Have you ever found yourself watching some random TV show on one of your 10 streaming services, and your friend interrupts a moment of crucial dialogue to tell you that the actor on-screen is 66.667% the same race that they are? Growing up and having friends of many different races and nationalities, I’ve lived this moment many times. In these situations, how many times have we thought beyond just your standard “Oh, that’s cool” response?
The truth is, unless you share similar experiences to, or an affinity for that specific culture, you may not be quite as excited as this particular individual who thought it was a worthy enough fact to interrupt the paid entertainment with. We can all, however, be appreciative of being able to witness someone filled with pride, that another person who shares characteristics similar to their own can be successful.
An inability to understand the scenario described above is actually a matter of privilege. Privilege, in itself, is not an inherently bad thing… but it can be a very large hindrance to your ability to see the perspective of others. Let’s examine.
I myself, am partl black, and I have a friend who is white. I actually have quite a few friends who are white; but this particular Caucasian kemosabe in question grew up in an extremely white part of his city. In fact, in college, he told me that I was his very first black friend or acquaintance. I felt somewhat honored that I got to break him in, and joked that I hope I don’t mess it up for all the rest. To say the least, my friend and I were raised in very different cultures, but we both ended up teaching each other a lot. We built a lot of trust, and had some very insightful and incisive conversations. We both introduced each other to different things that we loved (movies, music, food, hobbies), and had some real Remember the Titans moments.
My friend and I loved to watch and play sports together, united by our love for competition as well as for the Seattle Seahawks. I’ll never forget one day him stopping me, and saying, “Hey, I notice you cheer specifically for all of the black quarterbacks to succeed, and make it a big deal about their race… why don’t you do that for all of the white ones as well?” He even seemed a little annoyed by it. If it was anyone else, I may have been offended by the question. Coming from this guy, I knew it was coming from a place of naiveté. Our conversation also made me realize that the “societal majority” doesn’t usually share the same understanding of kinship that we as minorities in American society feel with each other. Why is it that Koreans moms (according to a good friend) who don’t know each other, can easily strike up conversation like old friends in public? How do you explain ‘the nod’ that many of us black men give each other (which I remember observing from my father from a young age)? He genuinely didn’t get it.
I explained to him some of the reasons why I love to see black quarterbacks succeed after a history of being shut out of that role on the team. I’ve written previously about how blacks were not even considered intellectually capable of even being able to play the position. Whenever I see a black quarterback excelling at quarterback, that feels like a win for society and social progress to me! He never felt this sort of a kinship and hope for success for white quarterbacks, because he never lacked for representation in that arena. He never had to think twice about whether or not there were any that were capable of succeeding! White quarterbacks have never been doubted solely because of their skin tone.
So many minority groups have given undying support to such celebrities as Jackie Robinson, Manny Pacquiao, Jeremy Lin, Conor McGregor, Jackie Chan, Canelo Álvarez, Tiger Woods, Shakira, The Rock, Yao Ming, heck… even Eminem can (somewhat) be included in this discussion! Whenever an individual who isn’t a part of the majority finds notoriety, it becomes noteworthy. Those of us who identify with them feel a sense of endearment to them. Witnessing them being able to hold a measure of power, voice and influence that our group does not usually hold is a feeling that cannot be explained.
This is also a reason why I reluctantly included Eminem in the above examples. Although it cannot fully extend as an example, since white males are the majority in America, the subject of Slim Shady may be one of the closest where white people may be able to (even in a tiny, tiny way) understand this feeling of minority kinship. Em has been rightly celebrated for his unapologetically gritty demeanor, deep rhymes, and constant F-you attitude towards the world. White people really did rally to embrace his whole persona in rap. Black listeners, and fellow collaborators liked him too. White people could be born in rough neighborhoods, rely on a gangster mentality and spit bars too! They finally weren’t precluded (or billed as a gimmick) because of their race! He may not have been my idol, but that did seem cool to me.
This is why we all care about seeing a person that we relate to succeed where others traditionally haven’t. It is an even more amplified and unexplainable feeling for us as minorities because of complicated issues such as westernized standards of success and beauty in American society, and things like homophily. Each achievement can feel like a shattering of a glass ceiling and a removal of any real or implied cap on our potential.
All of this is why it has been a joy to watch black quarterbacks in 2019 shattering all kinds of barriers. This is truly the golden age of black quarterbacking! It isn’t that I root against white quarterbacks… When the Seattle Seahawks acquired Matt Flynn in 2013, I hoped with everything in me that he would turn out to be the greatest QB to ever live! Brett Favre is one of my favorites of all time. I could go down the list talking about great white quarterbacks that I’ve admired and continue to root for. But there is something special about seeing athletes that look like me (just a little more in shape) reach those heights as well.
Let’s celebrate together! Starting with my hometown team, it is pretty special that Russell Wilson, a black quarterback, became the highest paid player in NFL history this past summer. Other’s have gotten paid since, but can you imagine how crazy it must be to witness for those who have lived in a world where African Americans were paid peanuts (if that) compared to white men?? That world wasn’t too long ago to be honest with you. Wilson is a perennial MVP candidate, owns tremendous mental toughness, has a black backup quarterback in Geno Smith, and is generally a standup guy and great example in numerous ways.
Of course, Lamar Jackson has been transcendent, and has rivaled Wilson in a spectacular battle for the Most Valuable Player award in 2019. Lamar is a true weapon at the position and has the ability to wreck the league and change the game going forward. People doubted whether or not he could be a functional NFL quarterback, and some even heavily suggested that he would need to switch positions to find success in this league. Jackson has proven himself with a vengeance, while justifying any and all comparisons to dual-threat godfather, Michael Vick in the process.
How can we forget about Patrick Mahomes! He is a young prodigy at the position, and the defending league MVP as a black quarterback. Mahomes’ offensive output in 2018 was prolific, and if he is back for the playoffs this year, Kansas City has to be seen as a threat to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl. He has the potential to break a lot of passing records in this league.
There is a very good chance that a black quarterback wins MVP of the NFL this season. The top 3 MVP candidates coming into Week 11 were all black quarterbacks (Jackson, Wilson and Houston’s Deshaun Watson). Let that sink in… that means that we’d have back-to-back different black quarterbacks win the league’s highest honor. In that scenario, 3 of the last 5 MVP’s (Cam Newton won in 2015 while carrying his team’s offense) will be different black quarterbacks! How about the fact that in 2019 so far, the top 5 quarterbacks in QBR (Total Quarterback Rating) are all African American! Of the top 10 QB’s in passing touchdowns, 6 of them are black!
A great take I heard from Max Kellerman (of all people), is that the fact that there are black quarterbacks in starting positions that represent different points on the talent spectrum is one of the biggest signs that there has been progress. No longer does a black QB have to be undeniably great to even get a shot. We have the legends above, as well as mid-tier and even low-tier guys (guys like Geno Smith come to mind) and backups (Tyrod Taylor). Will we even get the chance for Colin Kaepernick to rightfully earn a QB job in the league after all that has been said and done? I don’t know the answer to that, but there are plenty of guys showing us that anything is possible.
Dak Prescott leads the league in passing yards, and is the quarterback of “America’s Team” in Dallas. Jameis Winston is second in the league in passing yards, and has been afforded many chances in Tampa Bay to prove that he can lead his team. Dwayne Haskins is a first round rookie and potential heir to the throne in D.C. who has been named the starter for the rest of the season. Teddy Bridgewater aggressively pursued a 2-year comeback from a horrific, life-threatening leg injury to go 5-0 in Drew Brees’ stead while throwing for 9 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. Jacoby Brissett has had the chance to pilot the Indianapolis Colts as the unquestioned starter after Andrew Luck’s shocking retirement and a lackluster first year with the team. He is doing quite well, with a nearly 100-level Quarterback Rating. The #1 pick in this year’s draft was Kyler Murray, an explosive athlete with elite potential.
All of this needs to be seen as a win for us all. I have personally been inspired by how these men have gone against the grain to thrive at the highest level. Nobody is excluded from lauding those who blaze trails, open up possibilities and help others to feel included. We will always have doubters that point out things to try to disqualify us. I hope that none of us, regardless of what we look like and where we come from, are mentally bound by what others see as limitations. Black quarterbacks have never been in a more powerful position in the National Football League. What a way to celebrate the 100th season of operation. Oh, and a white guy leads the league in rushing…