Cam Newton: Fear of a Big Black Buck

cam-newton

Photo: Under Armour

Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton presents a threat in a way few black athletes have, exposing an older level of racism long disregarded. Until now.

Cam Newton is a rarity and yet he’s not.

There is no discernible way in which Newton serves as a trailblazer of any sort. He’s not the first black quarterback, he’s not the first black quarterback to play in the Super Bowl, he’s not even the first black quarterback to play in the South.

He may, however be the first black quarterback to win the Heisman, win a national championship and go to the Super Bowl.

But despite that achievement that doesn’t really mean a whole lot, everything else Newton accomplished to this point has been done to some extent by another black quarterback.

Arrogant. Prideful. Ego-driven.

Those are just a small sample of the words routinely used to describe Newton since entering the NFL. People sneer and clutch their pearls each time he does a first down celebration, or pantomimes tearing his shirt open like Superman after a touchdown.

When he “dabs”, he’s considered to be a giant showboat. His megawatt grin is accused of holding back something far more sinister. And all of it is part of some innate desire to call Newton out in ways that other, whiter quarterbacks are rarely, if ever called out for, even as their presentation of ego differs.

So what makes Newton so different? Why are some, particularly in the media, so afraid of him?

And make no mistake, people are afraid, and they’re displaying that fear in ways we haven’t seen play out in society in a very long time.

So what is this fear about? Why are sportswriters like the Washington Post’s Sally Jenkins, falling over themselves to call out Newton and his ego?

As far back as the 19th century, the conception and image of Black entertainers and later athletes in American culture were shaped by mocking caricatures designed to foster the belief that Blacks were racially and socially inferior.

These stereotypes would play themselves out for Black men in a number of forms such as Jim Crow, Zip Coon, Uncle Tom and the Pickaninny. But of all those stereotypes, the one that stood out as the most menacing was that of the Buck.

Unlike the other stereotypes which portrayed Black men as lazy, shiftless or eager to please, the Big Black Buck was something of a whole other stripe, something that stirred up fear in White men, because the imaging hit at their sense of masculinity.

The Buck is portrayed as a large Black man who’s equal parts proud, menacing and a big fan of White women.

The Buck portrays a level of insatiable sexuality that threatens White men and women, and can present itself in things such as overconfidence, ego and arrogance.

At 6’5″, 245 lbs, Cam Newton is handsome, articulate and unafraid to assert his talent while celebrating every bit of it. In that, Newton is a modern representation of the Buck, and it’s bothering some in ways they can’t quite fathom, at least not honestly.

Take, for example, Tennessee Titans fan Rosemary Plorin, who in November 2015, sent to the Charlotte Observer a note she wrote for Newton chastising him for his perceived behavior (emphasis ours):

Dear Mr. Newton,

Congratulations on your win in Nashville today. Our team played well, but yours played better. Kudos to the Panthers organization.

That game happened to be my nine year old daughter’s first live NFL experience… And she was excited we were near the end zone, so we would be close to the “action,” particularly in the second half.

Because of where we sat, we had a close up view of your conduct in the fourth quarter. The chest puffs. The pelvic thrusts. The arrogant struts…we saw it all.

I refuse to believe you don’t realize you are a role model…With everything the NFL has gone through in recent years, I’m confident they have advised that you are, by virtue of your position and career choice, a role model.

…honestly, in an effort to minimize your negative impact and what was otherwise a really fun day, I redirected her attention to the cheerleaders and mascot…

Somehow, Newton’s chest puffs, pelvic thrusts and arrogant struts were more offensive than the chest puffs, pelvic thrusts and struts of mostly White cheerleaders wearing far more tight, revealing clothing than any football player.

titans-cheerleaders

Photo: Donn Jones Photography/TitansOnline

What was inherently more preferable about cheerleaders who are essentially hired to deliver sexuality during a football game to a quarterback simply celebrating a touchdown?

But it’s not about race, right?

Some of the most pervasive racist narratives happen to involve virile, swaggering Black slaves having their way with the white women while the master is out.

When Newton thrusts his pelvis at the good White folks in the stands after every touchdown, he’s jamming his metaphorical manhood into the hearts and nether regions of those who are defenseless to his Mandingo-like wiles.

I can’t possibly be serious about this, I can’t possibly be suggesting that all the Newton criticism is based on a fear of what he represents on a sexual level, right?

Oh, but I can.

Author and Educator Tim Wise (who happens to be White), discussed this very sort of thing in a 2003 article about how paranoia over Black sexuality plays itself out in White imaginations:

Such is the one, or perhaps two-dimensional nature of the white gaze at the black male: either we love them as superstar athletes and entertainers… Neither version of this gaze however serves the interest of ending racism, as neither allows us to see blacks as other human beings like ourselves.

After all, most people find it hard to truly identify with either multi-millionaires or criminals, since neither lead lives that much resemble our own. Because our views of blacks are so commonly bifurcated into one or another of these two boxes, it will remain difficult for millions of otherwise intelligent people to grasp that African Americans are not some strange, exotic and fundamentally different specimen of humanity

So why is this a problem for Newton in a way that it wasn’t a problem for Doug Williams, or Donovan McNabb or Colin Kaepernick or Russell Wilson? They are all Black quarterbacks, and each of them reached the Super Bowl, with Williams being the first Black man to win a Super Bowl, and Wilson to be the most recent. Why are they not saddled with the stereotype that bears itself out in increased criticism?

When Doug Williams won the Super Bowl in 1988, he represented a true rarity. For a number of “reasons” Black quarterbacks weren’t making it to the highest levels, and they certainly weren’t starting games on championship teams.

When the Redskins made it to the Super Bowl, Williams went out of his way to maintain a low profile. He wasn’t dancing or speaking out or doing anything outside of the job he was tasked to do. That’s not a critique on his Blackness, but rather an observation of a natural reaction to incredible pressure.

It wasn’t until 2014 that another Black quarterback would win a Super Bowl, with Russell Wilson leading the Seattle Seahawks to their first Super Bowl win. Wilson, at 5’11” and just over 200 lbs, is much smaller than Newton, and he’s much more…chaste.

Russell Wilson presents an image of an upright Christian man. If this were during the era of slavery, Wilson would be used as an example of what is essentially a neutered Black male. He speaks in religious metaphors, puts God before himself and refuses to have (or admit to having had) sex with his extremely attractive girlfriend.

READ: Fear of a Black Breast: Ciara Causes Pearl Clutching at National Championship Game

In other words, Wilson, with his reserved nature, doesn’t represent the same sexual threat that Newton does, and the result is that Wilson is rarely, if ever, questioned about being a Black quarterback.

This is because in the eyes of those who want to forward the narrative of “arrogance” and “ego”, Russell Wilson isn’t half the nigger that Cam Newton is.

Still with me? Pretty rough, huh?

That’s right, Cam Newton represents the Big Black Buck Nigger that isn’t afraid of White people and will do whatever he wants, whenever he wants and people will love him for it, because all he does is win and when it comes to football, that’s all you want.

But as with everything, winning comes with a price. And because Newton grasps his sense of self with a level of power, determination, pride, confidence and yes, arrogance that makes him beholden to no man, no ideology, no level of chastity and no master, he must be taken down a peg at every opportunity.

This is why even though he is in the midst of an MVP season, a season that could end with a Super Bowl championship, bringing millions of dollars to a small market city, he will suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous jealousy and hatred masked as critiques on whether or not he is classy enough to play in a game where violence is at a premium.

And he’s doing it at a CEO-level.

That’s right, playing quarterback is entirely different than playing running back or linebacker. In those positions, you can be the grunting, braying, prideful jackass and be largely left alone, but as quarterback, you are held to a higher standard, and if you’re White, you can do the following:

You can knock up a girlfriend and leave her for a Brazilian model. 

You can cheat during a game and blame it on equipment managers.

You can take banned substances, say they were actually used by your wife and send people to intimidate witnesses.

You can even be accused of hitting your girlfriend and manage to avoid arrest.

If you’re a White quarterback, you can get away with a lot of things and you can do it with every bit of the confidence, arrogance and swagger befitting your position. But as a Black quarterback, the one thing you can never, ever get away with is pride.

In her article, Sally Jenkins says, “It would be a little easier to admire Cam Newton if he wasn’t so relentlessly admiring of his admirable self.”

But the problem isn’t Newton; it never was. The problem is us, all of us, not just the racists. Because we can’t talk about this, because those who live in fear, and those who ignore the coded language aren’t trying to grow beyond this, we will continue to do this passive aggressive dance in a time that’s supposed to be post-racial. But for a very vocal few, Newton represents the death of past power structures, even if, in reality, Newton has very little power of his own.

He doesn’t own the Panthers, he just works for them.

A Black Buck who disregards his masters is a threat to be squelched, and no matter how many championships Cam Newton wins, no matter how many balls he hands out to children, until he bends his knee and sucks in his manhood, he will be the nigger you can’t control, the nigger who stole a laptop in college and he will be the threat you pray your daughters and wives never, ever fall in love with.

Even if they already have.


Hashim R. Hathaway (Uncle Shimbo) is the host of the Never Daunted Radio Network, and proud father to NeverDaunted.Net. You can reach him on Twitter @NeverDauntedNet

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