My student was so looking forward to getting his new laptop computer. While he waited, he wasn’t doing his writing assignments. Then he stopped coming to class.
I ran into him in the cafeteria where he worked and asked him about his absence and his missing assignments. Impatiently, he replied that he would do his work when he got his laptop, it’s on the way. I told him he really didn’t need a laptop to get his work done; he could use the Lansing Community College computer lab. But other students brought laptop computers to class, so he needed one as well. Student success = laptop computer.
I think Mel Tucker’s situation is rooted in the definition of success as well.
Mel Tucker is losing his job as Michigan State University’s head football coach and forfeiting a whole lot of money. Tucker had a 10-year, $95 million contract, and he stands to lose $80 million of that if he loses his employment for moral turpitude, i.e. sexual harassment.
Something powerful is going on with the BMOC when he doesn’t know where he is in space and time. MSU is the space where more than 500 survivors of Dr. Larry Nassar’s sexual assault were paid a collective settlement from the university of $380 million. The time was 2021, just two years ago.
Those who lament his loss of the money say that Tucker’s situation is based on the axiom, “Don’t crap where you eat.” Meaning, be careful how you act in your place of employment. Tucker’s situation shows symptoms of a historical American male mindset that says possessing a white woman is the definition of success. In the U.S., historically, a real man dominates white women. Success is not the money; success is the white woman.
This goes way back.
In history class with LCC Professor David Sewick, one of the areas we studied was why poor Southern men volunteered to fight the rich planation enslavers’ war. The idea was that their manhood was threatened. The appeal to them was: If you cannot control Black people, how will you control your home, i.e. your white woman?
Countless numbers of Black men with financial success on the level of Tucker acquire a trophy wife, generally a younger white woman. My family includes several white wives as far back as 1899. I tell the story of my maternal great grandparents in my book, whose title says it all: “Mother of Orphans: The True and Curious Story of Irish Alice, a Colored Man’s Widow.”
In the early 1900s, during the Jim Crow era, the most famous athlete in the United States was heavyweight boxer Jack Johnson. He was a very dark-skinned Black man. Johnson beat all opponents and was richly rewarded. He possessed everything — cars, fur coats, cruise tickets to Europe. Then he married a white woman. The government came after him with prosecution under the Mann Act, which forbid transporting a white woman, even his wife, across state lines for “immoral purposes.” Johnson left the country but returned after seven years to serve one year in Leavenworth penitentiary. One of his wives committed suicide after being harassed about her marriage. Racism trapped white women as well.
A teen from Chicago, Emmett Till, was visiting relatives in Mississippi and while there was accused of sexual harassment (whistling) by a white woman — falsely. He died horribly. His mother suffered horribly. The famous photograph of him in his coffin was published in JET magazine.
As a friend of mine summed it up, white women are Black men’s kryptonite. That is a reference to the glowing green rock that weakens Superman so he can be defeated.
A more colloquial and graceless expression comes straight out of 20th century Detroit, the Motor City, when thousands of Black men came from the South to work in the burgeoning automobile industry. The money they earned! If one can judge by their behavior, their whole ambition was to acquire a gold tooth, a Cadillac and a white woman.
White womens’ attraction lies in being the American standard of beauty: long, soft hair and pale skin. Think the Columbia film studio icon who looks like the Statue of Liberty. Among Black people, a woman’s value spiked the more she looked like a white woman.
I have been listening to a podcast by New York City’s WQXR classical music radio host Terrance McKnight. He’s a Black man, a Morehouse University grad. His podcast, “Every Voice,” looks at four operas, including “Otello,” through a Black lens. Othello was a Moor and the commanding general of the Venetian army. Very successful, Othello enjoyed all the perks of white society. When he married, he eloped with Desdemona, the white daughter of a prominent white politician. Tricked by an aide into believing she was cheating on him, Othello murdered Desdemona and then killed himself. McKnight points out that Othello’s doom reflected the politics of the time. The opera is based on Shakespeare’s play “Othello,” which was written during Elizabethan times. Elizabeth I did not like Black people.
Mel Tucker’s behavior could not be controlled by the money. His behavior smacks of seeking success as defined for Black men by history.
Florida and other backward states want history taught in a certain way. Not factual, but falsified so the United States is drawn as a white supremacist nation that white people created on their own without enslaved Black people. A history that says Black people benefited from slavery. History that says slavery wasn’t so bad, the “darkies” enjoyed picnics in the pasture alongside white people on Sunday afternoon, etc.
This version of history is created for the consumption of young people, white and Black, so as to falsely aggrandize whiteness at the expense of Blackness, so they will accept there is no success without whites. And embolden some to enforce that.
(Dedria Humphries Barker is a Lansing resident. Her column appears on the last Wednesday of the month.)
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