Interracial Relationships in Sports Evoke Various Reactions

By Jemele Hill
Updated: May 22, 2005

– The news that former Kentucky basketball player Rex Chapman was admonished by school officials for dating African-American women likely only registered a mild chuckle among most African Americans.

Chapman is one of those white athletes that garners special status in the black community, like Larry Bird. Because of Chapman’s street game, well, he was loosely considered one of us.

It’s clear that Chapman’s Equal Opportunity dating didn’t play big with some Wildcats _the Emancipation Proclamation probably didn’t, either – but it’s not usually who a white guy dates that makes everyone uncomfortable.

Tiger Woods, O.J. Simpson and Barry Bonds – that’s another matter.

All three are black men who have married white women_a color combination that provokes both black and white people to resume our pre-Civil Rights era selves.

Last January, the FBI investigated threatening letters sent to high-profile interracial couples. The FBI said the letters were specifically meant to discourage black men from dating white women. One target was Miami defensive end Jason Taylor, who is married to a white woman.

And Terrell Owens’ infamous Monday Night Football skit with Desperate Housewives actress Nicollette Sheridan didn’t receive an extraordinarily high number of viewer complaints because the acting was bad.

It was the image of black skin on white skin in a very suggestive manner. Put Tom Brady in that skit and there’s no FCC involvement, and the skit is considered sexy, but still acceptable. Indianapolis Colts Coach Tony Dungy wouldn’t have gone on a tirade and said, “I think it’s stereotypical in looking at the players, and on the heels of the Kobe Bryant incident, I think it’s very insensitive.”

Bryant, as you know, was accused of raping a white woman, but the charges were later dismissed.

The root of our discomfort with black athletes and white women is multi-layered, but it’s a result of both sides allowing statistics and fear to play on prejudices.

For African-American women, every time we see a black athlete with a white woman we feel like the Bellagio in Ocean’s Eleven – as if something just got hijacked from us.

That sentiment seems twisted, but it’s based on the fear that all the good black men are marrying white women.

In 1963, married couples headed 70 percent of black families. In 2002, that number plummeted to 48 percent.

The 2000 Census figures show the husband is black in 73 percent of black-white couples. Aside from the black women Chapman dated in college, the majority of black women remain closed to the idea of dating outside of their race. Of the black women who are married, more than 90 percent of them are married to black men.

So if a white woman marries a black man, it’s not about love being colorblind. It’s another black man who won’t head a black family. With a disproportionate number of black men in prison, black women start feeling like they have a better chance of hitting the lottery than finding a black man to marry.

When black people rank their favorite athletes, who they marry can either add points or take them away.

Grant Hill is popular because he’s generally considered a good guy and a good player, but he’s even more highly regarded among African Americans because he married Tamia, a black woman.

Interracial relationships don’t just make black people uncomfortable, either. Several conservative whites have expressed concern over the high rate of interracial relationships because they have this crazy fear it will lead to end of the white race. H. Millard, a columnist for the ultra-racist New Nation News, wrote, “Call it what it is: Genocide and the extinction of the white genotype.”

Hey, it was just five years ago, South Carolina’s Bob Jones University dropped a ban on interracial dating.

Chapman should be saluted for speaking out against his former university and having the guts to date who he wanted despite what officials thought about it – and in Kentucky of all places.

But real progress won’t be made until there is no worry about who white men date or who black men choose.