One morning when I was a nearly hip teenager, I was with a group of about six guys headed to the woman in our neighborhood who pierced ears.
It was considered cool, and “everybody” was doing it. Actually, there weren’t that many. Many parents and older adults didn’t like it. Their thought was that if you had pierced ears, you were obviously drinking wine and smoking or selling dope.
I watched a few guys get the piercing, but I chickened out. My noble reasoning was that I was concerned about how my grandmother and dad would deal with it. The reality, though, was that I really wasn’t that cool.
The adults in my community had deeper reasons for their opposition to the earrings. They said the “broader community,” code for the “white community,” would not accept or hire young black men with earrings.
But America, as it usually does, catches up with cultural changes in the African-American community, from clothes, to music to language. Gradually, more white youth were wearing earrings. To that point, my white friends “Peter Boy” and his brother “White Michael” (Peter Boy called him that) were wearing earrings.
At next week’s Super Bowl, the biggest sports event in the United States, we will see Cam Newton as quarterback for the Carolina Panthers against the Denver Broncos. Newton has received a whirlwind of criticism because he is part of a sea change in culture.
He does not act like other quarterbacks. He smiles, laughs, does a Superman sign, chest-bumps, strikes a pose called “dabbing” and hands footballs to kids after he scores a touchdown. He is a showman quarterback like no other before him.
Sitting in a local bar recently, I saw a solid group of detractors who feel he is a horrible role model and that he is bad for teenagers playing sports. The threat will be that you see a growing number of Newton look-a-likes on high school football fields from Baton Rouge to Natchitoches, from Rayville to Lutcher.
One time, I also considered getting a tattoo. This was in the 1970s. The tattoo would be my last name on my arm and done by someone with a needle and black India ink.
Just before the deed was to be done, I backed out — not because I was scared of the pain or fallout. It was because as dark as my skin is, the tattoo viewers would have had to stand very close to me to see it. If I was going to suffer the pain of getting that tattoo, I wanted folks to see it from 10 feet away.
Tattoos were radical then. Former NBA star Allen Iverson, who was heavily tattooed, ignited national debate on whether he was promoting the thug life to young men who would imitate him.
A lot of parents in the black community were urging their children not to get tattoos. It was going to be hard for them to get jobs with those tattoos. A few years later, a lot of white athletes were walking around with elaborate and colorful tattoos. Suddenly, the tattoo argument disappeared.
I still don’t have one for the reason mentioned earlier. But who knows? Nope, that’s not going to happen.
Now, back to Newton. He claimed recently he is such a lightning rod, to a great degree, because he is African-American. While that probably is a sore spot for some, I think he also bothers some older African-Americans because he is so different from what they see in quarterbacks like Peyton Manning, Eli Manning and Russell Wilson.
But get ready, sports fans: there will be more Cam Newtons. Society is changing. It will take a star quarterback who does not look like Newton to make it universally accepted. That quarterback is coming in the next year or two.
Soon, what supposedly makes Newton a bad man will be more acceptable because that’s how we change.
Chill out folks. Things will be all right. As Bob Dylan warned so many years ago, get ready, “For the times they are a-changin.’”
Edward Pratt, a south Louisiana freelance writer, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.