Tuesday, January 18, 2005

What Would MLK Have Thought?

Last Thursday the Bulls were playing the 76ers. A win would put them in playoff position for the first time in years. It was a big game. Just before halftime Kirk Hinrich hooked up with Eddy Curry on a buzzer-beating alley-oop, sending the jubilant Bulls into the locker room to the roars of a raucous United Center.

It made me smile. Why?

Well, the obvious reason was that the Bulls are playing winning basketball, something I vaguely remember them doing before, though it was a long, long time ago in a previous lifetime in a galaxy far, far away and my memories are foggy.

More than that, however, was the sheer sight of Hinrich and Curry jumping into each others' arms, caught up in the moment, excited, carefree, happy.

Maybe it would help to look at Hinrich and Curry, and at how much they differ, to truly realize the sweetness of the moment.

Hinrich is white, six-foot-three, and clean cut. He played college ball at highly-respected Kansas for four full years. He has no tattoos. (At least visibly, and if he does have tattoos and they're not openly visible I don't want to know about them.) He has never been viewed as anything but a class act and model citizen. He's regarded as a perfect example of professionalism, hard work, and humility.

Curry, meanwhile, is black, nearly seven feet tall, and a walking embodiment of Hip Hop Nation, whatever that is exactly. He's covered in tattoos and only recently got rid of cornrows. He's had trouble with the law (although only for some minor incidents involving his traffic record and pit bulls, I believe). He entered the NBA straight out of high school, and, while always maintaining a reputation as a good guy, has been accused of a lack of discipline and dedication or, you know, being the stereotypical NBA player. Of course, the fact that he was 18, still a kid, when entering the league probably didn't help.

The point is, Hinrich and Curry are complete opposites. Yet here they were, blind to background, blind to color, blind to everything, just two dudes playing basketball and appreciating their dual accomplishments and relishing the moment. They were brothers in arms.

Meanwhile, the crowd was a mix of blacks and whites as well, celebrating alongside each other, slapping five, oblivious to everything other than the good times the Bulls were providing. They walked into the United Center side by side, and left the same way with smiles on their faces. (The Bulls won, baby, 110-78!)

I love stuff like this.

I love when a basketball team, both black and white, huddles arm in arm before a free throw to get on the same page.

I love when they celebrate together.

I love when a young white kid looks up to a black athlete with awe-struck eyes. Or vice versa.

I love when a white offensive lineman does his job blocking so a black running back can get all the glory. Or vice versa (though there aren't many white running backs).

These are simple pleasures, but not as simple as you might think.

There are countless examples of color blindness when it comes to sports. For all it's arrogant egomaniacs, for all its slimy agents, for all it's problems with drugs and steroids, for all it's overbearing and annoying glamour and glitz, for all the problems regarding race that, yes, do still exist, the world of sports, ever since American heroes like Jackie Robinson helped to break down barriers, has long enjoyed an ambivalence to race that is light years ahead of the rest of society.

To understate the role sports have played in easing racial tensions in America would be foolish and unfair. No, it isn't perfect and racism hasn't disappeared, but the world of sports in regards to race relations is a lab experiment with astoundingly positive results. Props where props are due.

And, lo and behold, the rest of America isn't that far behind, as long as you're willing to drop your guard for a moment and look around with eyes that aren't jaded.

With Martin Luther King Day being celebrated this week, perhaps instead of looking at how much still needs to improve in race relations in America, we can look at how much they already have. People are so quick to flash a light upon each and every suspected instance where racial inequality may be rearing its ugly head and cry foul. And there's nothing wrong with this. Inequalities should be exposed. Always. Bring the bastards to their knees, I say. Always.

I also believe, however, that race relations in America have reached a point where maybe, just maybe, we can take pause and appreciate the good, rather than being so eager to focus on the bad, if only for a moment even. Go ahead, it'll be fine. Is the fight over? Far from it, but much has been accomplished. Things are better, much better, believe it or not.

Yes, I realize that racism is still alive and well, violent even, particularly in bastions of stupidty in the South. Of course, many of these areas are occupied by the same buffoons who reelected Bush on the grounds of national security. Apparently, they're deeply concerned that terrorists might attack their small rural outposts rather than - oh, let's just say - New York. (But that's another story.) The point is, these people have never been the brightest bunch.

And, yes, I realize even the big cities of the North are far from free from prejudice. People with small, closed minds know no designated territories.

And, yes, I realize the battle to earn more blacks coaching and front office positions in sports is an ongoing cause.

And, yes, this could be read as the ramblings of a white person who has never felt the sting of racism. I try not to take this for granted.

And, yes, I realize I could continue with this list.

Thing is, for a moment, just one moment, I don't want to look too hard. I don't want to squint. I don't want to frantically scratch and dig until the ugliness is uncovered.

I'm looking around and seeing a whole bunch of people, Americans, whites and blacks, other races as well, living together, existing together, simply being together. I'm talking about the sidewalks, the stores, the restaurants, sitting in traffic, having a smoke, reading the news, getting gas, waiting for the bus, going here, there, or anywhere.

I'm talking about everyday life.

I think it's fair to say that, when looking at world history or, more to the point, the evolution of man, America has been the "Great Experiment." Never before have so many people of so many races and backgrounds come together to share a land and life. Of course, problems were always destined to happen. Problems HAVE happened. Many problems. The road to peaceful coexistence has not been an easy one, nor is the end of the road yet in sight.

Maybe, at times, whites can be too quick to think that everything has already improved enough. And maybe blacks, at times, are too quick to pull out the "race card" at the first hint of adversity.

And maybe nothing will ever be perfect.

But are we closer to perfection? Yes. And is "closer to perfection" possibly the only goal we can all strive for, whether it be in regards to race relations or any other facets of our lives, even the simplest? Yes.

Later in King's life, he shifted some of his focus towards American foreign policy, much to the chagrin of pockets of his followers who believed he should have remained focused on civil rights. It's a shame he's not around to give BushCo. hell today. I have a feeling he would have been pissed. However, doesn't it say something that, if he WAS still around, King could have focused on America's twisted foreign policy without the dimension of civil rights regressing back to a dark haven of prejudices, hatred, and stereotypes?

Doesn't it say something that King could have focused on the REAL fight, the fight for America's soul and all its people, white, black, and otherwise?

If King was still around to serve as an important American conscience, I doubt he would have been satisfied with the progress made in racial equality, but I don't think he would have been disappointed either. Those who fight for change are those most apt to see it, to appreciate it. I think he would have enjoyed seeing blacks enjoying massive success in music, on television, in movies. I think he would have enjoyed seeing blacks coaching in the NFL, and especially in the NBA. I think he would have enjoyed seeing Mos Def doing an interview on "The View," which is just funny. I think he would have enjoyed seeing blacks climbing to the highest rungs of the political ladder, even if some of them have not acquitted themselves well. (Again, another story.)

I think King would have enjoyed it all, without becoming complacent.

Look, the bottom line is that, while America's eternal quagmire of race has provided some of its darkest moments, and while the struggle is far from over, it has, at the same time, provided the world with an unequivocal glimpse of race relations at its most beautiful, a glimpse of what race relations COULD be.

America has served as a model, something to strive for, warts and all.

Think about it. America has done this. Don't be a hater, and don't be so anxious as to believe everything can be perfect right now, this instant. It takes time. Things have improved, and will continue to do so.

This is why I feel such anger when seeing uninformed, quick-tempered clowns around the globe so quick to condemn America as evil. Fuck them. They fail to take the time to look at the REAL America, to walk down our American streets, and choose instead to judge America solely on the actions of a few bad people in high positions. (Yet again, another story.)

All in all, I think King would have been proud.

Satisfied? No.

But that aforementioned road whose end is not yet in sight? He would have felt it.

Maybe we can all try to do the same.


Blogger Hoodrow said...

Great post, Unknown.

Excellent point about America being the Great Experiment. It really is crazy to walk down the streets of NYC and see all types of diverse people living as one. Really crazy and really cool. Without a doubt, the way things work here, in large part, is content of character and not color of skin. Dr. King would indeed be proud.

And you're right, a ton of progress has been made. And you're also right in noting that this does not mean folks should stop pushing for change. For a good stark example of the progress that has been made, take a look at this from a sermon King delivered at New Covenant Baptist Church in Chicago on April 9, 1967 (taken from a recording - the parentheticals are the responses from the parishioners):

"I remember down in Montgomery, Alabama, an experience that I’d like to share with you. When we were in the midst of the bus boycott, we had a marvelous old lady that we affectionately called Sister Pollard. She was a wonderful lady about seventy-two years old and she was still working at that age. (Yes) During the boycott she would walk every day to and from work. She was one that somebody stopped one day and said, 'Wouldn’t you like to ride?' And she said, 'No.' And then the driver moved on and stopped and thought, and backed up a little and said, 'Well, aren’t you tired?' She said, 'Yes, my feets is tired, but my soul is rested.' (All right)

"She was a marvelous lady. And one week I can remember that I had gone through a very difficult week. (Yes) Threatening calls had come in all day and all night the night before, and I was beginning to falter and to get weak within and to lose my courage. (All right) And I never will forget that I went to the mass meeting that Monday night very discouraged and a little afraid, and wondering whether we were going to win the struggle. (Oh yeah) And I got up to make my talk that night, but it didn’t come out with strength and power. Sister Pollard came up to me after the meeting and said, 'Son, what’s wrong with you?' Said, 'You didn’t talk strong enough tonight.'

"And I said, 'Nothing is wrong, Sister Pollard, I’m all right.'

"She said, 'You can’t fool me.' Said, 'Something wrong with you.' And then she went on to say these words, 'Is the white folks doing something to you that you don’t like?'

"I said, 'Everything is going to be all right, Sister Pollard.'

"And then she finally said, 'Now come close to me and let me tell you something one more time, and I want you to hear it this time.' She said, 'Now I done told you we is with you.' She said, 'Now, even if we ain’t with you, the Lord is with you.' (Yes) And she concluded by saying, 'The Lord’s going to take care of you.'

"And I’ve seen many things since that day. I’ve gone through many experiences since that night in Montgomery, Alabama. Since that time Sister Pollard has died. Since that time I’ve been in more than eighteen jail cells. Since that time I’ve come perilously close to death at the hands of a demented Negro woman. Since that time I’ve seen my home bombed three times. Since that time I’ve had to live every day under the threat of death. Since that time I’ve had many frustrating and bewildering nights. But over and over again I can still hear Sister Pollard’s words: 'God’s going to take care of you.' So today I can face any man and any woman with my feet solidly placed on the ground and my head in the air because I know that when you are right, God will fight your battle."

4:58 AM  
Blogger UnknownColumn said...

America isn't all bad. I don't care what anyone says. Let me put on my Captain America cape and my blue tights and I will talk to anyone who has a problem with America.

Who wants a piece of this?

4:34 AM  

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