There's been a charged debate going on about why some people dislike the Super-Bowl-bound, electrifying, controversial quarterback for the Carolina Panthers, Cam Newton. Some simply say it's because he is Black. Other's say it is because of his flashy, hip hop cultural flair.
NFL analyst and former Steelers player Ryan Clark articulately weighed in on the subject. Clark pointed out that the reason why people don't like Cam is not because of his race, but because of culture:
He's not disliked because he's brown-skinned. He's disliked because, culturally, it's hard to understand for most people. For many years if you look at the Black quarterbacks that were accepted, it wasn't about skill set. ... Russell Wilson is a brown quarterback. But Russell Wilsons' culture is easier to understand. Russell Wilson doesn't dance. Russell Wilson doesn't have the hip hop culture. ... So for the Caucasian fan, for the fan who doesn't understand that culture, Cam Newton's culture is too young (and) hip hop, too young (and) brown.
Clark expounds, for example, comparing the difference in dislike between Cam's dabbing, and Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers famous "Discount Double Check" or Rob Gronkowski's dancing because people understand their culture better.
Clark is a very thought-provoking man, and I agree with many of his points. When it's hard to understand someone's culture, the things they do may seem foreign and rub us the wrong way. What we aren't familiar with can often intimidate us. But though I agree with some of his reasoning, I can't agree with his overall argument.
No, people don't dislike Cam Newton solely because he's Black. It would be disingenuous to make this issue solely about race. But many NFL fans and players dislike him because he's Black AND dances, a nuance that should not be seen as just semantics. He's performing "Blackness" in way that people do not like. I strongly disagree that this topic can be bifurcated, but must be discussed through the terms of intersectionality.
Framing the dislike of Cam Newton's showboating as an issue of culture inherently makes it into an issue of assimilation. Well, that's an intersectional issue.
Race isn't just the color of your skin, it's a performance, no matter what race you are. We perform our racial identities through the medium of our cultures. Whiteness is normalized in our society. Majority white culture is the standard to which other cultures are measured. We know race and culture are inextricably linked because we use racial terms to describe cultures and their aspects.
Without making a statement on whether we should or not, why else do we say someone "talks Black"? What is Mexican culture without Mexican people? Would you think it makes sense for someone to claim to not dislike Chinese people, just Chinese culture? Why are so many NFL fans okay with Aaron Rodgers thrusting his pelvis, but not okay Cam Newton putting his head in the gap of his arm? To deny the racial element of these all of these things just isn't reasonable.
And to bring it back to Cam's affinity for the dab, though hip hop culture is not purely synonymous with Black culture (though in the popular cultural imagination, it is), but Cam's embrace of it is also an embrace of a certain legible Blackness that people fear, dislike, are intimidated by, or just can't empathize with. Whether you hate him or love him, analysts, coaches, players, fans, and even Cam himself continually describe him as "being himself". What do we think that means?
If people "like" Russell Wilson more because he can't dance, is soft-spoken, and talks about God, that says less about Wilson's culture, and more about how these people see themselves. Assimilation doesn't only enable non-white players to fit into mainstream NFL culture, it indirectly corroborates white fan's ideas about what the "normal" NFL culture is. And I say white fans because when we say "mainstream", nine times of 10, we mean "white". Saying mainstream is just a way we can subvert the racial elephant in the room (which Clark tried to avoid doing). Even the phrase "making this about race" is often a way to avoid saying "making this about anti-Blackness."
Not that it was Clark's intention, but the "don't bring race into it" sentiment his argument indirectly appeals to is a logical fallacy, because we seem to easily forget that white is a race as well. It's odd, but not ironic, that in a country as wonderfully diverse as ours, whenever we are talking about race, we never seem to be talking about white people, just racism. The "making this about race" idea is coded way of saying, "Stop making me feeling like I'm racist" (Clark even alludes to this in his comment in the beginning, when he says that black analysts who talk about race are often seen as talking about racism).
When Clark said Cam is disliked because he hasn't conformed to what we believe a quarterback should be, it begs the question of who is the "we" he is imagining. Players? Coaches? The average fan (who is white and male)? The older generation of NFL fans (who is still majority white and male)? Because I can't imagine the "we" generally being young and/or brown fans. While separating the racial and cultural aspects of the issue, Clark even said that some people see Cam's culture as "too young (and) brown", not one or the other. And except for Russell Wilson, each of the players Clark compared Cam with were white.
If we were to frame Cam's comments as making this exclusively about race, then I agree with Clark. It isn't just about race. But if we read deeper into what he said, Cam actually isn't saying that.
"I'm an African American quarterback that may scare a lot of people because they haven't seen nothing that they can compare me to"
Cam didn't say he is a quarterback people are not used to seeing. He said that he is an African-American quarterback that people aren't used to seeing. He knows there have been other Black quarterbacks, and he is nodding towards the culture differences in expression he and they share. But Cam is also knowledgeable to the fact that Black quarterbacks are pressured to conform in ways that quarterbacks from other races just aren't.
Race and culture are crossed together like fingers and toes. I think separating them is an understandable reach, but still a mistake nonetheless. But regardless of where we morally, culturally, or philosophically, stand on this issue (and quite frankly, this piece didn't even dig into the policing of Black masculinity, a whole other layer of its intersectionality), the fact still remains that the "problem" can be solved on the field.
If you simply just cannot stand Cam dancing so much, repeat after me, and clap on each syllable:
KEEP - HIM - OUT - OF - THE - END - ZONE.