Commentary

Black (and every other color) is beautiful

The meaning found in Dr. Martin Luther King's words and actions takes many forms

Originally Published: January 14, 2011
By LZ Granderson | ESPN.com

Black … is beautiful.

If reading that sentence makes you uncomfortable, then you've probably missed the point of Dr. King's legacy.

[+] EnlargeDr. Martin Luther King Jr.
AP PhotoWe should use the Martin Luther King holiday to celebrate how far we've come.

If reading that sentence makes you feel superior, then you've definitely missed the point.

In all my years of studying the life and words of Dr. King, the one message that is abundantly clear is that you can love yourself without hating others. In fact, it's easier to do so when you don't.

The rest of this column are the random thoughts of an observer of race, sports and life.

I will share those thoughts with you now.

• The Dr. King holiday is not just for black people, African-Americans or people of African descent.

• The Dr. King holiday is more than a day off from work. It's more than ceremonial marches and the singing of "We Shall Overcome."

• The day shouldn't be about analyzing how far black people still have to go to achieve "The Dream." Rather, it should be a celebration of how far the nation has distanced itself from the nightmare.

• The image of the black athlete is troubling if one chooses to focus only on the black athletes who get into trouble. Charles Woodson and Dikembe Mutombo are building hospitals. That's just fine by me.

• Calling Cleveland Browns fullback Peyton Hillis "deceptively quick" -- when his 40 was faster than a few wideouts drafted ahead of him -- begs the question: Why were we deceived in the first place? An athlete's skin color may indicate the SPF of the sunscreen he wears, but it is not an indication of his success.

• Wear sunscreen -- even if you're black.

• Getting cash and gifts from agents and boosters is not "beating the system." It's being used by it.

• White is beautiful. As are yellow and red and brown. But no color catches people's eyes like green. And sadly, I'm not talking about recycling.

• It only takes 140 characters to toss one's character out the window.

• It only takes the promise of one championship to make character obsolete.

• Technically, you don't have to graduate from a college for it to be considered your alma mater. But it is unlikely that black athletes will evolve to the level of self-awareness Dr. King dreamed of based on a technicality.

[+] EnlargeBayard Rustin
AP Photo/John LindsayBayard Rustin was the athlete; Dr. King was the nerd.

• According to the First Amendment, black men are free to use the N-word as a term of endearment as often as we want. But there is a reason we don't refer to Dr. King by that word.

• Or call Coretta his b----.

• The question isn't "Why do so many professional black athletes own guns?" It's "Why is America so obsessed with them?" More than half of the 8 million guns manufactured in the world each year are purchased in the United States. They can't all be for hunting.

• Today's black athletes don't have to go back and help the community they are from. But it's a good thing for them that a number of yesteryear's athletes did.

• As a child, Dr. King was a little chubby, bookish and not a very good athlete. But Bayard Rustin -- King's close buddy, biggest philosophical influence and lead organizer of the March on Washington -- was a state champion runner and an all-county offensive lineman in high school.

• He was also openly gay.

• Rustin, the jock, that is. Not King, the nerd.

• No matter how racist a coach or owner may be, professional black athletes are not slaves. They are unionized employees, earning in the nation's top 5 percentile. If someone can drive to the grocery store in a $100,000 car, the word "slave" should never come to mind.

• There is nothing wrong with a black male athlete dating and marrying a white woman, but there is something wrong with black women believing he's been stolen. I know that's hard to hear, sista, but somebody had to tell you.

[+] EnlargeDr. Martin Luther King Jr.
AP PhotoDr. King might have some choice words about one NBA franchise owner.

• A decade from now, LeBron James is going to look back at this past year and wonder "What in the hell was I doing?" Just like everybody else.

• If a black athlete can speak out against bad calls and dress codes, he can speak out against a racist owner like Donald Sterling, too. If the National Basketball Players Association needs a reason for a work stoppage, dignity for its membership should be it.

• Dr. King was beaten, jailed and assassinated because he believed everyone should be judged by the content of their character, not the color of their skin. I could be wrong, but I doubt that tanking to get traded or flashing gang signs on the court is the kind of "content" he had in mind.

• Magic Johnson is the Michael Jordan of retired black athletes.

• There is no shame in black athletes not wanting to be role models, but there should be shame when they don't behave like one. It's a free country and people can do whatever they want. But just because we can doesn't mean we should. That's my belief, anyway.

And seriously, trust me about the sunscreen … even if you're black.

LZ Granderson is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine and a regular contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at lzgranderson@yahoo.com.

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LZ Granderson | email

Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine

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