Race is a social construct. More specifically an American-centered social construct defined by Black and white, both literally and figuratively. It is that construct that shaped the last 400 plus years of this nation’s fraught existence and abhorrent treatment of those that are identified as Black. New Miami Dolphins head coach Mike McDaniel in his introductory press conference said it was very “odd” that people want to identify him in racial terms, as he identifies as a “human being.”
“It’s been very odd, to tell you the truth, this idea of ‘identifying’ as something,” McDaniel said. “I think people identify me as something, but I identify as a human being and my dad is Black. So whatever you want to call it, I know there’s a lot of people with a shared experience. It’s weird that it comes up because I’ve just tried to be a good person.
Mike McDaniel on people talking about his racial background "It's been very odd…I identify as a human being and my dad's black" pic.twitter.com/XRRrNsNsc1
— gifdsports (@gifdsports) February 10, 2022
McDaniel is biracial. His father is Black and his mother is white. Looking at McDaniel most people in America would identify him as white or, more correctly, he presents as a white man. Why does all of this matter?
The NFL has a horrendous record when it comes to the hiring of Black men in positions of prominence, like general manager and head coach. Ex-Dolphins head coach Brian Flores filed a federal lawsuit against the league, Dolphins, Denver Broncos and New York Giants citing racial discrimination in hiring practices.
But McDaniel, due to his biracial status counts as a minority hire and awards the San Francisco 49ers, McDaniel’s former employer, benefits. The 49ers have been given two third-round draft picks for developing their former offensive coordinator into a head coach. This is part of the NFL’s revamped Rooney Rule, aimed at improving hiring practices around Black and other minority coaching candidates.
The Pittsburgh Steelers’ Mike Tomlin and Houston Texans’ Lovie Smith are the lone Black head coaches in the NFL, and Smith was just hired this week. Add in Washington’s Ron Rivera, the New York Jets’ Robert Saleh and now McDaniel, that’s a total of five minority head coaches.
While McDaniel might choose to identify as a human being, the fact that he presents as white was likely not a detriment to his rise through the ranks in the NFL. He said himself he has no experience with racism because of what he’s identified as. McDaniel stopped short of saying white. Why? Probably because he knows that passing has been good for his career.
He also said he knows his mom experienced racism when she married his dad and that his dad experienced it. But he was also clear to say that racism was other people’s (read: not his as a passing Black man’s) problems.
“I think my background opens my eyes a little bit. I don’t have any real experience with racism because I think you identify me as something close to — I don’t know. I know my mom experienced it when she married my dad. I know my dad experienced it, that’s in my family. But I guess that makes me a human being that can identify with other people’s problems.”
Writer Michael Harriot on Twitter made the point that racism isn’t defined by what an individual chooses to identify as but rather what people in power choose to identify you as. In America and its binary racial construct, power resides with white people.
If I “chose to identify” as a mix of pitbull & ballpeen hammer, am I half pet, half carpentry tool?
Or am I part killer dog part deadly weapon?
Racism has nothing to do with how one “chooses to identify.” It’s a byproduct of white people’s POWER to define the identity of others https://t.co/oBGrk0aTg1
— Michael Harriot (@michaelharriot) February 10, 2022
ESPN anchor Sage Steele, who also identifies as biracial, believes you don’t have to choose. She believes people who see things in Black and white can’t handle McDaniel’s right to identify as a human being.
This is so simple.
White mom+black dad = biracial. I'd NEVER choose one. I'm so proud of BOTH my white & black families..I'm SO PROUD to be biracial.
For some reason, ppl can't handle that. But there's peace in no longer caring what others think. Good on you, Mike McDaniel https://t.co/SCyyc4ziZc
— Sage Steele (@sagesteele) February 10, 2022
People are entitled to identify themselves however they choose, we have that freedom. But in a country and society built off chattel slavery supported by a binary racial construct that still exists and directly impacts governance, self-identifying as human or biracial doesn’t change societal realities.
Whether it’s the NFL or the larger society, how you are identified by the power structure within the construct is the critical factor.
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