Issues Under Fire: Free Speech, Race Relations & Jemele Hill
In a way, it all started with Muhammad Ali back in the day. It was the politically turbulent and racially charged times of the 1960’s. He was a Black American athlete with fame, fortune and the gift of gab. He had a big mouth, but nobody was big enough the keep it shut. Not even the United States government. He stood before the cameras, the microphones and throngs of reporters and told America exactly what he thought of it. He held nothing back. He told his truth the way he wanted to. But if you recall, he paid a price. And so have those who followed. Check this out.
Stripped of his title and banned from earning a living during the prime of his boxing career, White America sent a loud and clear message to Muhammad Ali and Black America – free speech has consequences. If you’re Black and want to live well, you speak when spoken to and you’re only allowed to say what White America wants to hear. Still, at the 1968 Olympics, Tommy Smith and John Carlos defied America by displaying the Black Power salute as they stood atop the podium to receive their medals during the playing of the national anthem. With bowed heads, both men raised a black gloved hand and kept them raised until the anthem was finished. It was a hell of a statement for the times. But if you recall, they too, paid a price.
Upon returning the the United States from Mexico City, the duo was ostracized by the US sporting establishment, subjected to rabid criticism and abuse, while their families received death threats. Putting it mildly, life wasn’t easy. Yet, knowing the harsh sanctions Muhammad Ali faced, they still did what they did. They had to know their faces would never grace a million boxes of Wheaties, “The Breakfast of Champions”. They had to know Hollywood wouldn’t be looking to put them on the silver screen. They had to know a career in sports radio and/or television was a dream never to be realized, when contemporaries like O.J. Simpson was bathing in the limelight. O.J. knew how to keep his mouth shut and play both games.
For a time, the vast majority of Black athletes and entertainers heeded White America’s not so subtle warning. You can get rich singing and dancing and running and jumping in America, but if you want to enjoy the beautiful house, the big bucks, the fancy cars, the lucrative endorsements and live the life of the rich and famous, you have to do it with your mouth shut. To vocalize any support for racial justice or Black pride will not be tolerated by White America. Blacks in positions of influence must speak through a self imposed filter. They can be seen, but not heard. And still, Colin Kaepernick broke the rules most “accepted Blacks” followed. And yes, he too, is paying the price.
Bottom line: So our question is this – what moved ESPN sports co-anchor Jemele Hill to call out “45” for being a white supremacist? Sure “45” has said despicable things about Muslims and Mexicans. Sure “45” did all he could to keep Blacks and Latinos from renting his apartments in New York. And sure “45” is supported by David Duke and other overt hate groups. Still, if she knew her Black history, she had to know the risk. If not, she should have. Within hours of her statement, the White House spokesperson was calling for her to be fired. And while Ms. Hill is busy trying to make amends to save her job, or at least salvage her career, there will be a price to pay. After all, this is America. Podcast below.