August 6, 2004


Because he is black
by Deborah Young

The three men appear to have little in common. One is an alleged child molester, one a coach and the other, a candidate for the U.S. Senate. But they share three notable traits. They are black. They are famous or infamous. Journalists and commentators of all sorts say their fame or infamy came because they are black.

The alleged child molester, Marcus Dixon, supposedly had the support of a loving family. He was a high school football star in Rome, GA and an honor student. He’d been offered a scholarship to Vanderbilt University.

Then it all came crashing down after he had sex with another student, who happened to be slightly younger than he was and white. There were accusations of rape, then a trial, then a conviction, then more than a year spent in prison and finally, a reduction of the charges from felony to misdemeanor.

Dixon’s lawyer has said Dixon got convicted in the first place because he is black. He’d cavorted with a white girl and people didn’t like that. The press jumped on it and a public battle of words ensued. Dixon and the girl were both teenagers, so how could this be considered child molestation? It seemed a case of he said she said. But there in the center of the saying and disputing and opining was the issue of his race blinking as red as a stoplight gone berserk. Did the court case go the way it did because he was black? Were his lawyers just playing the “race card”? Was the race card…is the race card a screen that hides a multitude of junk with the flare of well-told fantasy?

Nolan Richardson, former coach of the Razorbacks basketball team said race definitely had something to do with his case. Richardson basically mouthed off to his bosses, after which they told him he could get to steppin’, so to speak. But then Richardson sued them for discrimination and the case was thrown out but not before the judge reprimanded the college that employed Richardson for racial insensitivity (the n-word was allegedly thrown around from time to time at the old institution of higher learning).

Despite the judge’s chastisement of the college, much of the public focus was on Richardson’s accusation, and some of the opinions of Richardson and black people in general got a little nasty. Check out this letter to Little Rock’s KTHV television station:

I don’t think he was discriminated against. I think all blacks use that when they don’t get their way. Wish us Whites could scream Discrimination everytime [sic] we didn’t get what we wanted. I think it’s used as a tool and abused. I also think many use it just on personality conflicts, we all have those and it’s not Discrimination.

That letter assumes that all things are equal among the races in this country, but most sane people realize it’s not. However, the writer of this little gem makes a good point, racism should not be used as an excuse, and I don’t think it is used as an excuse most of the time. One reason is that racism can be so subtle and hard to prove. And when a black person thinks they’ve experienced it, uncertainly often creates an extra layer of agony: Did I do something wrong? Was it my personality or my skin tone?

And sometimes the person knows he’s done something very right, but then someone raises the question of whether a hurdle was cleared or lowered. Just consider the case of Barack Obama, a candidate for the U.S. Senate. Technically, Obama is biracial, but there’s been much talk about how he’ll get a leg up in the campaign because he’s black.

Obama has tried to downplay his race but commentators don’t want to let him or us forget that perhaps he’s getting support from certain Democrats because he’s black. Maybe, they hint, his blackness is a gift of nature to left-wingers that want to dumb down American society with social welfare and a diversity agenda that prizes color over substance.

So in the eyes of those people, Obama’s blackness has brought the golden goose. But in the eyes of people such as Richardson and Dixon’s lawyer, blackness brought doody.

But these kinds of conversations aren’t really about what being black gets or loses for folks in 21st century America. Instead, they’re about using race as a weapon, particularly when it comes to discussions of black and white. Race is used both to justify apathy about the sad state of race relations in America and to pummel home the point that racism still exists.

When I think about how ridiculous it is that race continues to be a major issue in U.S. courts, schools and jobs, my mind wanders back to an episode of an old television show called Quantum Leap. Through some miracle of science, the main character of the show, a rather inconspicuous white man, was able to jump from era to era, and land in different bodies. He remained the same inside, but he just looked like a different person on the outside.

In the TV show, he jumped back to the 1960s and found himself sitting at a lunch counter in the Deep South. He noticed right away that he wasn’t welcome, but he didn’t understand the cold stares, the jeers and the reluctance of the man behind the counter to serve him. Then he looked in the mirror, and it all became clear. He had leapt into the body of a black man.

There I was looking at a white man sitting at a counter. The people on the other side of the television screen were looking through a mirror and seeing at a black man sitting at a counter. I had to marvel at that bold illustration that skin is, after all, just skin. But in 21st century America even skin can be controversial, simply because it’s black.

Deborah Young is an Overland Park, KS-based writer. She can be contacted at



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