M. J. and the Plight of Black America


In December, Scoop Jackson published this article in which he stated that Michael Jordan is contributing to the issues of Black America through his hiring practices and by serving as the owner and CEO of the Charlotte Hornets, as well as CEO of the Jordan Brand.  Jordan, holding titles typically held by White professionals, is using his status to ensure that his staffs are diverse and contain many high ranking Black officials.

Jackson writes, “Jordan just happens to do this ‘black thing’ in a way that has been different. Quiet. Subtle. And no one gets it. His contribution to the race has been by providing power but not by voice.”

To be clear, it is important to recognize the significance of what Michael Jordan is accomplishing through his hiring practices.  He is successfully creating opportunities for Black people, and doing so in professions that are not easily accessible in mainstream society.  It is easy to grasp the point that Jackson is attempting to convey—the idea that creating opportunities for Black America is just as important as speaking out.

Unfortunately, it cannot be that simple.

Black athletes in the 21st century command as much fame and notoriety in American society (and sometimes around the world) as the Black President of the United States.  Michael Jordan is not only the greatest basketball player ever; he exists as a worldwide icon whose brand transcends the idea of fame itself.  Jordan’s status in the United States has reached legendary proportions, and any words on behalf of Black America out of his mouth, would likely send shock-waves rippling through the landscape.

Black America has longed for any semblance of a savior—a knight in shining armor who would lead the brigade in the fight.  The unveiling of the first Black President was to serve as that moment. It was to signify that, finally, someone in power who had the ear of all of mainstream America, would be willing to work for and care for “us”—Black America.

In a 2013 article for the National Journal, George E. Condon Jr. and Jim O’Sullivan questioned whether President Obama has been carrying the symbolic torch for Black Americans.  The authors list many current issues that the Black community is facing.  “The median income gap between white and black households has hit a record high. Blacks have half the access to health care as whites. The gap in home ownership is wider today than it was in 1990. African-Americans are twice as likely as whites to have suffered foreclosure.”

They continue to state “Net wealth for black families dropped by 27.1 percent during the recession. One in 15 African-American men is incarcerated, compared with one in 106 white men. Blacks make up 38 percent of inmates in state and federal prisons. Although only 13.8 percent of the U.S. population, African-Americans represent 27 percent of those living below the poverty line.”

Jordan cannot single-handedly cure all of what ails the Black community in the United States; however given his business acumen, net wealth, and international fame, he could make a fairly substantial dent.  While Michael Jordan does not hold the reins of the oval office, within the Black community he may be just as powerful and popular as the President.   Thus, we have to hold him to a higher standard than we would typical Black athletes and celebrities.

In order for the Black community to completely address our myriad of issues and make meaningful progress, those with the most clout must not only hire Black people in their companies, but also consistently speak out to continue to shed light on injustices and inequalities within society. For example, many Black celebrities wore hoodies in support of Trayvon Martin and tweeted and engaged in the Black Lives Matter campaign.  And while these passive forms of demonstration are necessary, using a more active approach such as financially supporting organizations that focus on eliminating these problems and reinvesting capital in the struggling neighborhoods, can carry a more lasting and valuable impact.

Michael Jordan has the power to call attention to the problems for Black people in America and actually begin to invoke change through his own philanthropic efforts.  He could use sales from his basketball shoes alone to address poverty issues in Chicago (where he spent most of his playing career), Charlotte, or any other city.  He could, by himself, change the dynamic of how Black celebrities give back to their community, use their voice in dissent, and challenge the status quo.

MJ frequently served as the leader on the court, and he now serves as a leader in the boardroom.  It is past time for him to serve as the leader in the community as well.