The Unforgivable Blackness of Barry Bonds : The Visible Man Barry Bonds stands just a few at bats away from breaking Hank Aaron's career home run record. So, naturally, there have been any number of polls like this one and
NPR logo The Unforgivable Blackness of Barry Bonds

The Unforgivable Blackness of Barry Bonds

Barry Bonds of the San Francisco Giants Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

Barry Bonds stands just a few at bats away from breaking Hank Aaron's career home run record. So, naturally, there have been any number of polls like this one and this one that take a snapshot of how people feel about Bonds and the record in light of his alleged steroid use.

This just wouldn't be America if somehow race didn't factor into things. And what jumps out is that blacks tend to be twice as likely as whites to support Bonds' grab for the history books. Going with a New York Times/CBS News poll, 57 percent of blacks are rooting for Bonds to break the record, with only 29 percent of whites showing similar support.

Some people have weighed in with disparate takes on the variance between blacks and whites; if the underlying fundamentals aren't flawed, then the polls in concept are nothing but media race baiting.

Maybe, and maybe.

But I think there's a different take on the divergent approval numbers beyond the simplistic notion that some people of color simply "love Bonds 'cause he's black."

First, we've got to take steroids out of the equation. Bonds has never been found guilty of nor admitted to the knowing use of steroids (key word: knowing). Also, we get to talk to a lot of sports writers on the TV show I appear on, Morning Joe on MSNBC, and to a person they tell us the reason Bonds is so disliked is not because of steroid use. Though he certainly doesn't get a pass for that. Rather, he generates animosity because he's a straight up, uh...jerk. He's a cocky guy with a bad attitude who does not care one thing for being liked, and I think that plays differently with some blacks — some, in this case, being that divergent 28 percent. Why? Because likability has never been an issue with blacks.

From the moment we were first dumped in Jamestown and had our teeth checked before getting sold off and later considered three-fifths of a human being, an abundance of "likability" hasn't been something blacks have had to stockpile. Instead, it's been a centuries-long battle for respectability. That quest has given rise to persons of color who don't even give lip service to the "You like me, you really like me!" mentality. Instead they embrace "unforgivable blackness," the desire to achieve without regard to the concerns of others, black or white.

To be real, I have always admired those who did not give a good golly gosh darn (note, my editor's choice of words) what other people thought about anything. Jack Johnson, Sonny Liston, Sade, Ali, Sammy Davis Jr., Josephine Baker, Adam Clayton Powell . . . Even Dennis Rodman, clown that he was, did as he pleased. All of them — they romanced whom they wanted. Married whoever they liked. Divorced whoever they were married to when the marriage became tiresome. They drank and smoked and sassed backed. Carved their own path. But primarily, they achieved. While most trudge through their days straight-jacketed in the social compact, living for others as much as or more than for themselves, a select few excel.

Let's be very clear: Living "unforgiven" is not the sole domain of blacks. It can be found in any successful person. Successful because they scaled the highest ivory Wall Street tower, no matter the sign hung on the door read, "NEED NOT APPLY." Successful because they've raised a wonderful family despite the fact society said, "You can't marry that person." They, all of them, do it with metaphorical Tommie Smith/John Carlos black-gloved fists raised high in defiance.

How one ultimately feels about Bonds and steroids, I guess, could be reflected in how they feel about James Kirk's solution to the Kobayashi Maru test.

I do believe, however, having learned to live without "likability," some blacks, and before your little push-back fingers get to typing, I stress SOME — perhaps personified in that 28 percent — are predisposed to appreciate the virtue of selfishness when we see it.