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Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Scorn of Pacquiao’s racial resume not limited to Jackson

In the narrow American mindset, it didn’t happen if we weren’t aware of it. Thus, when John David Jackson says Manny Pacquiao hasn’t beaten a black fighter, he means one black Americans know. That is, one of their own, an African-American.

Pacquiao’s 2001 victory over South Africa’s Lehlohonolo Ledwaba is commended to Jackson’s attention by Michael Marley, my esteemed colleague, but that’s beside Jackson’s point.

Since Pacquiao’s breakthrough victory over Marco Antonio Barrera in 2003, he has fought the best featherweights and lightweights, and then he beat Oscar De La Hoya, but those people weren’t African-Americans. But now that he’s fighting in the welterweight vicinity, where black fighters have predominated since World War II, he’s on their turf, and they’ll say he has to prove himself to them.

The “white men can’t jump” disdain isn’t reserved for whites. It extends past all other races, all the way to athletes from Africa. That superiority is considered an African-American birthright, a genetic legacy their ancestors earned during slavery. That presumption is the reason it’s shocking when a Jermain Taylor falls to a seemingly less worthy Carl Froch or Kelly Pavlik.

When that air of superiority goes unsaid, it passes for conventional wisdom. When it gets said, notably when Bernard Hopkins proclaimed, “I would never let a white boy beat me” on the eve of his 2007 fight with Joe Calzaghe, it becomes unseemly.

It’s that unwritten rule, more than political correctness, of which Jackson has run afoul. If you have been marginalized as a citizen, as most black Americans have, and as a fighter, as Jackson was 15 years ago, it isn’t necessarily despicable, but it isn’t admirable either.

Get used to it, though. After Pacquiao beats Ricky Hatton (or doesn’t) on Saturday and takes on Floyd Mayweather Jr., you’d best believe race will be a persistent theme.


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