August 12, 2007
BY LEONARD PITTS JR.
KNIGHT RIDDER NEWSPAPERS
You wanted to read my Michael Vick column? Sorry, that's not going to happen.
Let me be clear: If Vick sponsored dogfights and brutally killed canines that did not perform, as he is alleged to have done, he's a despicable man. It wouldn't break my heart to see him caged up with a rabid dog while wearing raw sirloin strapped to his tender parts.
Problem is, that's pretty much all I have to say on the subject, and there's no way to get 615 words -- about the length of a column -- out of that. Actually, I hadn't planned to comment at all on the NFL star's indictment last month. That's not to say it's not an important story or that the allegations aren't sickening. Still, it's not, so far, a topic to which I think I could bring any particular insight.
So I'm not here to talk about Vick but, rather, about why certain of my readers so dearly "want" me to talk about him. I get these e-mails, you see. Anybody who has been a black columnist longer than 15 minutes knows the kind I'm talking about. They arrive reliably as the tides anytime some black gets in trouble. Inevitably, some Caucasian gentlemen will dare you to lay into this individual the way you "always" do white guys.
I'm not talking about the polite requests ("What's your take on this?"), but about the sneering demands. The "reasoning" seems to be that black malefactors get a pass from black pundits who'll tear a white guy a creative new orifice when he misbehaves. So the black pundit must prove himself to the white guy by tearing some black embarrassment to humanity a hole exactly equal in size and shape. That reasoning is long on smugness, long on entitlement, long on everything except, you know, fact.
Frankly, I doubt Jesse Jackson, Louis Farrakhan, Whitney Houston, Tim Hardaway, Isaiah Washington, New Orleans DA Eddie Jordan, Ray Nagin, the NAACP, Ice Cube, 50 Cent, Ludacris, the family of Martin Luther King Jr. and other black folk who have been ripped and ridiculed in this space would agree that I give black folks a free ride. But again, we're not talking about facts here. For that matter, we're not talking about me, or even about journalism.
No, what we're talking about is that some white people -- emphasize: "some" -- seem to feel they have a perfect right to demand, overtly and repeatedly, that a black professional prove himself to them. We're talking about the realization, as a black professional, that for them, you will forever be on probation, your mastery of your profession, your right to be there, constantly subject to demands for verification.
We're talking about the black lawyer second-guessed by the client who never spent a day in law school. About the black money manager whose clients won't accept her advice until it is seconded by her white partner. About the black cardiologist whose diagnoses are rejected by patients unwilling to accept them from a doctor of her gender and race.
And yes, I know some people would argue that this is only to be expected, that the very existence of affirmative action entitles white people to question the competence of black ones. That's a copout. I've said it before, I'll say it again: If affirmative action is defined as giving preferential treatment on the basis of gender or race, then no one in this country has received more than white men.
Still, though the rationalization is lame, it serves a purpose: It deflects us from thinking too hard how it must feel to learn that, even after years of education and apprenticeship, after the hard slog of working your way up and waiting your turn, some people will still find it problematic to accept you as a professional. Will still raise a hoop and regard you with an expectant stare.
They think I should prove myself to them by trashing Michael Vick? No.
I could not prove half as much in honoring that request as they prove in making it.
Show me a good loser, and I'll show you a loser.
"None are so old as those who have outlived enthusiasm".
Henry David Thoreau
Fail to prepare and you prepare to fail.
"Luck is the residue of design." - Branch Rickey