Toure wrote an article titled “What if Michael Vick were white,” and he seems to think the Photoshopped White Michael Vick illustration was the worst part.
Toure found himself in a position of having to defend his original piece because… well, because he wrote it. He spun a tale of an alternate-reality Vick who grew up without the poverty, crime, drugs, and other negative influences he seems to assign to the experience of Being Black; he declares Vick “heroic” for overcoming the burdens of his childhood to live up to his “athletic promise” with only a brief detour into animal torture; and then he acts surprised that no one within the sound of his voice can figure out what the hell he’s talking about.
He explains that when ESPN asked him to write about Michael Vick, he knew they weren’t looking for a football piece (and if you read his description of Vick’s scramble outside the pocket and you’ll understand why). No, he wanted to write about “the Vick meme–the ideas around Vick, especially the social and/or racial ideas around him.” That week, there had been a Twitter debate about how successful Eminem would have been if he were black. Eminem’s success in the industry owes something to his race, Toure says, but outside of that, Black Eminem is unknowable, because “every moment of his life would be different, so who would that man be?”
… [T]he real point is that this test, the thought experiment so many people like to do these days, where we switch someone’s race to test whether a given situation is racist without changing any other aspect of that person’s life, is too naive and simplistic to be taken seriously. The character, the mind and the rhyming ability of a black Eminem is simply unknowable and the test itself fails to take into account that race impacts every moment and every aspect of your life, thus making the racial switch test silly and moot and unable to truly tell us anything.
And he has a point. Every individual aspect of every individual person has an impact on who we are and how we experience life. Black Caperton would have had a different life than White Caperton. Massachusetts Caperton would have had a different upbringing than Georgia Caperton. No-Braces Caperton would have had different interpersonal interactions than Post-Braces Caperton. So, yes, the racial-switch test is as unable to tell us anything about this hypothetical other person as the braces-switch test would be.
You know what’s just as useless? The Arbitrary Hypothetical Alternate Universe test, wherein we speculate an entire new existence for a person based on one aspect of his life. Declaring that Black Eminem or White Michael Vick would be unknowable because race changes everything misses the fact that they’d be unknowable because they’re fiction. And while race, socioeconomic status, and a hundred other factors contribute in fascinating and intricate ways to the lives we make for ourselves, no single factor makes us do what we do.
I thought for certain the massive moral failing that was displayed in Vick’s ability to kill dogs was wrapped up in his not having a positive paternal influence from his father, something that too many black men of our generation have had to deal with, which leads us to construct manhood on our own.
I’m sure growing up without a positive male influence can affect a kid’s development of a concept of manhood–but is that solely a “black” thing? If Michael Vick were white… he still could have grown up with an absent father, or an asshole father. Millions of men have lived through that and worse without going on to kill dogs, and neither absentee fatherhood nor defective fatherhood is an exclusively “black thing.”
The man grows up working class in a community where dog fighting is so common it becomes normalized to him. Then he quickly leaps to the upper class while naturally maintaining close working-class ties.
Once again: While dogfighting is the repulsive gladiator sport of choice for some urban subpopulations, it is hardly exclusively urban or exclusively black. People of all races fight dogs and thus should die slowly, maybe from some really horribly poison. If Michael Vick were white… he still could have gotten involved with dog fighting when he was young, and if not that, something equally reprehensible that would have called for two years locked in a box full of hornets. Many people who grow up around dogfighting manage not to start multistate rings of their own, and neither dog fighting nor crime nor bloodsports in general is a specifically “black thing.”
Switching someone’s race does not change his “entire existence”–it changes his race. And that’s not for nothing. Take a guy in Michael Vick’s childhood neighborhood and turn him white, and he’s going to have different experiences than his black neighbors. Pick any white kid at an almost entirely white high school and turn him black, and his experiences will be different from those of his classmates and of kids at majority-black schools. But that’s not everything. It’s not the entirety of existence. Flipping a man’s race switch from black to white doesn’t also put him in a four-bedroom home in Peoria with a CPA for a father, a librarian for a mother, a brother, a sister, and a pomapoo, and it doesn’t stop an indescribably busted person from torturing dogs in his swimming pool for fun and profit.
Toure claims to have speculated, “What if Michael Vick were white?” He really speculated, “What if Michael Vick grew up in a two-parent home in a better neighborhood with better friends and no dogfighters around?” and then assigned that as his working definition of “white.” In his mind, White Michael Vick never would have had a dogfighting ring in the first place, because in his whiteness he would have grown up free of the poverty, negligence, and violence that defines Being Black.
We all grow up with countless significant and insignificant influences shaping the way we develop. Maybe Vick’s father is out of the picture entirely and no one ever teaches him to throw a football. Maybe he grows up throwing righty, plays at RB in high school, doesn’t get drafted out of college, and ends up selling BMWs in Roanoke. In the end, switching race is no more pointless an intellectual exercise than writing him an entire new existence.