During a recent interview, professional boxer Bernard Hopkins aimed remarks at all-pro quarterback Donovan McNabb that essentially implied McNabb was a “House Negro” or “Uncle Tom.” Hopkins remarked, “He’s got a suntan. That’s all … Why do you think McNabb felt he was betrayed? Because McNabb is the guy in the house, while everybody else is on the field, ” Hopkins told the newspaper. “He’s the one who got the extra coat. The extra servings … He thought he was one of them.”
These remarks put words to a long-standing ideology that one needs a “black card” to show you are black enough. The card that allows you to connect more with black people because of where you grew up, how many times you have been arrested, or how many kids you have out of wedlock — to name a few of the so-called marks that apparently make you legitimately black.
Donovan McNabb, who grew up in the suburbs of Chicago and was raised with both parents, has often been criticized for not being black enough. He has managed to be a great leader in the NFL who has not been surrounded by run-ins with the police. The fact that he has been a gentleman most of the time denies him a legitimate “black card” according to this ideology, while Hopkins, who grew up in a tough urban neighborhood in North Philadelphia, has committed numerous crimes and served jail time, is “legitimately black.”
This kind of misguided thinking has long caused many young black men to make decisions early in life that hinder personal growth and progress for all African Americans because they want to gain the respect of black people. This is one black man (and I am sure I speak for many) who thinks this is totally delusional. Any black person who believes they are more culturally connected to the black community based on their amount of dysfunction is absurd.
I live and work in the urban context today and the things you hear from children — like “reading is for white people, ” “getting married is for white people, ” “going to college is for white people, ” “owning a house is for white people” — are literally tearing our communities apart. Bernard Hopkins’ remarks are very irresponsible and foster death and destruction to our communities.
I am an African American man who has been married to one woman for the past 26 years. I am president of a nonprofit organization. I have three biological children, all born within marriage, and two adopted children. We own our home and have no credit card debt or car debt. I think it’s time we associate being black with character and success rather than moral failure. That is the only way we will honor all the black people who went before us and died so we could be free.
Leroy Barber is President of Mission Year, a national urban initiative introducing 18-29 year olds to missional and communal living for one year of their lives, and is CEO of FCS Urban Ministries. He is co-pastor of Community Life Church, and on the boards of CCDA and Word Made Flesh. Leroy is the author of New Neighbor: An Invitation to Join Beloved Community and Everyday Missions: How Ordinary People Can Change the World and was also chosen as a contributor to the groundbreaking book UnChristian. Leroy is married to Donna and together they have five children.