Why Black People Tend to Dance: An Apology for Cam Newton


 

12240038_10208400423587504_2136578022119085585_nMuch of the criticism not just of this angry mother, but of those less offended by his behavior, but wishing he conducted himself differently, has centered around the opinion that Cam’s behavior, amongst other things, was lacking in class. I hear this criticism of him and other athletes, typically black athletes (not because they are black and the critic dislikes black people, but because usually black athletes are the ones celebrating by dancing and other demonstrative behavior) all the time. They would prefer, he would just hug and high five his teammates quickly, in an understated fashion, and then unassumingly jog off the field to the sidelines.

Allow me to offer this critique of the “it lacked class” criticism. This criticism often highlights the cultural differences between black and white Americans. I can hear the retort now, “Yet again! Why do you have to make it about race?” Well if you bear with me I will explain to you why it is about race but not in a “anyone who criticizes Cam is a racist” explanation. This explanation doesn’t require or ask white people to apologize for the past or recognize their “privilege”. It simply asks that people who are criticizing him for a touchdown dance, whether they be white and hearing this reasoning for the first time or black and have forgotten to consider without hearing it as an attack.

It’s not about race in a way that makes her and others racist and hate black people. It’s about race in that so many white people either don’t and in some cases refuse to understand, and some black people have forgotten, that dancing and being loud is a part of our culture as Black Americans. Culture is simply what we make of the world, both in a literal sense of making (building and creating) things, and in how we make sense of the world around us. And for black Americans dancing and celebrating is an integral part of our culture. Dancing is how we sought to make sense of the world around us. What did our ancestors make of slavery? Singing, shouting, and dancing. You need look no further than predominantly black churches the world round to see all three of those things remain embedded in our culture. We wouldn’t have survived the horrors of slavery and injustice without dancing. It’s in our blood to dance, when we’re suffering and when we celebrate, to the point that now we the sons and daughters of those people who cultivated that kind of life do it sometimes instinctively without thinking about it, or remembering why we have an urge to respond that way. Dancing and singing and shouting kept many of our ancestors from losing hope that things could get better. And praise God things have gotten better. And still we don’t or at least try not to forget where we come from, even as we try to accommodate the majority culture, thus we keep on dancing.

The late Ralph Wiley, an author, journalist and writer who was a Sports Illustrated staff writer for nine years, described this culture and reasoning better than I in his book Why Black People Tend to Shout (all this discussion about Cam inspired me to go dig the book up).

First of all, black people are too happy just being able to shout not to take advantage of the luxury. When you have to read that bits were put in some of your ancestors’ mouths, you tend to shout. When a sweet grandmotherly sort has to tell you how black people once were chained in iron make in the canebrake, to keep them from eating the cane while they harvested it, and that these masks were like little ovens that cooked the skin off their faces–when you hear that grandmotherly voice and realize she once was a girl who might have been your girl, and someone caused this pain on her lips and nobody did anything about it but keep living–this gives you a tendency to shout,

Black American culture is a byproduct of the great grandchildren of the tribal African culture. A culture that danced to celebrate life, danced boys into manhood, danced the betrothed into matrimony, and danced the fallen into the afterlife.
So now when someone like Cam gets criticized and told “show a little class”, it’s like being told to assimilate. When someone like Cam is told they find his dancing in that moment offensive (all the while half naked cheerleaders are shaking what they mama gave em) it’s like being told, “we find your culture offensive”. And we find it slightly ironic that so much of our shouting singing and dancing, in the form of folk, blues, rhythm and blues, hip hop and rap music, has been copied had a white face slapped on it and sold to the masses for a profit, but it’s somehow offensive when we do it.

When someone like Cam is told to “grow up” in response to him pointing after a first down, it’s like being told to forget where you came from, or to get over it. If you’ve heard a word of what I’ve just said then you’ll know, maybe for the first time, that dancing is how we got over.

When we hear someone say “I miss the old days when guys just played the game the right way without all the theatrics”, we hear you want things to be the way they were before the color barrier, or more accurately put the unwritten “gentlemen’s agreement” policy, in sports being broken and required a subdued and suppressed black man to break it. Jackie Robinson is an American hero and is the most courageous man that ever competed in modern sports, but he was chosen over the likes of Josh Gibson and Satchel Page because Branch Rickey believed Jackie he could subdue his need to dance and shout. Muhammad Ali is considered the greatest athlete ever by most Black Americans because he dared to dance shout and rap inspiring Black Americans who had despite their assimilating efforts been kept separate and unequal to start dancing again.

When someone like Cam is told “act like you’ve been here before” we know he is doing it because we have been there.

This entry was posted in Current Events, Pop Culture, Racial Reconciliation, Sports and tagged , , , by Cedric Lundy. Bookmark the permalink.

About Cedric Lundy

As a teenager who struggled with my self esteem and where I fit in my youth group was the one place that I felt like I could be myself. It also was a place where I could discover my true identity in Christ and discover my true value in God. Over time I realized that God was calling me into full-time youth ministry by kindling a passion and desire to provide teenagers the same opportunity and atmosphere I had that served as a catalyst for me to flourish. After a number of years of doing full-time vocational youth ministry in the local church I recognize more fully the importance of being an encouragement and resource to the people who have the most potential for impact in the life of a teenager... their parents. Those are the reasons why I've begun this blog and if those reasons resonate with you then this blog is for you! Student Ministries Pastor of Middle School Ministry at Church At Charlotte. We seek to empower and release transformed followers of Christ by being stirred by God's word, struggling well with life, and serving others.

4 thoughts on “Why Black People Tend to Dance: An Apology for Cam Newton

  1. Cedric,

    I think I just have to respond to this. Being a DIE HARD Auburn fan (you know I am) AND fan of Cam, I respectfully offer my opinion. This is coming from a Cam stalker his first couple of years in Charlotte. I used to hope I would run into him at restaurants, and i would look for him every time I saw a really nice car driven by an African-American guy…..you can ask my kids.

    I saw his dance on Sunday…and I think it was over the top. After his tearing down of the Packers sign the week before and in the press conference explaining that other people should respect the home team stadium, I felt like his dance was pretty hypocritical. The first bit was great….and in my opinion, totally celebratory in nature…..but then he decided to keep it going…..too long.

    I’ve got his jersey hanging in my closet, and I am usually on his side….but Sunday bothered me. I don’t think it’s fair to judge him based on one misplaced dance (we’ve probably all got a dance story, what with family weddings and such). So I’ll keep on cheering for Cam, my Panthers, and yes, my Auburn Tigers (what a rough season). But I do hope this talk has given him cause to think and remember that there is a line between proud celebration and arrogance. WarEagle!

    • Hey Amy,

      Thanks for replying. I don’t think Cam’s dance would’ve drawn the attention it drew nor lasted as long if the Titan players hadn’t gotten in his face (talk about poor sportsmanship, lose with some class). A lot of players would’ve gone toe to toe if they had interrupted their celebration like a certain Panther great who until a year and half ago played with Cam.

      I think we must keep in mind that this is the same Cam who over the past few seasons smiles more than anyone else in football. Even when they’re losing he is smiling. That tells me his dancing wasn’t about rubbing it in their faces. Something to consider.

  2. love this! AND I love the dance, I love Cam and I love his full self expression – he has held on to his scoring celebrations every single time – even when we were being defeated in past seasons, even when others mocked him for it and now during an obvious rejection from a peer – it was nice to see him expand on his routine. I also love that he is not changing who he is to cater to what anyone else thinks he should be. Bold like a lion. I dig it. OH and thank you for this insight – I love singing shouting and celebrating too!

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