It’s been a month since my last blog mainly because sports are still on hold and I think most people are tired of reading about COVID-19. Like most people, I have been reflecting on May 25th, 2020, the day George Floyd lost his life to a senseless act of police brutality. I struggled watching it the first time and forced myself to watch it a second time just to make sure I didn’t miss something that would warrant Derek Chauvin to choke the life out of a human being while three other officers did nothing to stop him.
In regards to that horrific event, I’ve felt paralyzed to do anything other than re-posting an article on Facebook that Kareem Abdul-Jabbar wrote for the New York Times. Then yesterday I was inspired by a FB Live post by world-renowned spine specialist Dr. Robert Watkins. His post is titled 2nd Grade – My Personal School of Whiteness. I was moved by his post and felt an urge and a responsibility to share at least what I think I know about not what it is to be white but what it is to not be black.
I spent more than half of my life working, traveling, eating, drinking and living within a sport that is more than 75% black, yet no matter how much time we spent together, I’ll never come close to knowing what it is like to be an African American male in America but I do know it’s hard and it’s scary.
It’s an uncomfortable conversation for white people to talk about racism. I think most white people still think of racism in the form of slavery, Jim Crow laws, segregation, the prohibition of voting or owning land. I assume there are some white people that think an occasional ethnic slur is ok because they don’t feel they are racist in their heart. They may even claim to have some black friends.
My experience and observer of racism in the United States is much more subtle than that. If you are really paying attention and really care you will see minorities have a higher unemployment rate, a higher infant mortality rate, a disproportionate rate of incarceration and a median household wealth one-tenth that of white households. So, you say America is the land of opportunity, work hard and pull yourself up and out of poverty, you can do it, it happens all of the time. There may be some truth to that but it’s not that easy because the deck is stacked against minorities from first grade on.
Studies have shown that education is the primary vehicle for reducing poverty and closing the wealth gap between people of color and whites. So, stay in school you say. Even if you do let’s look at the educational environment for black students. Here’s what I do know and these are undeniable facts to help you understand what I am talking about:
Black students are often located in schools with higher concentrations of less qualified teachers, many of whom lack proper certifications and licensure requirements.
Research has shown a systemic bias toward lower expectations of black students by non-black teachers.
Students of color are often concentrated in schools with fewer resources. Schools with a student population of 90% or more of color spend on average $733 less per student than schools with 90% or more of white students.
The average reading score for white students on the National Assessment of Educational Progress for 4th and 8th-grade exams was 26 points higher than black students.
These are just a few of the alarming and disheartening statistics that exist for the non-white community today. This is the subtle form of racism that gets lost with the white population. Right now white people are being woken up by the “Back Lives Matter” movement (BLM) although I still hear some white people saying “all lives matter”. If that’s you, you may not think you’re a racist but you are insensitive and missing the point. If the hashtag was “Black Lives Matter TOO” or “Black Lives Matter Just as Much as White Lives” maybe that would make more sense to you but you’re supposed to be smart enough to fill in the blanks.
There is no room for police brutality but when we eliminate police brutality we still have people of color stuck in a system that is stacked against them. So, what is the answer? Is it violent protesting? For those that don’t know, BLM started as a non-violent civil disobedience protest to police brutality towards black people. It started as a hashtag on social media after the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the shooting of Travon Martin in February 2012.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar doesn’t advocate violent protesting but he made a great point when he said Collin Kaepernick tried peacefully protesting when he took a knee during the national anthem and look at what happened to him. When the Kaepernick controversy first erupted my wife asked me what I thought about it. Having listened to thousands of anthems and using them as a sacred time to say my prayers my first reaction and reply was it’s not the right place but I also told her if I were black I might feel differently. In a word it’s called empathy, in retrospect, today I see Kaepernick with a much more sympathetic eye.
He was not the first to use the anthem as a time to protest. “The Star-Spangled Banner” became the national anthem in 1916 and as far back as 1890 there were protests during other national songs like “My Country Tis of Thee” and “Hail, Columbia”, so maybe society was too hard on Collin Kaepernick.
I remember Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, born Chris Wayne playing for the Denver Nuggets back in 1996. He refused to stand for the national anthem and said then that the flag was a symbol of oppression. He was suspended by the NBA costing him $ 31,707 per game. He eventually worked out a compromise with the league, he would stand but close his eyes during the playing of the anthem.
Here we are 24 years after the peaceful protest by Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf and it seems that history is repeating itself because in part we have given another generation of minorities poor educational opportunities.