The Difficulty of Discussing Race – Being Called out for Being White

It should not be surprising that some consider the comments made by Red McCombs, University of Texas alum and successful businessman, regarding the hiring of Charlie Strong instead of Jon Gruden as racially charged. As was noted in a Twitter exchange I had today:

A super wealthy old white guy doesn’t like the black guy coaching his team. No news here.

by @DFUNK57

What I found worthy of challenging were these two tweets:

We know what Red Mccombs thinks of UT hire of Carlie Strong. So sad in 2014 some still feel this way. #bestrong.  

by @ShannonSharpe

Red McCombs sounds like a racist, my opinion. A black QB can win you the BCS but a black man can’t coach your team. #CmonMan 

by @VernonWells10

My initial tweet in response to this was:

So @VernonWells10 and @ShannonSharpe assume McComb’s comments are racist because why? If I think Gruden is more qualified am I racist too?

by @iambwf

Another individual joined in, qualifying this lengthy discussions with:

@iambwf @ShannonSharpe his position isn’t flawed at all. It gets old arguing the obvious over and over with white folks.

by @Corey1911

Sharpe’s assertion was that his quote’s meaning was in reference to Charlie Strong being qualified, and that I was the one who brought up race. When asked how his statement better clarified who was better qualified, Gruden or Strong, he was silent. Additionally he did not acknowledge his error in asserting I was the one who brought up race.

Consequently I was blocked by Shannon Sharpe.

You can view the entire thread on my Twitter timeline, but I want to speak to some specifics of the discussion. At one point @Corey1911 asserts that he’d like Lincoln to be a presidential option in the coming election as a means of defending his position that Gruden was never a candidate and was never interviewed for the job. It is a valid argument if Gruden actually was never a candidate and therefore was not an option. McComb’s, who was not on the search committee and therefore did not have a direct say in the process, (source) believed that he could have worked to bring in Gruden.

“I was not on the search committee. I had no official role whatsoever,” McCombs said. “However, the people that were in charge were aware that I was talking to Jon and I was trying to develop some interest with Jon.”

My initial contention is that if McCombs felt that Gruden was an option, if he felt Gruden was more qualified and if Gruden had not explicitly said no then it is reasonable to interpret his comments as non-racially charged. This position was never answered by the above individuals. Is it possible they had knowledge which they were not sharing? Absolutely. The information I was able to find relative to Gruden and Texas was that he did have an interest in the position (source).

However, rather than offer evidence showing Gruden had told Texas no, my opponents developed false analogies: Gruden and Strong are like Lincoln and <insert other living candidate>. Gruden is an impossibility for coach as Lincoln is an impossibility for president.

Was this based on knowledge or personal opinion? In light of an absence of evidence one can only infer it was speculation. When I did a web search on “Gruden says no to Texas” I found this article which directly addresses Gruden not returning to any NFL team. If there is no evidence of an absolute no then the possibility exists. If the possibility exists then the Lincoln correlation is inherently flawed.

The best I received from Sharpe was a comment asking if Gruden should be in Tampa? He also asked me if Gruden was ever interviewed for the Texas job, which is ironic coming from someone in the media. But isn’t that my point? Do we know if he was interviewed? But beyond that was there an expectation by McComb that either Gruden was interested or that he, McComb, could sway Gruden’s interest?

Amidst the blocking and my opponents counter arguments being tagged as a favorite by other Twitter members, the question was never answered. Based on the information at hand is it more reasonable to assume McComb’s statements were racially charged or where they simply statements of preference? One thing that was noted by @DFUNK57 is that, being from Texas, he has experience of Red to the extent that his past actions/comments would indicate that his reason for not liking Strong was more about race than about qualifications. I noted to @DFUNK57 that his experience would hold more weight, and in lieu of investigating the validity of his experience would defer to him accordingly. It is pointless to argue on experience, but it is a big ask to assume the other’s experience is factual and reasonable.

The triangle of discussion was a white male and two black males. There was an opportunity for genuine investigation into how we perceive statements which could be viewed as racially charged. Instead the subject in question was profiled, if I may use the term, for being old/rich/white and I my questions were dismissed because I am white. It smacks of being told the way something is due to one’s condition of existence through experience.

In the end I was told I was “missing the point”. I cannot agree with that closing assertion. Might I be ignorant of the facts at hand? Absolutely. However, me being white has nothing to do with it, and the condescending attitude of my opponents, along with their ability to redirect the discussion, afforded no positive outcome. It smacks of Godwin’s Law, as a corollary, such that any race discussion, if exhausted, will end with one person qualifying his/her opponent’s race as a reason for why they can’t come to the “right conclusion”.

Intent is a difficult thing to prove, and sometimes the best we can do in deciding on intent is to look at past history. We owe conversations related to race a greater degree of respect than talking at people. One of the greatest elements of discovery for me is to understand better how the black community perceives the American institution relative to access to resources that white America takes for granted. Leveraging that awareness I strive to not assume a position which facilitates a myopic view of the possibilities. If we do not ask why we find Red McComb’s comments racist when we do not have sufficient information at hand to make such an assertion, we are choosing to play on our prejudices. In the end that arms those who think race is used a political weapon with more ammunition.

What, then, is “obvious” and why is it so? Is it “obvious” that the comments are racist because the person making the statement is rich/old/white? So many questions are left unanswered because there is a demand that if things are not seen as I see them then you must be wrong. That is a one sided conversation.

Years ago I was exposed to the phrase “Ally of your own grave diggers” through Milan Kundera’s book Immortality. If you must define people as difficult to talk to because they are white, you become those who claim you call things racist when they are not simply because you are black. Again, call me ignorant of the facts. Say that I am being stubborn. Call me obtuse. But do not make it about my whiteness. Do not claim I initiated the discussion within the context of race when the evidence is obviously to the contrary.

And if by whiteness you mean my culture, then we had best both agree that is what you mean or we are lost in our private language.


I found this from a Houston Chronicle blog post.

McCombs stressed that he does not speak for Gruden, but said he received glowing reports from several people he consulted about the former NFL coach. It’s unclear whether Gruden has been approached by Patterson about the job.

This further validates the assertion that claiming Gruden was unavailable, as Lincoln would be for president of the US in 2016, carries no weight. It is merely speculation by people and therefore inferring racial charged sentiment is itself a weak speculation.

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