Role Models (Only Blacks Need Apply)

Recently, someone asked me who my role models were when I was a kid. Having been a baseball fan all my life and a fairly precocious reader (The Grapes of Wrath at age 11), the names I came up with were Ted Williams, Stan Musial, John Steinbeck, William Saroyan, and Humphrey Bogart.

For someone born in Chicago in 1940, but raised in L.A. from the age of six, it wasn’t a particularly unusual list, consisting, as it did, of a couple of baseball greats, two very successful California-based writers, and a movie actor who personified cool. What I now find interesting about my list is that not one of those named was Jewish.

It should be stated that none of my friends would have mentioned our dads in this context. A dad, in our neighborhood at least, did not hit home runs or write best sellers. But he was our idea of what a grown up man was supposed to be like, except maybe a little bit thinner and with a lot more hair. Dads were honest, a little bit strict, and definitely someone we didn’t want to piss off.

I’m not suggesting I hadn’t heard of any admirable, high-profile Jews. I was very much aware of boxing great Benny Leonard, football legend Sid Luckman, Hall of Famer Hank Greenberg, and any number of show business luminaries, including John Garfield, Jack Benny, George Burns, Artie Shaw, and Eddie G. Robinson. (I even knew what their original names were!) Understand, I liked them all, but, for me, they didn’t represent the very top echelon.

All of my friends, Jewish and gentile alike, were the same. In order for someone to be a sports hero or a pop culture icon, they only had to be great; they didn’t have to be Jewish or Catholic or anything, for that matter, but splendid.

When I was a kid, for instance, there was only one real boxing champion, and that was Joe Louis. We may not have paraded, as blacks did in Harlem, when he knocked out Billy Conn or Tony Galento, but we all rooted for the Brown Bomber.

And maybe to Italian-American kids, Joe DiMaggio may have been extra special, but that didn’t stop the rest of us from wanting to grow up to patrol centerfield the exact same, graceful, way the Yankee Clipper did.

So, how is it that black kids can only have other blacks as their role models?

Even when I was a youngster, I would hear that the likes of George Washington Carver, Ralph Bunche and Marian Anderson, were credits to their race, and I would wonder why they weren’t simply a credit to the human race. I mean, I never heard anyone suggest that Michelangelo or Shakespeare or Bach or even Stan Musial, for that matter, was a credit to the white race. Granted, Italy, England, Germany and St. Louis, may have taken particular pride in them, but that didn’t prevent the rest of us from hailing their talent. Why is it then that blacks only seem to recognize the achievements of other blacks?

I know for a fact that millions of walls in the bedrooms of white American teenagers are adorned with posters of black athletes, rappers and hip hoppers. I suspect, and am willing to wager, that there is not a comparable number of walls in black homes covered with posters of white or even Hispanic athletes, movie stars and musicians.

Let’s face it: back in the days when the only things O.J. Simpson was knifing through were defensive lines, his posters were to be found in more bedrooms than Warren Beatty, Wilt Chamberlin and Hugh Hefner, put together. O.J. was then supplanted by the omnipresent Michael Jordan.

My question is twofold: One, why should it be that in a society that, ideally, is supposed to be colorblind, black kids are encouraged to take notice of human accomplishment only when it’s done by people who share their pigmentation?

And, two: How long will black America turn a blind eye on the sad fact that with a staggering illegitimacy rate of 70%, the only black male role models most of these kids have are those Nike ads taped to their walls?


©2011 Burt Prelutsky. Comments? Write Burt!
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Author Bio:

Burt Prelutsky, a very nice person once you get to know him, has been a humor columnist for the L.A. Times and a movie critic for Los Angeles magazine. As a freelancer, he has written for the New York Times, Washington Times, TV Guide, Modern Maturity, Emmy, Holiday, American Film, and Sports Illustrated. For television, he has written for Dragnet, McMillan & Wife, MASH, Mary Tyler Moore, Rhoda, Bob Newhart, Family Ties, Dr. Quinn and Diagnosis Murder. In addition, he has written a batch of terrific TV movies. View Burt’s IMDB profile. Talk about being well-rounded, he plays tennis and poker... and rarely cheats at either. He lives in the San Fernando Valley, where he takes his marching orders from a wife named Yvonne and a dog named Angel.
Author website: http://www.burtprelutsky.com/
  • Tom Morgan

    Bernie, no one can say it better than you. My wife and I love reading everything you write. I also try never to miss you on the Factor. Yes, I really like Bill, but wish he would let you finish your thoughts – No Spin.
    I grew up as a child in a small town in the panhandle of Florida. My heroes?? They were the older black guys that I played basketball with. You see, I lived next door to an all black high school. I could not go to school there, but they had the gym open in the summer and I rarely missed a day playing basketball with them. I had a great time,learned a lot and made a lot of friends. Later in life when I joined the Army, I attended a race relations (one of many) class and remember this one black man that said he could never be my friend because I hung and murdered his ancestors. I explained that I had nothing to do with that, but that made no difference to him. I often wonder about him and hope that he got all that anger out of him. He could have probably been one of my heroes. I wish we could have heroes and friends no matter their color!

    • Tom Morgan

      Sorry Burt for not giving you the credit for the piece. Guess no one could have said this better than you!

  • Burt Prelutsky

    Funny, but I was never a fan of Willie Mays. It had nothing to do with his race because I liked a lot of black players including Frank Robinson, Elston Howard, Larry Doby and Luke Easter. I didn’t like Mays even though I knew he was a great player because he was a hot dog. He made basket catches because it wowed people, even though it’s better to catch flyballs closer to your shoulder so you can get off a quicker throw. I had even read that he wore a cap slightly too small for his head so that he could run out from under it when he’d run to make a catch.

    Burt

    • Nancye

      I suppose my family liked Willie because he was from the Birmingham, Alabama area where I live. But my family also liked Mickey Mantle and others as well.

      Geeeezzz you didn’t like him because of the way he caught the ball?

  • IndependentLasVegas

    I taught school in the inner city of Chicago..
    In this all black high school with a class roster of 38 all of us teachers were lucky if 15 students showed up.

    As teachers we were required to call the homes of the missing students. 90% of the missing students lived with an aunt or grandmother in other words parentless..

    I answered a question presented by a black principal..why so many students were cutting all of our classes? I answered honestly, that these black kids had no structure home life due to the lack of a mother and or father. A week later I was transferred.

    No Jesse Jackson or AL Sharpton Wrong color discrimination retaliation against whites is on the RISE

  • Clarence De Barrows

    Must be after my time. It was Gene Autry, Roy Rogers and Hopalong Cassidy with The Cisco Kid and Pancho thrown in for spice.

  • Iklwa

    Perhaps this is a manifestation of an ideology similar to that which demonizes intelligent, feminine, conservative women.

    The leftist mentality suggests that if a group or individual has ever been victimized, they should maintain that victim status throughout eternity. To attempt or achieve success without the aid of the mainstream victim group flies in the face of one main tenant of banning together in such a group [i.e. you can’t do it (whatever it may be) without us.].

    Even though you are Jewish, you were brought up as an American.
    Blacks, in particular, have been fed a steady diet of Black-Americanism since the nineteen sixties and their leaders have yet to progress beyond that feeble concept. Many prominent black community’s leaders have built entire careers (many quite lucrative) trading in the skin game and siphoning off valuable capital and human dignity along the way.

    Should black youngsters ever come to the realization that they are as much members of the American culture as any other citizen who sucks air and has a beating heart; this problem of “racial inequality” will evaporate along with the careers so carefully nurtured.

    I only wish those prominent “leaders” of black society were as conscientious about bringing black citizens into truly exercising the freedoms enumerated in the Constitution as they are about keeping their own coffers full.

    • Erika

      Beautifully stated. Thanks.

  • James M Reid

    When I was a kid growing up in the 50’s in Astoria,NY my mother was a NY Giants (baseball) fan. One of my heroes was Willie Mays. He and his wife had a home in East Elmhurst near LaGuadria Airport. It was a thrill for my friends and I to bike ride past his house and try to catch a view of him. Now I am a member of the Tea Party, a racists and a terorist. Its amazing how easy it is to label an ” America Patriot “

    • Nancye

      Hahaha – makes me one too.

  • Nancye

    When I was a little kid – way back when – one of my heroes was Joe Louis. Actually, the three “people” I heard the most about were FDR, Joe Louis, and Seabiscuit. Can a horse be your hero? Yeah!!! And later, of course, there was “say hey” Willie Mays.

  • Vin Bick

    As a kid growing up in the 1950’s as a Brooklyn Dodger fan, ALL of the players were my heroes. Once Jackie Robinson was accepted by his teammates, color was a non-factor. Kids are objective and honest; it’s the adults who teach prejudice.

  • Will Swoboda

    good morning Burt,
    Great article. Really liked “don’t want to piss Dad off”. You’re right but today’s liberal would call you a “Racist”.
    Will