Non-threatening, clean-shaven, “babyface” black men reportedly earn more in corporate America than their more mature looking black counterparts. On the other hand, appearing to be a threatening black man could lead to that man’s death by police gunfire, or to wrongful imprisonment due to eyewitness misidentification. But I digress.
A number of black men have been unfairly associated with the “white man’s brother” label. For example, in the 1950s civil rights groups called Nat King Cole an Uncle Tom for performing before segregated audiences. But Cole fought segregation by suing segregated hotels. He became the first black man to star in a television variety show—which included white female guests, no less—and was physically attacked by white supremacists while performing at an integrated concert in Alabama.
Baseball legend Jackie Robinson was tarred as an Uncle Tom for testifying (under pressure) against Paul Robeson in the House Un-American Activities Committee, a witch hunt that targeted suspected Communists. Yet, in his autobiography, Robinson said “I cannot stand and sing the anthem. I cannot salute the flag. I know that I am a black man in a white world. I never had it made.”
Prizefighter Joe Frazier faced painful taunts from Muhammad Ali, who called his opponent an Uncle Tom, gorilla and “white people’s champion.” This, despite the fact that Frazier aided Ali financially, when Ali was unjustly banished from boxing for refusing to fight in Vietnam.
In the 1960s, critics attacked Sidney Poitier as an Uncle Tom and a “house n*gger” who coddled white racists in his films. However, it is difficult to imagine a more forceful black character than Virgil Tibbs in the film In The Heat of the Night — except maybe the real-life Sidney Poitier, who was chased by the Mississippi Klan while accompanying Harry Belafonte, as the two made a trip to support civil rights workers in the South.
In addition, Bryant Gumbel has received unfair and unwarranted treatment over the years, amid allegations that the broadcaster is an Oreo—black on the outside but white on the inside. Those critics have failed to listen to his commentary on racism in sports over the years. In 2006, Gumbel compared the Winter Olympics to the Republican Convention because of the lack of black athletes. Moreover, last year, he called NBA commissioner David Stern a “modern plantation overseer, treating NBA men as if they were his boys…. His moves are intended to do little more than show how he’s the one keeping the hired hands in their place.”
Lastly, Bill Cosby faced outrage from some segments of the African-American community when he showed tough love for disadvantaged, low-income black people. And to some he appeared out of touch, and may have even enabled white racists and in the process. But no one can question Cosby’s commitment to the black community, including the millions of dollars he has donated to HBCUs — $20 million to Spelman College alone.
So, Wayne Brady is not alone, as other black men have been unfairly labeled as the white man’s black man. And Bill Maher should leave him alone. Find someone else to pick on, like Clarence Thomas.
Follow David A. Love on Twitter at @davidalove