Kenneth L. Hardin: Let’s choose our heroes more carefully

Published 12:00 am Sunday, July 17, 2022

If I haven’t offended you yet with my weekly thoughts and opinions, be patient, I’m trying to work my way around to everyone.

I had a brief yet interesting conversation last week with a senior resident who doesn’t look like me. We chopped it up about whether people criticize me for speaking so openly about sensitive issues. He specifically asked whether I caught heat from my skinfolk for being willing to call out our cultural wrongs and idiocy. I acknowledged that I had previously inhaled the vapors of angry smoke for violating the unwritten rule of refraining from publicly criticizing anyone who shares an incidental physical characteristic such as similar melanin content. I’ve been told on occasion how I’ve sold out and have been saddled with the Uncle Tom moniker more than once. The people who’ve weaponized this derogatory epithet and thrown it at me hoping to inflict pain fail to understand the true meaning of the character taken from Harriet Beecher Stowe’s bestselling 1852 anti-slavery novel, “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” Out of ignorance, they’ve wrongly turned the name into meaning one who is overly servile to whites and has betrayed his race. Typically, skinfolk who erroneously assign this character deficiency to other Black people are the ones motivated by an insecurity stemming from their disloyalty and lack of cultural allegiance. They fail to understand the character was a strong man of color who chose death at the hands of his brutal slave master rather than snitch on two escaped female slaves. The two were in hiding after being sexually assaulted by the rapist slave master. That’s a hero.

I have no problem calling crazy “crazy” regardless of what born day skin color uniform the perpetrator wears. What I see that’s crazy lately is how easily we label people as a hero for doing nothing but existing. What I take even stronger exception to is blessing people with this extraordinary label when they’ve managed to endure a situation they created because of their poor choices. I refuse to applaud someone who overcomes a drug addiction they freely and willingly engaged in.

I’ll save my cheers, kudos and the heroine moniker for people like a woman I know who bravely battled cancer, took chemo and never missed one day of work. When you have a choice to live a better life, but you opt to take the road littered with trouble knowing the repercussions, I can’t muster the energy to shed one tear for you. I believe in 2nd chances, but when you get to the 4th and 5th one, I quit caring and shut off the empathy switch.

We need to stop celebrating and revering athletes, entertainers and celebrities. Let’s choose our heroes a little closer to home. NBA Hall of Famer Charles Barkley summed it up perfectly back in 1990 saying, “I don’t think athletes should be role models. I think that we’re very lucky and blessed. The only thing we do is that we have some God-given ability. Just because I can run and dunk the basketball, that shouldn’t make me a role model.” He benefited financially from this enlightenment later in a commercial for Nike and got paid handsomely, but kept the central message intact, “Just because I can dunk a basketball doesn’t mean I should raise your kids.”

Russian prisoner and WNBA star Brittney Griner is no hero contrary to what her wife and the Rev. Al Sharpton opined. Although her plight has been turned into a political circus and she’s the pawn in a chess match between superpowers, I don’t feel one bit of sympathy for her situation. Ms. Griner and all of her tattoos have been playing in Russia for seven years, so she’s well aware of that country’s laws she’s a guest in.

She admitted violating their drug laws so she has to face the consequences of her poor decision. We complain about immigrants coming here and breaking our laws but are demanding leniency for her doing the same thing. Help me make it make sense. The 10 years she’s facing is overly harsh and extreme, but I can’t jump on the “Free Brittney” bandwagon. What was even more idiotic was the ridiculous false equivalency her coach tried to insinuate into the fray by saying if it was Lebron James or Tom Brady, this wouldn’t be happening. I agree because I doubt either would jeopardize the stellar careers they’ve built for the temporary high from a drug filled vape pen.

I’ve had the opportunity to meet a number of professional athletes and other celebrities, but I never thought of them as heroic. Maybe if I could dunk a basketball, I would think differently. Probably not, so go ahead and call me Uncle Sell Out.

Kenneth L. (Kenny) Hardin is a member of the National Association of Black Journalists.