The Richie Incognito Defense: Can You Be An “Honorary Black”?

What we're seeing (aside from bullying) is the messy process of the races coming closer together, not racism

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Charlie Ans / Splash News / Corbis

Miami Dolphins lineman Richie Incognito on Nov. 4, 2013.

I’m glad Jonathan Martin quit the Miami Dolphins after Richie Incognito’s barbaric barrage of bullying voice mails and tweets. I’m glad Incognito has been suspended. But I can’t join the chorus calling him a racist.

(MORE: Football Player’s Lawyer Says He Was Bullied, Harassed)

Incognito left voicemails to Martin laced with such lines as the fact that he wanted to “shit in your fucking mouth” and slap Martin’s mother. This is the kind of thing that gives sports, not to mention men, a bad name. If Incognito and his teammates think of it as harmless hazing, they need to get past it. Athletes don’t get a pass on being uncivilized morons.

But to many, the most interesting thing about this incident is that Incognito’s trash talk included calling Martin, who is biracial, a “half nigger piece of shit.” Incognito is reported to have used the N-word in other incidents as well.

But wait: Martin and Incognito’s teammates Mike Pouncey and Mike Wallace don’t think Incognito is a racist—and they are black themselves. To them, Incognito was using the N-word in the same way as they would – as a vulgar but ultimately affectionate in-group term. Officially, Americans are taught that the N-word can only have this meaning when blacks use it – when whites use it, it is a slur. However, that is an increasingly hard rule to police, because it touches on a question as to what “black” is in 2013.

An unnamed teammate has said that on the Dolphins, Incognito has been considered an “honorary black” person. That statement reflects a social transformation currently happening in America, the browning of a once Wonder-Bread culture. Increasing numbers of white and other non-black young people these days identify with black culture in an honest, organic way.

Some think of this as some kind of cynical or naïve mimcry, associated with what in the nineties were called “wiggers.” But like that term, these thinkers are behind the times. The young white guy today who lives for hiphop, sounds almost black in his casual speech, and greets, walks, and dresses in what used to be an exclusively “hood” style is not a modern Al Jolson – he wouldn’t know any other way to be. Dzhokar Tsarnaev’s tweets sounded like they could have come from Jay-Z, who he actually quoted. As the unnamed Dolphin player, who we can assume is black, says, “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.”

Now, according to the old script, at this point someone should object that white people can’t be meaningfully “black” because their skin color hasn’t given them the discriminatory experiences of actual black people. But this is based on a very narrow sense of what belonging to a race or a culture means. A racial or cultural identity cannot solely be based on what another group thinks of you. A culture is a complex of traits—speech, recreation, food, moral values, religion—not whether or not you get profiled.

In the long view, what we are seeing is the messy process of the races coming together culturally, despite nasty setbacks such as Trayvon Martin’s death and indications that President Obama’s race plays a part in Republican’s animus towards him. Black America is not in danger of cultural eclipse by a vanilla mainstream. America gets culturally blacker every year.

But this also means that increasing numbers of young white men are going to feel comfortable using the N-word in the same trash-talking way that black men use it, and when called on it, will object that they are culturally “black” themselves. They will not be crazy in that self-assessment, and as such, we’re in for a bumpy ride.

17 comments
TomMusser
TomMusser

Don't you just hate it when multi-millionaire football players bully each other?  I half expect Eric Holder to send a team of DOJ lawyers to Miami to ensure Jonathan Martin's Civil Rights weren't violated.  On the bright side, at least this goofball "story" pushed ObamaCare off the front pages for 24 hours.

sixtymile
sixtymile

Firstly, generalizing this type of thing to "men" is pretty offensive even if it is more common for men than women, it's not really gender-specific. Secondly, I could see the point to having an honorary inclusion on a private basis, but it loses validity in the public. The public/private borderline seems to get missed which makes things like this happen. "Honorary" not-anything associates to this guy. But it's also good to see someone appreciate and refer to "Black" as much culture as race.

jamesgordon777
jamesgordon777

I have  a friend  here in  Houston,  a  firefighter . He worked  2  jobs  to  make  a  living , He  died  fighting a  fire .It is  so  sad to  see a  hero  die , And  then to  see the  over paid mentally challenged  people  spread  this  childish  crap all over  our  children. What is  worse  is  the  people  who  themselves  have  mental and  emotional problems  defending  their actions .

mandrews445
mandrews445

What also puzzles me is why anyone in their right mind would defend a bully. A bully doesn't care whether you defend him or her. He (she) will only perceive that as a weakness on your part and , guess what, start bullying you also. And if that bully asks you to defend him or her, then that is just plain sad because it proves that that bully isn't so tough afterall, and therefore had no place bullying anybody in the first place. Quite frankly, there is just no excuse or justification for bullying in any profession or life. If a person works in the military, does that give the person the right to shoot or point his gun at anyone he dislikes? If a person is a butcher, does that give the person the right to torture, humiliate, or desecrate animals? If a person is a doctor, should that person pressure or taunt a patient for an obesity problem? There are principles, rules, and just plain human decency that should prevent these things. And anyone who lacks these basic principles should get the heck out of the field and make room for better individuals who know and respect how to play the game. And yes, the game is the same everywhere if you play it right.

mandrews445
mandrews445

Incognito is guilty of bullying. Therefore, it is only universal justice that he should know how it feels to be bullied by someone more powerful than himself, such as the legal system.

Hotpuppy
Hotpuppy

Incognito was crude and is an embarrassment.  He needs to go.  If the Dolphins defend him then they need to go to.  This sort of behavior does not have a place in America... except maybe in Jail.

JohnDavidDeatherage
JohnDavidDeatherage

Incognito violated the most important set of rules in America. He was politically incorrect.  Never mind that the Dolphin players (black & otherwise) are backing Incognito over Martin, the liberal media can't fathom a less than PC world. Just because he said something insulting doesn't mean it was intended as an insult.

The problem isn't what Incognito did, it's what Martin didn't do. He stand up and face down his tormentor.  He didn't stand up for himself and his teammates are left to wonder if he would stand up for the team.  

Incognito and Martin will play again. Incognito will be accepted and Martin will have to work at it.


stephengreen736
stephengreen736

It's too bad, but unless you've played the game than you really need to step away from this, as a cultural and social diversity exists in our sports. Bulling a 300 lb. lineman? Please.. If Martin is bullied its his own fault. You take and get as much as you give. That's football for you

david_anthony
david_anthony

To use the N-word is a racist act - PERIOD.  The word is out, the N-word is taboo.  If a non-black person uses the N-word they are a racist.  If a black person uses the N-word they too are a racist.  Though it might seem a contradiction in terms, a black person can indeed be as equally belittling towards the people with whom they share the same hue of skin color as whites.  A white person using the N-word is garden variety racism; however, a black person using the N-word is of the non-garden variation, which is even more worrisome.  I pity whites who find false strength in the use of the N-word.  I loathe blacks who have duped themselves into believing their use of it is...legitimate, harmless and appropriate.

tcement
tcement

Yes, indeed. Immediate reaction to foul language and "racist" taunts was, perhaps, rushing to concussions, er, conclusions.

boldandworthy
boldandworthy

@JohnDavidDeatherageIncognito, is that you.  You said, "Just because he said something insulting doesn't mean it was intended as an insult."

Now that's funny.  It was insulting, but he didn't mean it as an insult. You win the award for today's best self-justifying comment.

You also say, "He didn't stand up for himself."-- Sure he did, that's why he has a lawyer, that's why he has phone records, it's just not the kind that requires a violence. 

Those standing by the tormentor are the real cowards.  So afraid being the next one picked on that they foolishly stand up for someone who doesn't have the guts to see himself for who he is: a racist bully who only feels good about himself when he can hurt the person he's jealous of.


boldandworthy
boldandworthy

@stephengreen736 How can being bullied be Martin's fault?  He is the victim.  There's no victim without the victimizer. Do you also blame rape victims for being raped?

Openminded1
Openminded1

@david_anthony I am black and 63 years old and you are a naive dummy. blacks are far more racist then whites in 2013. The blacks use the race card for everything, many  for law suits to win money. Its is race card bs. 

boldandworthy
boldandworthy

@david_anthony the black person that uses the word isn't racist, the person has internalized oppression and self-hatred and hasn't learned how to rid themselves of it. 

Too bad the author of this opinion piece, who is obviously on the PR team for Incognito,  is inflicted with the same self-hatred of those who use the N-word among themselves, so willing is he to have the crumbs that fall off his master's table, he, a black man, denies that the N-word, in the context it was used in, was racist. Wow.

JohnDavidDeatherage
JohnDavidDeatherage

@boldandworthy @JohnDavidDeatherage Guys talk trash with each other. We make insulting comments about wives, mothers, girlfriends that in fact are not insults.  Talking trash good naturedly is part of sports.  I play 10s a couple times a week. We rag each other but its all in fun.

Going to an outsider (a lawyer) is not standing up.  Facing Incognito, punching him in the nose is standing up.

Martin is every bit as big and tough as Incognito. How do you bully a 300 pound NFL lineman? Is that even possible?

You are clearly someone who's never played team sports, or been in a fraternity or a military unit.  Marching band doesn't count though I'm sure your mother was happy you played the Tuba.



IceToes
IceToes

@JohnDavidDeatherage @boldandworthy Ok, I will buy that a certain amount of trash-talking is to be expected. But how is an insulting comment about a wife or mother or girlfriend NOT an insult? FYI, I personally play team sports, am in the military, and am a musician (which requires teamwork). Neanderthal behavior like you seem to be defending may have been acceptable in the past, but not now. Welcome to the 21st century.