Jewish Journal

The Uncle Tom Accusation, Again

by  Joe R. Hicks

March 18, 2011 | 2:47 pm

If you’re black, came from a financially-sound family, lived with two parents, took school and grades seriously but choose to play basketball for an elite, private college … dude, you must be an “Uncle Tom!”

Those ugly beliefs were expressed by some former members of the University of Michigan’s “Fab Five” basketball team in a documentary film that was aired recently on ESPN, the 24-hour all-sports cable channel.

First, some background.  Any fan of the “Final Four” will remember that in 1992 the University of Michigan squared off against Duke, who won convincingly 71-51.  One of the standout players for Duke was forward Grant Hill.

The Michigan team was tabbed “The Fabulous Five,” and they were indeed fabulously talented, bringing a swagger and inner-city hip-hop flavor to college basketball in a way that had not been previously seen.

This “Fab Five” were Jalen Rose, Juwan Howard, Chris Webber, Jimmy King and Ray Jackson.  As athletically talented and “ghetto-fabulous” as they were – they lost to Duke, the more “disciplined” team.

Nonetheless, the Michigan team inspired a documentary film about the period from 1991 to 1993 when they played together.  Since Sunday night’s broadcast on ESPN, what the players said in the film has stirred up considerable controversy. 

In the film, the Michigan forward Jalen Rose said “For me, Duke was personal. I hated Duke.  And I hated everything I felt Duke stood for. Schools like Duke didn’t recruit players like me.  I felt like

they only recruited black players that were Uncle Toms


Another former Michigan player from that team, Jimmy King, went on ESPN’s First Take and when asked about Rose’s filmed comment that black players at Duke were “Uncle Toms,” King defended the statements.

Asked to define what an Uncle Tom is in his mind, King said his definition was “… someone who overlooks their being and who they are.  It’s someone who overlooks their heritage and goes to a predominantly white school.”

Not that it actually matters, but when examining the student body populations of the two schools, Michigan’s black student population ranges between 4.8 to 5.2 percent, while Duke’s fluctuates between 9.7 and 10.0 percent.  But why let facts get in the way of Rose’s or King’s contentions.

Some have excused the comments of these former Michigan players as things said out of youthful ignorance, but are beliefs they no longer hold.

But that doesn’t wash.  Jalen Rose and Jimmy King have had ample opportunities to re-interpret the views they held nearly twenty years ago.  However, in the interviews they’ve given in the days after the ESPN documentary aired, they have, in the main, stuck to the bigoted views they originally held in 1992.

Rose said he resented Duke and the black players on that team because he felt Duke would have never recruited someone like him.  That’s no doubt correct.  Rose’s grades in high school were less than impressive, and Duke was serious about their recruits living up the meaning of “student-athlete.”

But Rose also complained that he wouldn’t have been recruited because he came from a troubled, single-parent home.  In his view, the Duke players always came from good families that included the presence of fathers in the player’s lives.  He admitted that he was bitter because he had never known his father.

But exactly whose fault was it that he grew up in disadvantaged circumstances and what inspired him to believe that Duke should have lowered its recruitment standards to accommodate players like him?

The bizarre comments from the Michigan players, that blacks who played for “predominantly white schools” like Duke were “Uncle Toms” and “sell-outs,” reveals a larger rift in so-called black America.

That schism is over the strange, narrow concept of racial authenticity.  Some blacks obsess over the odd question of who’s really black, and who’s a poseur.

So, who’s the sell-out?  The “street brother” who’s on a first-name basis with the local cops, or a young black man who decides to attend and play sports for an elite, private university?

Exactly how does a real black person look, talk or dress?  And why, according to these basketball jerks, should dysfunction and ignorance define “authentic” black behavior?

Grant Hill thinks otherwise.

Hill is currently a player with the Phoenix Suns, but was a starting player on the Duke Blue Devil team that defeated Michigan in 1992.  He was specifically named by the Michigan players as an “Uncle Tom.”

A well-spoken and thoughtful man, Hill reflected on Jalen Rose’s slur against him and other black players for Duke and responded in an article printed in The New York Times.

In part, Hill said “It was a sad and somewhat pathetic turn of events … to see friends narrating this interesting documentary about their moment in time and calling me a bitch and worse, calling all black players at Duke “Uncle Toms” and, to some degree, disparaging my parents for their education, work ethic and commitment to each other and to me.”

Words well said from a classy guy.

If being authentically black means co-signing Jalen Rose’s warped and backwards racial views, then count me in the ranks of the “sell-outs.”   

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