many continue to call him a Chicago thug? A dictator-in-waiting?
All because he had the nerve to be black, run for president and win – twice.
So to me, this isn’t just about how some whites eviscerate Sherman while they empathize with Bieber. It’s about how many Americans still expect black men to be humble about their success and white people to be assertive about theirs.
It’s about how many whites expect for black men to not acknowledge their own worthiness unless white people do it first.
It’s been that way at least since the 1960s and 70s, when a bragging Muhammad Ali became the heavyweight champion of the world three times. We see it happening with Obama. Nervy black men have always been viewed as threats.
And what happened with Sherman shows that hasn’t changed much.