Skip Bayless Needs a History Lesson

I stayed at home sick with food poisoning yesterday, and spent much of the afternoon experiencing the joys of day-time TV. While flipping through channels, I landed on ESPN’s First Take in the middle of a discussion between Jemele Hill and Skip Bayless on the role of race in college football coaching hires. This issue centered around claims that Florida Gators defensive coordinator Charlie Strong hasn’t received a head coaching offer (especially from southern schools) in 25 years of coaching due largely to the fact that he is a black man with a white wife. This, of course, follows hotly on the heels of Auburn University’s recent deplorable decision to hire Iowa State head coach Gene Chizik, who is white, over the far-more qualified University at Buffalo head coach Turner Gill, who is black and, like Strong, has a white wife. Charles Barkley threw even more fuel on the fire by publicly and stridently denouncing his alma mater’s decision as blatantly racist.

Jemele Hill basically argued that Strong’s interracial marriage played a huge role in his inability to land a head coaching job, particularly in the south. Bayless countered that he was, and I’m paraphrasing, disheartened to hear this kind of talk despite the fact that Barack Obama was just elected president, as the son of a black father and a white mother. Furthermore, he said he could make the argument that being a black coach with a white wife might actually help a someone like Strong land a coaching job in the south, as it would make those white athetlic boosters and white AD’s feel more comfortable interacting with them.

Jemele Hill handled this comment extremely well, saying that she firmly disagreed, and that to understand this you really have to know the history of the south. That up until fairly recently, interracial dating was illegal in the south, and that there’s a long legacy of extremely emotional resistance to interracial relationships. I’ve been a long-time fan of Hill’s columns on ESPN (see her coverage of a racially-charged LeBron James photoshoot), and was even more impressed to hear her thoughtfulness on television.

So, to recap: Skip Bayless thinks that a black man having a white wife would actually work to put white southerners at ease.  I’m always cautious about getting up on my historical high horse and saying “you need a history lesson,” but in this case? Skip, you need to get yourself a f’ing history lesson:

Emmit Till was murdered for whistling at a white woman 53 years ago.

Loving v. Virginia overturned state anti-miscegenation laws 41 years ago.

The list of states whose laws were no longer enforceable due to the decision? Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and West Virginia. Do you notice a pattern there, Skip?

Alabama officially removed its ban on interracial marriage 8 years ago.

The final tally in the Alabama Senate? 60-40. As recently as eight years ago, FORTY senators in the state of Alabama, home to the above-mentioned Auburn University, voted AGAINST removing a ban on interracial marriage.

Barack Obama’s election was uplifting, and has the potential to do more to bind this nation’s racial wounds as any event in the past forty years. But it’s frustrating to hear (mostly white) people like Skip Bayless using it as a trump card to de-legitimatize claims of racism. “What do you mean someone wasn’t hired because they’re black? Didn’t our country just elect a black president?” The results of one election cannot magically erase centuries of racial trauma, and our country still has a long, long way to go.

It’s history. Learn it, Skip.