The “Great Black Hope” Syndrome

By Danielle Mincey, Ph.D
Updated: November 21, 2005

FAIRFAX, VIRGINIA — How many African American families are looking for the “Great Black Hope”? What is the “Great Black Hope”? The “Great Black Hope” is the one Black athlete who will finally open the eyes of society to the true worth of African Americans to our society. As scholars question and study the seeming overemphasis on sports within the African American community, doesn’t it appear that the search for a “Great Black Hope” is being overlooked?

A month and a half ago, I would have disagreed with my own statement. A month and a half ago, I wrote an email to a young cousin (at his mother’s request) that I felt justified in writing. However, in the 58 days since I wrote the words, which “won” me appreciation from his mom, I’ve gone back and re-read the message time and time again, because something just did not seem “right” about my message. Each time I read my message I feel the pain that I have inflicted upon him and so many others who receive family “support” but also receive the burden of trying to become the “Great Black Hope”. Here is what I said: “Hey, Rick (pseudonym)!… “It’s been about 2 weeks since I talked to your mom and she told me about your grades. I had to really think about how to approach you on the subject. Higher education is bigger than what most people (even those of us with degrees) realize. The question you need to ask yourself is “What do I want?” …..You start with that question, and, then, also consider your manhood.

“As a woman, I can’ tell you how to be a man – don’t want to. However, I can tell you how much it breaks a Black woman’s heart when her man/father/son/brother is not directly spoken to when they are together. How does this relate to your manhood/higher education/grades? Well, they are all interconnected. As long as our people make sports the emphasis then our men will never be considered men. It is important that our men understand that the game of basketball/football/baseball – put in whatever sport you want – is a game. Yes, there are millions of dollars to be made at this game of basketball, but unless you take care of the grades necessary to be a man, you are in danger of being a little boy in a man’s body playing a game.

“There has never been, nor will there ever be, anything ‘dumb’ about you. However, just by your athletic ability there are many people who think of you, see you, and will interact with you as if you are just another ‘dumb basketball player’ in college just to play basketball for a few years and then head to the NBA. Rick, in all that you do, remember God first. In doing so, you will bring honor to your parents and most importantly you will prove that you are a man. As I said, all of these things are interconnected.

“Finally, realize that your academic commitment is directly related to your athletic commitment. I have NEVER seen a true athlete be lazy about academics. A true athlete is always looking for ways to improve his/her sport skills and this desire to improve is evident in every area of a true athlete’s life. It is this commitment to improvement that is the difference between a true athlete and someone who is just ‘athletic’. But of course, this all goes back to the question you must ask yourself, ‘What do I want?’ …..

Love you, ‘Cuz’.” As I said, 58 days ago, I felt justified in every word I’d written my 18-year old cousin. In the past 58 days, I realized that I have been so busy “strivin’ and tryin’” that I had worn myself out! Believing in the power of prayer, I’ve realized that I have inflicted the same pain on “Rick” (and my own children), as my parents inflicted on me. How many of us can remember a carefree childhood? I mean really “carefree”. Was it before entering school, or within your close-knit community? Remember the instructions given by parents about our “knowing how to act”? Now, I realize that my parents were doing exactly what they were supposed to do: train up a child in the way they [I] should go, . . However, we were also in “Great Black Hope” training.

In my email to Rick, I asked him what he wanted, then I went on to lay at his feet issues around his “manhood”, the heart of a black woman, the Black race, and then the “knockout punch” of putting God first. I realized that I wasn’t concerned with what he wanted, but what I “needed”, what I perceived the African American community “needed” – a “Great Black Hope”. We want someone to reach the “promised land” of no stereotypes. We continue to look for the land where we are not judged by the color of our skin, but on the content of our character. So, for every child who exhibits athletic talent(s), we train him/her not only in specific sport skills but to become “Great Black Hopes”. Our hope is so convoluted that it’s difficult to for us to understand, much less describe to others. But I do know this: I want Rick to have a life free from “strivin’ and tryin” .

The mantle of being the “one” who got “out” is still being passed along from one generation to the next. In the world of sport, we have been trying to train our next “Great Black Hopes” to get “out” from under the “veil” which Dr. W.E.B. DuBois prophesied we could never escape. We cannot escape being Black, nor can we escape the negative stereotypes associated with being Black. I wish that I had a “cure” for the “Great Black Hope” syndrome, but I don’t. Historically, African Americans have always looked for a “Black Messiah” to lead us into the Promised Land. I believe that the Promised Land is not a land at all, but a psyche: our own.