Issue 136 - April 28 2005



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In the aftermath of the Johnnie Cochran funeral, and in the midst of the Michael Jackson trial, the Barry Bonds home run chase, the Kofi Annan U.N. investigation and other controversies of the past couple years like the Kobe Bryant trial, the Al Sharpton Presidential run, even Jesse’s “Baby’s Mama” drama, I’ve noticed something. Black loyalty runs deep for those considered to be our “heroes.” In a time where it seems like many of our “Black Heroes” are under attack, black support for them has been so large that it has evoked criticism in the public discourse that black people don’t have “values” because of whom they support. This can’t be farther from the truth.

The truth of the matter is that Blacks tend to support those who succeed in spite of adversity, or overcome adversity to succeed. Particularly, when there’s a wicked element involved. The black community has never allowed the other man to choose our heroes and she-roes. In fact, anyone vilified by the mainstream tends to become more beloved, and anyone easily embraced by the mainstream must overcome suspicion to be accepted. And many of them, still aren’t accepted. We tend to root for our heros when they’re up and even when they’re down, and for that – we’re criticized. It’s almost as if we can’t have heroes anymore, if they’re picked by "them". Why is that?

All during the week of Cochran’s funeral, “talk radio” commentators were lashing out, even in death, not understanding what “the big deal” was – some even said Johnnie was nothing without O.J. (a foolish and shortsighted analysis if there ever was one). Michael Jackson has been the butt of the jokes on television, talk radio and the tabloids, but there is no mistaking his impact on music globally, his independence that allows him to control even their most prized music catalogs and his experience in being racially profiled (despite his own psychological attempts to escape his blackness) that make people all over the world, black and white, support him in his darkest hours.

Barry Bonds seems to be the target of the steroids craze that has been in baseball for four decades (since the 1960s) and was ignored when Mark McGwire used them. Now that Bonds is approaching baseball’s most prized record, they want to say home runs mean nothing and he should have an asterisk by his name. Let me tell you something: home runs will always mean something in baseball, and should we put an asterisk by Babe Ruth’s record for playing in a segregated era when, arguably, the nation’s best players were in the Negro Leagues? I’m rooting, like hell, that Bonds breaks the record – I don’t give a s**t what they say. Steroids don’t make you hit the ball better, which was why baseball never banned them.

Kobe was the league’s biggest hero (until he started trippin’ with Shaq) at the time he caught his case. Everybody knew what that was (and still is) about. We saw it with Mike Tyson. And we rooted Kobe all the way through it. The same with Kofi Annan, the world’s foremost diplomat as head of the U.N.—when they tied to tie him to scandal’s in the U.N.’s Iraqi’s “Food for Oil” program, but nobody’s saying anything about Bush and Cheney’s “War for Oil” engagement, or Halliburton’s “Reconstruction” contract. Still, we rooted Annan through it.

America can’t tell black America who its heroes should be, though they try like hell to create ones that have greater allegiance to them than to us. No matter what they do, Clarence Thomas, or Condoleezza Rice, or even Colin Powell (whom I like, but wouldn’t totally trust to represent my interest) will never be fully accepted as our heroes in the same vein as the legendary Thurgood Marshall, the venerable Rosa Parks, or the first black international statesman, Ralph Bunche. And Jackie Robinson, even thirty-plus years after his death, has no equal. A hero is a hero is a hero when you overcome the throes of racism, overcome the odds to beat a system stacked against you, or survive the worst of what America throws at you to succeed.

Though they may not want us to, why can’t Black America have heroes? Even if they aren’t theirs – which is probably the reason they become ours.

Anthony Asadullah Samad is a national columnist, managing director of the Urban Issues Forum and author of 50 Years After Brown: The State of Black Equality In America (Kabili Press, 2005). He can be reached at

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