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White Proves You Can’t Stereotype Who’s Insensitive

Sat., March 28, 1998

God bless Reggie White for proving that insensitivity knows no race, creed or color.

White - an ordained Baptist minister who has built a large, nonsectarian following for his defensive exploits with the Philadelphia Eagles and, for the past five years, with the Green Bay Packers - was speaking before Wisconsin state legislators about a pet project of his that promotes urban redevelopment and minority ownership of small businesses.

White’s social stumping might be above reproach, but his rhetoric, on this occasion, was way out of step. In describing the unique expressions that each race brings to any ethnic euphony, White struck some notes so discordant they made us wince.

Of his own African-American heritage, the Packers defensive end said it is gifted in “worship and celebration,” while Caucasians “are blessed with the gift of structure and organization. They know how to tap into money.” Hispanics, in White’s worldly view, “are gifted at family structure. You can see a Hispanic person and he can put 20 or 30 people in one home.”

Asians, White said, are blessed “with creativity” and inventiveness. They know how to “turn a television into a watch.” Native Americans, he said, “have been very gifted” in “spirituality.”

And if the early American settlers chose to subjugate Africans over Native Americans, well, White went on, anyone conversant in history knows it was because “Indians knew the territory and knew how to sneak up on people.”

Clearly, this was one subject the NFL’s all-time sack leader shouldn’t have tried tackling on the fly. Never mind that White has been a minister since he was 17; to give an athlete a pulpit does not a pundit make.

The lesson to be gleaned from White’s musings is that spreading racial stereotypes is wrong no matter how righteous the speaker.

Frankly, we don’t see a discernible difference between White’s sweeping generalization that Caucasians are well-connected in the material world and the assertions of many Caucasians that African-Americans are well-built for success in sports. When success in business and sports is reduced to skin color, the brains and the brawn of those who flourish are sadly diminished.

Insensitivity wrapped in ignorance is no less chilling when White is the messenger’s name and not his skin color. His comments are proof Caucasians haven’t cornered the market on racial stereotyping. Johnnie Cochran and Louis Farrakhan, are you listening?

In 1987 Al Campanis, an esteemed figure in the Dodgers’ organization, told an ABC “Nightline” audience that African-Americans lack “the necessities” to hold front-office positions in baseball. Campanis lost his job as the club’s vice president in the ensuing uproar. (Now, 11 years later, there’s White telling us Caucasians are “blessed” with the necessities to “know how to tap into money.” Does that strike anybody else as the other side of the same bias?)

Last year, after Tiger Woods became the first African-American to win the Masters, fellow professional golfer Fuzzy Zoeller - as beloved a figure in his circles as White is in his - said, “the little boy’s playing great out there.”

Then, alluding to the fact the reigning champion gets to select the menu for the pre-tournament champions’ dinner, Zoeller added facetiously, “Just tell him not to serve fried chicken at the dinner next year. Or collard greens or whatever it is they serve.”

Zoeller effectively served himself crow with his remarks as his words no sooner had pierced the biosphere of political correctness than he was dropped from a lucrative endorsement with K-Mart.

Are Asians, Hispanics or Native Americans supposed to view White’s comments as any less incendiary than those of Campanis or Zoeller simply because White himself is a minority?

White didn’t help his cause by appearing Thursday on ESPN’s SportsCenter and clarifying his position in regards to Native Americans thusly: “Indians have extremely powerful gifts. They’re warriors.”

Still, we hope White doesn’t get his so-called due the way Zoeller and Campanis did before him. Let the person who has never been suckered by a stereotype sling the first arrow.

The rest of us ought to extend olive branches and hope the same is done for us the next time we assume the woman makes the better parent; the man, the better sportswriter; the blonde, the better date; the Asian, the better student; the African-American, the better athlete; the Caucasian, the smarter athlete; or the athlete, the better role model.


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