(posted by OMDQ)
A couple of weeks ago, AA brought us the story of a Dick Vitale radio rant in which he referred to F-1 driver Lewis Hamilton as “the first African-American driver to win a Formula One Race“. The problem? Hamilton was born in England, which means there is pretty much no way he can be classified as an African-AMERICAN.
I didn’t think it was a terribly offensive mistake by Dickie V – more a sign that the integration of the phrase “African-American” into our everyday language has come a long way – but it definitely highlighted the need of people in all forms of media to slow down and think for a moment before speaking or writing something that is both stupid and blatantly incorrect.
Thanks to AA’s work, the following Letter to the Editor in the June 25 edition of Sports Illustrated (great cover photo, by the way) caught my eye:
“You describe Ottawa Senators goaltender Ray Emery as “the first African-American goaltender in 19 years to lead his team to the finals” (PLAYERS, June 4). But Emery hails from Cayuga, Ont. Wouldn’t that make him African-Canadian?”
Excellent point, Dan Dyas from Rocklin, California. Excellent point indeed (and kudos on actually taking the time to read “Media Mix”; I’ve been skipping over that section for fourteen years). Chris Mannix, who wrote the segment, clearly made the same mistake as Vitale in not taking the time to actually consider the correct terminology (unless we give him a loophole and suggest that since Canada is in North America, it’s okay – I’m curious what people think about that).
The best part, to me at least, is that Mannix was wrong on two counts: the Emery issue, and the fact that the African-American goalie he referenced from nineteen years ago was almost certainly Hall of Famer Grant Fuhr – like Emery, a black goalie from Canada.
So here’s the question: if the racial background of players such as Emery and Fuhr is legitimate and deserves to be brought up, how do we do so in a way that still respects the spirit of the phrase “African-American”? Oddly enough, Wikipedia might provide the best example of the right way. In describing Hamilton’s achievement, they wrote (way down near the bottom of the page), “Hamilton also holds the distinction of being the first driver of African or Carribean descent to compete, and indeed to win a race in, Formula One.”