Etan Thomas is an overpaid, under-achieving back-up center for the Washington Wizards. He is best known among Wizards fans for his series of fights (at least three of them) with the club’s other main center, Brendan Haywood. The Wizards suspended Thomas, but not Haywood, after their most recent bout. Apparently, Thomas sucker-punched his teammate.
It turns out that Thomas is also a blogger for the Huffington Post, where he indulges in poor prose (e.g., “One of the topics of discussion was not surprisingly Rutgers coach Vivian Stringer. . .”) and refuses to capitalize the pronoun “I.”
Recently, Thomas administered a verbal sucker-punch to sports columnist Jason Whitlock. The two had appeared on a panel about black athletes. Whitlock, an African-American, is concerned about the high incidence of criminal conduct among black athletes and, more generally, with such issues as black-on-black violence and the disrespect for women manifested in rap music. Whitlock voiced some of his concerns during the panel discussion. Thomas took exception to the way Whitlock formulated them. Afterwards, Whitlock paid Thomas the courtesy of continuing the discussion and trying to answer his questions.
Thomas responded by writing a sophomoric “open letter” to Whitlock on his Huffington Post blog. Thomas describes the letter as a “warning” to Whitlock that he is now perceived as an “Uncle Tom” and that unless he does something about it, “this label” will be Whitlock’s “legacy.” Thomas doesn’t say what Whitlock needs to do to avoid that fate, but unless he’s questioning Whitlock’s sincerity (and he offers no basis for doing so) he must mean that Whitlock needs to stop saying what he believes.
Why do Whitlock’s concerns about the thuggish conduct of too many black athletes, along with the broader cultural problems of violence, drug use, and disrespect for women among young African-Americans, put him in danger of becoming an Uncle Tom for all time? Well, for one thing Whitlock has criticized Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson. For another, whites like Bob Ryan (the sports columnist) and Tucker Carlson have said good things about Whitlock. To Thomas, this places Whitlock perilously close to the status of Clarence Thomas, Ward Connerly, J.C. Watts, and Bill Cosby. Thomas has nothing to say about the views of these men, just as he has virtually nothing substantive to say about Whitlock’s views. His argument is essentially this: some whites I don’t approve of like what you say; therefore you are similar to Connerly, Cosby, and other blacks I don’t approve of; therefore you’re about to become an Uncle Tom.
Therefore, what? If Thomas is engaging in anything more than venting and name calling, he’s arguing that Whitlock is in danger of losing any ability he otherwise might have to exert influence on young blacks. In this regard, Thomas gloats that members of the black audience they both addressed were more receptive to his remarks than to Whitlock’s. But Thomas fails to explain how Whitlock can exert the kind of influence he desires by telling young blacks what they want to hear. Whitlock’s thesis, as he explained it on John Thompson’s radio show, is that aspects of the black youth culture so dear (apparently) to many who heard Whitlock and Thomas speak, are helping to produce the self-destructive behavior that plagues the black community. Whitlock believes that the situation has reached the point where punches can no longer be pulled; where strong language — shock therapy, in effect — is required. The identity of those who like and those who dislike this language is not relevant.
Whitlock may be wrong, but telling him that many blacks don’t like his message hardly shows that he is. It only shows that Thomas, despite his alleged efforts to “engage” Whitlock, currently lacks the capacity and/or the listening skills to understand what he is saying.
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