Plenty of selling out in black America

Plenty of selling out in black America
by Ryan Strong |


Ryan StrongPeople such as Sen. Barack Obama and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice are not “real” black people — they’re sellouts.


Statements like this are often heard when people, inside and outside the black community, label those who are and aren’t “authentically black.” Black Americans such as Obama, Rice and Clarence Thomas stop being “authentically black” in the eyes of their fellow African- Americans and become “sellouts” and “race traders.”


In this post-civil rights era, these terms seem to represent a glass ceiling of success that African-Americans cannot achieve while truly remaining “black.” According to some race-relations experts, these terms can be traced back hundreds of years.


“Terms like ‘sellout’ and ‘Uncle Tom’ date back to slavery in the South,” said Derrick Smith, an instructor at the center for black studies at Northern Illinois University.


“Slaves that had lighter skin and worked in the (slave owner’s) house received resentment from darker skinned slaves who worked in the cotton fields.”


Hundreds of years after the abolishment of slavery, these terms are still alive and are used quite often in the black community. From the presidential campaign trail to the playgrounds of our nation’s schools, black Americans are faced with the dilemma of wanting to be successful members of society and obtaining the American dream without “selling out.”


“When I was high school, I was accused of acting white by other black students because I spoke English correctly and got good grades,” said Anajah Roberts, a political science student at DePauw University.


The issue seems to have divided the black community into two separate groups; the haves and have-nots. Instead of working as one group, there seems to be two. Each with its own viewpoint on race and what it means to be black in America.


Furthermore, black Americans such as Curtis “50 cent” Jackson, William “Flavor Flav” Drayton Jr. or Kimberly “Lil Kim” Jones are never accused of selling out. For some reason, those who create and perform demeaning and embarrassing music for the masses are universally accepted as being “black enough,” whereas a woman such as Oprah Winfrey may not be.


“There seems to be one way to have to act to be black,” Roberts said. “Anything else makes you an Uncle Tom.”


Although these terms may seem cruel or, at the very least, judgmental, some African-Americans believe that terms such as “sellout” or “race trader” have merit.


“Those words may not be the nicest or most politically correct things to say, but there is some truth to them,” Smith said. “Take a look at someone like (Supreme Court justice) Clarence Thomas. He’s made it in life, but some black people who become successful seem to forget about the rest of us, and they deny that racism still exists in America today.”


Smith certainly has a point. These terms and accusations did not come out of the blue. However, there seems to be a thin line between being a monetarily successful white collar African-American and being a “sellout.”


Drui Combs, an African- American English major at NIU, said forming friends with white students on campus can be looked down upon by some members of the black community.


“I have a plethora of white friends and that makes a lot of black students on campus dislike me,” Combs said. “I know that I’m proud of who I am, so it doesn’t affect me.”


What bothers me most is that some black Americans seem to glorify members of our community who do not set good examples for children and embarrass African-Americans by exhibiting racial stereotypes, committing crimes and failing in school. A Harvard-educated black man, such as Barack Obama, has to defend his “blackness” whereas “Flavor Flav” does not.


Regardless of class or educational backgrounds, aren’t we all authentically black?


The last time I checked, all of our ancestors were descendants of slaves and had to fight for equality. The next time somebody accuses our peers of being “sellouts” and “race traders,” we should ask ourselves: Is that what Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would have wanted?



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