Baseball player Gary Sheffield (who is black) recently said that Yankee's manager Joe Torre treats his black and white players differently. To explain away the obviously cordial relationship between Torres and Yankee player Derek Jeter (who has one black parent and one white), Sheffield said that it was because Jeter "ain't all the way black."
I think Sheffield, as a public figure, should learn to pause and think about what he says before he talks. But his blurt is evidence of the kind of thinking that makes me sensitive to the way I act and talk around some other black people. I code-switch or I'm particularly deferential because some black people believe this. And it is a belief that is not entirely unwarranted. I'm thinking of the recent biography of Clarence Thomas that reports he was taunted with the nickname ABC as a child: "America's Blackest Child." Lord knows, I am certain that Clarence Thomas is evil incarnate! But that kind of childhood wound is, I think familiar to too many. And really, to some white people, the "not all the way black" black person might be more palatable. Think a little about what former NBA player John Salley said on a tv talk show: "They look at Iverson and see braids, tattoos, his diction and say, 'Oh man, that's one of those guys who can one day rob me,' and they look at Jeter with those nice green eyes and light skin, and it doesn't intimidate them." I'm not saying any of this right, but it's not unfounded. It's just time to unpackage it all from the hurt and anger.