As 2012 comes to an end one sad feature of our racial politics remains firmly in place:
It is still common for black conservative voices to be dismissed as traitors to their race, and the tokens of powerful whites. Any black person who is openly Republican or conservative in their beliefs is immediately viewed as suspect -- ‘inauthentic’ a ‘sell-out’ and not true to the history of black struggle for equality.
This stubborn mind-set came to mind last week from a surprising arena – the sports world.
The nation’s fastest rising pro football star, Robert Griffin III of the Washington Redskins, was publically disparaged as a “cornball brother” and “not one of us,” by a Rob Parker, a black newspaper columnist and ESPN analyst on December 13.
What did Griffin do to spark that attack?
The journalist said he heard that the 22-year-old Griffin is a Republican. He also said that Griffin is engaged to a white woman.
"My question, which is just a straight honest question: is he a brother, or is he a cornball brother?" Rob Parker, a black journalist said on ESPN. "Well, [yes] he's black, he kind of does his thing, but he's not really down with the cause, he's not one of us…He's kind of black, but he's not really the guy you'd really want to hang out with, because he's off to do something else."
After making his remarks Parker tried to explain his comments, telling an interviewer that he didn’t mean to demean Griffin.
“I didn’t mean it like that,” he said. “We could sit here and be honest, or we can be dishonest… [People] look at who your spouse is. They do. And they look at how you present yourself.”
Wednesday, six days after the controversy began Parker, who has been suspended by ESPN officially apologized for his comments.
But despite his tardy apology, Parker’s original remarks make a good point that is worth discussing.
The sad truth is that being black in America still automatically places you in a box. Yes, there is rapid growth in America’s minority population. Yes the President is black.
But as Parker suggested, some black Americans still think they have to act, speak and behave in a certain way that conforms to the identity that a white, liberal media has created.
In this perverse racial order, you simply cannot be authentically black if you are conservative – politically or culturally.
The criticism of Griffin – both in public and private – is not really that different from the way black conservatives are disparaged in media, law and politics.
Whenever the mainstream media wants to know what the African American community is thinking, they invariably go to the usual old, left-wing voices, Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, as if they speak for all black people.
How much better would the debate about improving education, about dealing with high rates of unemployment and crime in black America if black America allowed itself the freedom of an honest, balanced approach to those issues that was open to conservative views?
Imagine the new vitality in the political discourse inside black America if serious weight was given to the ideas of people like Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, former Secretary of Transportation William Coleman and professors Walter E. Williams and Thomas Sowell?
Instead, these brilliant people, apparently including RGIII, are dismissed as “Uncle Toms” or “cornball” brothers and sisters.
Even thought I am not a Republican, I have experienced some of this same vitriol firsthand. I don’t fit into the traditional liberal box. I work for Fox News. My sons are Republicans.
I appear regularly on Fox News with strong right of center voices, like Bill O’Reilly and even consistently conservative personalities like Sean Hannity (both of whom I consider friends). I think it is great to engage the other side in the arena of ideas. I am happy to agree with them when I think they are right and respectfully disagree with them when I think they are wrong.
I often defend the first black President Obama against the litany of unfair attacks on his record and character from the far right but I also am critical of him as an American political powerbroker when I see flaws, failure and hypocrisy in his record.
Many on the left would prefer if I did not appear on television with folks like O’Reilly and Hannity, spurned them socially and just called them a bunch of racists.
Back in 2007, Syracuse University Professor Boyce Watkins said publicly what many liberals had been saying behind my back for years, that I was Bill O’Reilly’s “Happy Negro.” A black radio host, on another O’Reilly show, said I should “go back to the porch,” like a mindless slave.
What can black people of good character and honest counsel do to push back against these scurrilous attacks?
I don’t think I can put it better than RGIII did in an interview with USA Today’s Jim Corbett last week
"I am an African-American in America," Griffin said. "That will never change. But I don't have to be defined by that...”
He said black quarterbacks are often stereotyped as players who can run but do not throw well or think strategically.
“That's the negative stereotype when it comes to African-American quarterbacks, that most of us just run…I like to think I can throw it around a little bit."
That can-do attitude makes Griffin a role model for every young American but especially for young black men seeking the path to success.
But he is put down as a “cornball brother.” I guess the critics feel that way about his family, too, because Griffin is the son of two Sergeants in the United States Army. And the critics won’t want to hear that Griffin graduated from Baylor University in three years with a degree in political science and a 3.67 GPA.
None of these accomplishments matters to his critics.
He will forever be labeled as a "cornball brother" and "not one of us.”
Juan Williams is a co-host of FNC's "The Five," where he is one of seven rotating Fox personalities.