A few months ago I’m standing and talking with one of the other parents on my son’s soccer team. He and I have known each other for quite a while now and have a mutual respect for one another. So, when the following conversation happened I was a little surprised. It went like this.
Him: “Man, your son is super-fast. I thought my kids were fast, but your son has cheetah speed. Were you fast when you were a kid?”
Me: “Yes, I was very fast at their age, faster than most.”
Him: “Can I ask you a question?”
Me: “Ssssuuurrre….” (Spider senses started to tingle).
Him: “My sons are the fastest kids on their track team, but when we went over to (insert name of all black high school in an all-black neighborhood) those kids made my sons look so slow.”
Me: “So your question is?”
Him: “Do black kids have an extra leg muscle back there or something?”
Welcome to no wiggle room Wednesday. Today’s topic is: Are black athletes inherently faster than white athletes?
It is well documented that slave owners, Thomas Jefferson being one of them, practiced what is known as selective breeding. Because slaves were looked at as a valuable financial asset (they were the second largest cash asset in the southern states), they were treated like cattle and bred for certain desirable characteristics that could be passed onto their children.
To do the type of back breaking labor that most slaves had to do, a wispy looking runway model type with soft hands and small, lady-like ankles would not do. You wanted muscle, strength, shoulders the width of a boxcar, a back as strong as a train of oxen. In other words you didn’t want a Michael Jackson, you wanted a Bo Jackson.
Often a strong male was forced to impregnate an equally strong female. The end result was baby Hercules. And, because institutionalized slavery lasted in this country for over 200 years, and forced segregation lasted another 102 years (laws that made intermarriage between black and white illegal were ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 1967) the gene pool remained small and became more defined.
In other words, there was a bunch of baby Hercules.
Nobody wants to talk about this in our overly politicized society, but the fact of the matter is this: professional athletics in this country is the unintended beneficiary of the darkest moment in our American history.
Of course the white athlete has his place in history. I would argue, however, that had there not been forced segregation in all professional athletics black athletes would’ve been equally dominant in football before Fritz Pollard in 1919, in basketball before Church Cooper in 1950, and in baseball far earlier than Jackie Robinson. It can be argued that black boxer Jack Johnson would’ve won the world heavyweight championship had James Jeffries, who was white, not refused to face him in as early as 1900.
Not all black people were physical specimens of epic proportion. We can’t all run like cheetahs or dunk the basketball or outrun defenders or hit the baseball a country mile. Some of us missed that portion of the genetic gravy train. Still, there are enough that would give the casual outside observer the impression that we’re all physical wunderkinds, that we all have an extra leg muscle hidden away somewhere.
Sadly, that’s simply not the case.
Fast forward back to my conversation:
Me: “No, last I checked there was no extra muscle back there. I think it’s because we’re used to being chased.”
Him: (awkward silence)
Me: “Just kidding.” (I couldn’t resist it)
“Twisted, jammed into a paradox….”
Going into today’s no wiggle room Wednesday I had nothing to talk about. But then, wouldn’t you know it, I’m sitting in my car, and a car full of young guys pulls up next to me. Our windows are down so I can hear them as well as they can hear me.
That’s when my auditory sanctuary was invaded with the bristling ugliness and vocal stench of a terrible, hateful word used so effortlessly by these guys that I had to do a double-take.
“Hey n-word….n-word hurry up and get in the car…n-word why you tripin’, n-word that’s messed (sic) up….”
I was shocked! I didn’t know who they were talking to. Someone is getting knocked out. Was I about to go to jail? Was I going to catch a case? I began to experience emotional overload.
But as I looked closer into their car my mouth flew open even more. It was a group of young Hispanic guys and they were referring to each other! When they saw me staring they looked at me like “what?” They never stopped using the word. In fact, I think their use intensified.
What just happened? Did these kids know what they were saying?
I was definitely offended, but it was more the type that accompanies copyright ownership.
“You can’t use that word like that. That’s OUR word,” was my initial reaction.
But my inner voice quickly reprimanded me. It said, “Do you really want to OWN that word?” It was right. Owning that word is the equivalent of being a white south Afrikaner who is proud of apartheid.
The struggle to define our own identity in a country that has historically been very demeaning in its imagery of people of color seems to be lost on the new breed of youth emboldened with an MTV styled bravado. The end sum of the struggle, if you listen to and believe the multitude of rap lyrics today, is in the ability to substitute the n-word for everything. The n-word is a noun, verb, adjective, adverb, conjunction, preposition, participle and epicene.
On the one hand, these looked like high school kids who obviously had no idea of the history surrounding that word and how it was, and still is, used to subjugate and objectify an entire group of people. Should I read them the riot act? Where did they learn this crap from?
That’s when I heard coming from their speakers….the most foul mouthed rap lyrics I can proudly say I’ve never heard. And that’s where the paradox arose. The only reason these kids felt comfortable using this word is because of its overuse in popular rap music, by, regrettably, black rap artists.
So then the logical question becomes this: on what basis do black rap artists, and to a larger extent, the black community have in taking the moral high ground when it comes to other people using this word? I would say not much.
But then maybe that’s the genius of these artists, to strip the negative power from the word by giving it an interchangeable universalism. Morning cereal can be the n-bomb, a dog, a cat, a weasel (whom you should never tease, by the way) a pet hamster, all n-bombs. Appliances, especially computers, you got it, n-bombs. Perhaps one day the Pope will stand before millions of faithful at the Vatican and say “I bless all of you n-bombs in the name of the father, the son and my n-bomb Jesus.”
I’m not buying it! These folks are not that sophisticated. If I’m the only black person in a crowded room and someone yells out “n-bomb”, everyone looks at me to see what my reaction is going to be.
And that, sadly, is how I felt when these young kids were using it to address each other. As they sped off when the light turned green, what made me sicker was that I know it was probably someone who looked like me that taught them it was okay, in a rap song, to use that word in the first place.
The other day I was standing in line at my credit union. Ahead of me was a very large statured man wearing a motorcycle club jacket. He was wearing gloves and a helmet and using very colorful language with the clerk at the window, but it wasn’t because he was upset or frustrated. On the contrary, the nature of his conversation was quite friendly. He simply chose to use profanity in his everyday lexicon.
But that wasn’t what caught my eye, err ears. The back of his motorcycle club jacket had two very ornately embroidered flags, one was the American Flag and the other was the Confederate flag.
At first, my visceral reaction to these two symbols being co-mingled was one of disgust. I didn’t like it. But the longer those images were 8 feet away from me; I began to ask myself “why?” Is it not possible for a person who claims to be proud of their European, Asian, African, First Nation, Aboriginal, or Asian-Pacific Islander ancestry to also be a proud American? Of course it is. Likewise, if we are truly a nation that embraces freedom of expression, then no matter how offensive someone’s ideology may be, don’t they have an inherent right to express it (as long as it doesn’t cause any physical harm to their neighbor).
Merriam Webster’s dictionary defines ethnicity as being a group associated with or belonging to a particular race or group of people who have a culture that is different from the main culture of a country. By that definition I consider a person who identifies with the Confederate Flag and all that it stands for within historical context as being part of a distinct ethnic group. Not all people identify with the ideology surrounding the history of the confederate flag. And, being a Civil War historian buff, I know the difference between the actual flag flown during the Civil War and the one that many groups identify with today. The Confederate Flag that we see today is typically the one pictured in this post. It was made popular by southern segregationist in the 50’s and 60’s who wanted to fight against the federal government’s stand that they could not discriminate against people who were non male white anglo saxons. This was NOT the same flag that was flown by the confederate army during the civil war. The ideals may be the same, but the two flags look different. Likewise the same dictionary defines patriotism as love for or devotion to one’s country.
There is no inherent problem with being proud of whom you are. Self-pride does not, in my opinion, interfere with you being a productive American. The problem arises when that pride metastasizes into misplaced nationalism of any kind.
On that day in the credit union there was only one teller working because it was close to lunchtime. The very large man said his very foul mouthed goodbyes and turned towards me to walk away. As he passed by he looked at me and said “what’s up brother,” and kept on walking. I was in shock for two reasons: 1) rarely am I at a loss for words, which I was in this instance; 2) it’s not every day that you see a Black man wearing a confederate flag on his back.