I was quick to defend Kobe when NFL legend Jim Brown said, “[Kobe] is somewhat confused about culture, because he was brought up in another country.”
To me it was unfair, because I assumed Brown was surmising that Bryant had a specific experience (or lack thereof) without actually knowing him or talking to him. Calling him “confused” can have a very negative connotation. Plus, Kobe is a Black male in America, despite being raised somewhere else. There are certain things that he simply HAS to be aware of.
But maybe I was wrong.
Bryant took to Twitter to defend himself, saying “A ‘Global’ African American is an inferior shade to ‘American’ African American?? #hmmm. that doesn’t sound very #Mandela or #DrKing sir.”
…..Inferior? Brown wasn’t saying that at all, he was just discussing the differences in experience. Brown has always chastised today’s Black athletes for not being politically active as past icons like himself or Muhammad Ali. But he wasn’t just speaking on generational gaps, he was talking about a socio-political gap based on his background versus Kobe’s. Brown was debunking the illusion of identical experience between African-Americans born inside and those born outside of this country. There undoubtedly is spirit of Pan-Africanist solidarity between Black people around the world (most notably their shared experience with colonialism and imperialism), but Blackness is not monolithic. Black people across the world have to understand that though there is solidarity between us, our social, cultural, and political agendas are different. Not better or worst, just different. A Black person from Ghana is not going view the world from the same lens as one from Detroit. Brown was accusing Kobe of not fully understanding the issues of race in this country, or having the experience Brown thinks is necessary for Kobe to effective engage in its racial politics. And Kobe’s response worked to prove Brown’s point.
Then the Black Mamba took to the New Yorker and said this:
“I won’t react to something just because I’m supposed to, because I’m an African-American,” he said. “That argument doesn’t make any sense to me. So we want to advance as a society and a culture, but, say, if something happens to an African-American we immediately come to his defense? Yet you want to talk about how far we’ve progressed as a society? Well, we’ve progressed as a society, then don’t jump to somebody’s defense just because they’re African-American. You sit and you listen to the facts just like you would in any other situation, right? So I won’t assert myself.”
There’s so many things wrong with this statement.
Let’s make this perfectly clear: people did not jump to Trayvon Martin’s defense ONLY because he was Black. I would never ever be naive enough to assert that race has nothing to do with why any one person would defend or attack Trayvon Martin (or George Zimmerman). But race is not the defining factor, experience is. Many Black people around the country have experienced both blatant and subtle racism in their daily lives. They jump to Trayvon’s defense because they’ve been stopped-and-frisked in New York, or halted by police in Chicago if they stood in groups of two or more. They know that there are more Black people in prison now than in slavery. They are aware that our judicial system historically gives Black people longer sentences and harsher punishments for doing the same exact crimes as white people and other races. And whether it’s an intimidated or irritated vigilante with a gun like Zimmerman or Michael Dunn, Black people across America understand that at any moment, their very survival depends on whether or not their existence in the wrong space marks them as a threat. And yes Kobe, maybe they jumped to his defense because he was a young Black male gunned down on his walk home with nothing to defend himself except for ice tea and a bag of Skittles.
Kobe’s class position and upbringing allows him to vent his post-racial ideology. The “lets end racism by not seeing race” premise of his statement is comparable to “let’s end hunger by not thinking about food”. Being drawn towards a story because of it’s racial aspects doesn’t make one side racists and the other side victims. Seeing and talking and arguing about race is not a bad thing. Dissecting the interplay between race and class helps us understand the social dynamics of what is going on in America. Our ideas about them is the litmus test for how far we have come and how far we still need to go.
But what we don’t know about these things shows exactly what we don’t know about ourselves. What Kobe said only echoed some of the general ignorance about race and class in this “the President is Black, so racism doesn’t exist” moment. Post-raciality is wolf tickets. It’s a term people use because talking about race either makes them uncomfortable or it is politically incorrect for them to simply admit they just do not care. But post-raciality didn’t protect Trayvon Martin. Whatever progress we have made, it didn’t save his life on that night.
Race matters, but it isn’t the only thing that defines social experience. Class, sex, gender, religion, geography, and many more go into the equation. Kobe’s comments should show the world that all Black people don’t experience the same thing just because we are Black. It exposed his racial politics, but much more than that, it showed his class politics.
I was born and raised on the south side of Chicago, Illinois. I have a different social reality than a Black person growing up in Gurnee, lead alone someone who was raised in Italy and moved to Philadelphia. I also did not grow up to be one of the richest, most recognizable figures in the entire world. I’m exponentially more likely to be the next Trayvon Martin than Kobe Bryant, and a young Black male in the heart of Florida is even more likely to be one than I am. Kobe just doesn’t see these things. His comments were ignorant, in the very literal sense of the word.
If you know me, you know Kobe has been my basketball hero since I was 11. I’ve defended him more times than I can count. And he’s absolutely right when he said that we have made major progress in this country. But his disheartening comments are emblematic of just how farther we need to push. And to flip his words back to him, I will not overlook his ignorance just because he is an African-American.
We Out Here,