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The wisdom of Robert Griffin III: Balkanized America needs to hear it

Martin Luther King met with President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1963 at the White House. (Photo: Warren K. Leffler; U.S. Library of Congress)The United States has come a very long way in a very short time, in the scheme of things. Many of us believe we are an exceptional country, but we shouldn’t forget that measured against other great countries, we are still in our infancy.

I was reminded of that when I read about the controversy over remarks made by an ESPN analyst I never heard of until he made those remarks about the Washington Redskins’ hot rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III.

The analyst said this about Griffin III:

"Is he a brother, or is he a cornball brother? []

He's not real. OK, he's black, he kind of does the thing, but he's not really down with the cause. He's not one of us. He's kind of black, but he's not really, like, the guy you want to hang out with because he's off to something else.

We all know he has a white fiancée. There was all this talk about how he's a Republican ... "

Anyone who lived in the aftermath of civil rights in the 1960s cannot help but be jolted by those words.

How could an analyst who is assuredly successful in terms of career reduce a remarkable young man to a single element—the color of his skin? Furthermore, how can anyone begrudge a man love? Why does it matter whom Griffin III chose to be his wife?

Griffin III appears to fend off attempts to draw him into what author Ron Christie [Blackwards] and others refer to as the “Balkanization of America.” Political leaders, opportunists and people to whom hatred is as familiar as breathing would fragment America into enclaves of what, to take liberties with President Barack Obama’s words, might be referred to as “bitter clingers,” in this case of a history and past wrongs we cannot erase but have tried mightily to address and rectify.

Like me, Griffin III refuses to be defined by his race:

“For me, you don’t ever want to be defined by the color of your skin… You want to be defined by your work ethic, the person that you are, your character, your personality. That’s what I’ve tried to go out and do…I am an African-American in America. That will never change. But I don’t have to be defined by that.’’

I am a Swiss-American with some Irish thrown in as well, and I enjoy learning about my heritage and treasuring the customs handed down to me. But that is simply my context. It doesn’t define me as a human being and it certainly doesn’t limit my appreciation for others who aren’t Swiss-American. If I choose only people who look and think like me, I have chosen confinement rather than a search for wisdom and learning.

I owe my color blind attitude to my mother. Of humble roots as a sharecropper’s daughter, she wasn’t able to get an advanced education, but she is one of the smartest women I have ever known.

I noticed in a bio on the populist Wikipedia site that Griffin III comes from a military family. I sensed that before I even read the bio. Those who served in the military learned brotherhood by necessity—if your life is on the line, you don’t much care about the skin color of the guy who’s got your back.

At present, too many “Balkanizers” have the pulpit in America. Some do this for profit. Others do it out of anger over injustices that happened a century and a half ago. The impact is destructive. When an individual excludes himself from the brotherhood of man, he becomes weaker rather than stronger.

Dr. Martin Luther King would, I think, be appalled at the analyst’s comments. Although King’s ‘Dream’ speech is the one most Americans are familiar with, there’s a letter that deserves equal attention. King wrote the letter from a Birmingham jail in April, 1963, to his “fellow clergymen” who were white. In the letter, the civil rights legend aimed to persuade those clergymen he didn’t aim to agitate as “an outsider,” and he built a patient, brilliant case for equality and integration.

Like Griffin III, King was a Christian. The faith has been much maligned by many in the political class, but those who know history also know that Christianity has played a positive role in bringing about social changes based on what King called “the law of God.” Throughout his letter, King stressed brotherhood.

There King was in a jail in the most segregated city in the Deep South, and rather than spewing vitriol he chose to follow a moral path. He chose wisdom.

Griffin III has done the same. Asked by a legacy TV network what he feared, the rookie quarterback said, "You try not to fear too many things. I fear God."

King was a man of deep faith. I’ve often thought how much better things would be if his life had not been cut short.  As a Christian, although an admittedly flawed Christian, I share the vision King held as he sat there in what must have been a very uncomfortable cell. 

A century from now the narrow minded analyst’s name will likely be long forgotten, but the name of Martin Luther King will be remembered. Not for his anger, but for his wisdom. A small man seeks to divide. A great man knows that unity is the only course that will ensure our country's survival. The analyst spoke his criticism from a well of fear. Griffin III spoke from a well of power and confidence.

Balkanized America needs to hear King’s message again,  and that of Griffin III as well. To adopt any path other than the path these men point us to is to further weaken the Republic and to violate the moral law of God, and for that matter, Reason.

(Commentary by Kay B. Day/Dec. 14, 2012)

Ed. Note: This article has been edited to remove even small phrases spoken by Dr. Martin Luther King because of media reports about litigation his heirs file regarding quoting him. While it's true the amount of words in our original article easily qualified as fair use, the aggression his heirs have displayed towards filmmakers and others led me to make the decision to omit Dr. King's actual words. In today's legal "[w]arena", you could be forced to spend much time and money to prove your actions were legal. Rather than risk that, I've deleted quotes from the iconic civil rights leader.



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