Incognito's apologists are more racist than he is

Posted: November 08, 2013

TO HEAR THAT a racial slur was issued from the mouth of some knuckle-dragging beefcake who earns a living by slamming his body into the guy in front of him is less than shocking. Yes, I know that most offensive linemen are not pea-brained racists.

But Richie Incognito is far more offensive than most. His case history suggests that he is from an aberrant strain that values action over thought and regards sensitivity as sissy stuff. If he called Jonathan Martin a half-n-----, it could have been worse if Incognito had more than half a brain.

So, I won't pick on the handicapped. A widely circulated video of a raving, half-naked Incognito using the N-word to greet teammate Mike Pouncey and a recording of him using half an N-word on Jonathan Martin are not as disturbing to me as the lame attempts by some of his teammates to justify this idiocy by suggesting that Incognito is more black than Martin.

I spent a lot of years covering pro sports and a few years in the Army, so I understand tribal culture. In that context, Incognito's cretin utterances are what the tribe might call "boys being boys."

But what makes some of Incognito's apologists seem even more racist than he is that teammates and former Dolphins have reportedly told the Miami Herald that they consider Incognito more black than Martin because Martin, who graduated from Stanford and whose parents are Harvard grads, comes from a privileged background.

"Well I've spoken to multiple people today about this," Herald columnist Armando Salguero reported Wednesday. " . . . In the Dolphins locker room, Richie Incognito was considered a black guy. He was accepted by black players. He was an honorary black man.

". . . Indeed, Martin was considered less black than Incognito."

Let that marinate for a minute. Martin fails the black test because he's biracial and privileged. Incognito was an "honorary" black man because he's from a less privileged background.

"I don't expect you to understand because you're not black," Salguero said one anonymous player told him. "But being a black guy, being a brother is more than just about skin color.

"It's about how you carry yourself. How you play. Where you come from. What you've experienced. A lot of things."

That couldn't be more offensive if it were the rantings of some rabid racist intent on keeping black people in their place.

But it is even more insidious than that. It is a characterization accepted by many people, black and white, who see us in what they perceive as "our place" for reasons that are more stupid than overtly racist. It's a mind-set that I have seen on campuses and in workplaces where a lot of people are comfortable being the arbiters of what it means to be black.

Even more offensive is the notion that to be intellectual is somehow less black than it is to be educated or middle class.

I hosted a daily radio show on WHAT-AM a few years back called "The Exchange." I wasn't on the air a week before I heard from a caller who said he was relieved that I didn't come on the air spouting a lot of "middle-class values."

"What would those be?" I asked him.

He couldn't answer.

I used to think we were the only race in America with a credentials committee. You will never hear a white person say that someone seemed less white to them because that person was poor or didn't live in an upscale neighborhood.

But just Tuesday I heard a man I respect, a tennis pro who was born in Honolulu and is of Samoan descent, talk that way.

"Troy Polamalu would have trouble being accepted back home because he talks like an Anglo," he told a group of us.

"You talk like a white man, too," one of the players said after learning what he meant by "Anglo."

"Not when I'm home," he said.

All of us are bilingual. We tend to talk like the people we're with. But to accept that the way we talk or carry ourselves in a business climate makes us inauthentic enforces the subtle but dangerous notion that we belong in a less-privileged caste.

I've seen black students struggle with this in integrated high schools or even on college campuses. They find it easier to be accepted by white people and even some blacks if we reinforce their notions of what it means to black.

I don't know if Incognito is a racist, and I don't care. But I do care that people who ought to know better still reach for the lowest common denominator to try to define black culture.

Elmer Smith is a retired Daily News columnist.

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