The Trend of Calling Black Celebs' Blackness Into Question
Originally featured on Across The Culture, I explore the trend of Black people questioning the "Blackness" of celebrities when they go public with an unpopular view concerning race in America.
After ESPN anchor Sage Steele criticized wide receiver Mike Evans for his Veteran’s Day national anthem protest, much of Black Twitter yanked her curly-headed image through the mud. Steele isn’t the first prominent Black person to have their Black identity attacked for expressing an opinion deemed detrimental to the Black community:
A musician, tv personality, former child acting star, and an athlete. I feel like at least one prominent Black person in virtually every sector of society has disappointed Black Americans with their social/racial views. Shit, Ben Carson. Kanye West. Okay I’ll stop.
Though the celebrities mentioned definitely deserved criticism, to critique someone’s racial identity for having different beliefs is tricky.
Race and class went hand-in-hand both socially and legally for more than 300 years in the United States. The further back in American history you go, the less diverse the Black experience was. For instance, virtually all Black people during the roughly 240 years of slavery could attest to its cruelty. These circumstances make exceptions like the stereotypical “house nigga” infuriating. An enslaved Black American might ask themselves, “How, as someone who shares my primary identity, can he feel so differently about this system? How can he buy into what is hurting his community?”
Racial equity in wealth, income, and representation is far from being achieved. But the Black experience in America has also never been more diverse. With interracial relationships steadily growing, and more Black figures in high-level positions in publicly visible fields like media, art, and politics, the perspectives Black people have on race relations in America are not one in the same.
Back to Sage Steele. The criticism of her opinion bothered Steele enough to prompt a lengthy Facebook response concerning her perspective as a biracial, specifically Black and White, American. Here is a trimmed version of the post:
Encouraging White people to have genuine, knowledgable relationships with other racial groups is necessary to improve race relations in the United States. However, “praising” these White people with “color-blind hearts” is problematic. Left unchecked, it suggests people of color should be grateful for White people who are comfortable enough to interracially date as if they’re exceptionally loving or kind. A White person’s work against racism doesn’t end at marrying a Black person.
I strongly disagree with Sage Steele’s thoughts on Mike Evans and White people in interracial relationships. But she is not anti-Black. And even if she was, I have no right to tell her she isn’t Black.
Even if the opinions some Black people have are drenched in Massah’s abuse, or are simply misguided, alienating Black people from the community isn’t dealing with the problem. From my vantage point, it seems to add to the polarized us-them relationship Black America has with White America. But instead of the color of your skin, the polarization is in attitudes and beliefs. “White” and “Black” stances. To critics, an opinion that seems at all in opposition to Black people calls your Blackness into question.
I'm all for going in on Sage Steele's statements. I'm not at all here to shun her for sharing them.