In my real life, far away from my warm echo chamber of Detroit sports-boosting, I’m a counselor and I work with high schoolers. Recently one of my sharp youngsters and I engaged in a truly productive conversation about race. Familiar concepts arose: “reverse racism,” Racism being a thing of the past; it called for a balance of empathy and information. Luckily my student was equal parts receptive and skeptical. A week later the conversation continued and elaborated. Issues such as microaggression and aggression, Racism as a system, and the ultimate need for a word I didn’t use, but a concept understood: humility. Being willing to learn.
Facts and figures were discussed. One great advantage of the internet age is being able to summon the truth like a wizard; just Google “Handsome NFL Picks Genius” and all of my articles will pop up. Suffice it to say that the information is widely accessible to many people who choose to look away. One in Three black men will go to prison within their lifetime. The numbers go on and on and told a grisly story, one that elicited a: “Woah. That’s fucked up.” Yet this practice is hidden from so many young eyes, in plain daylight. Although that overt aggression exists, the underbelly persists with equal ferocity. The covert, micro-aggressive messages might not tell people of color they’re not allowed to drink from certain fountains, but they surely continue to receive messages telling them they’re not welcome.
Of course, the conversation was less didactic than I present it, and tinged with far more depth, reciprocity, and questioning. But I bring up this little flashpoint in the development of a young mind because I think it’s really relevant in the context of the Missouri Football team’s recent solidarity action. After a string of racist incidents on campus, activist and graduate student Jonathan Butler and Student group, Concerned Student 1950, issued a list of demands that was glad-handed and dismissed by University President Mark Wolfe. Subsequent to that dismissal, Butler went on a hunger strike, demanding Wolfe’s resignation; days later, the Missouri Football team declared their refusal to participate in all football activities until the hunger strike ended. Since then Wolfe has resigned, talking heads have blathered, and the internet machine grinds out lowest-common-denominator opinion after opinion. Opinions are only good if they’re supported by facts or books or things people have worked hard to know.
In spite of the complex nature of this story, and the crucial need for some sort of awareness of history to understand what has happened, the internet remains a fetid catchall for unaccountable opinion. You see, as a social media participant, I get exposed to numerous slivers of ignorant malevolence, just like anyone else. It is the precise opposite of my work: closed-minded, egocentric, and nasty. So, rather than sort through such morass, let’s just settle for that straw man and allow me a few points:
- It’s irrelevant whether you see how the events that led up to Missouri President Mark Wolfe’s resignation are connected. Millions of words have been written to explain things like capital-R “Racism” to white people. The information is available and easily accessible in the form of evidence, data, testimony, and art. At least try to learn from all that information.
- If you hear the term “micro-aggression” and become incredulous because you think people shouldn’t “be so sensitive,” then it’s possible that you might just be misguided. If the term triggers jock-rage (or itch) because it contains the word “micro,” just call it “pervasive insidiousness.” Not as catchy, but fairly descriptive
- Hey, remember Ferguson? Yeah, that’s 115 miles East on I-70 from Columbia, Missouri. That situation is not “over,” and that is inexorably tied to the hostile racial environment on campus that has repeatedly presented itself (and persists).
- For anyone who would suggest “there is a way of doing things,” that should be quieter and more polite: maybe your way sucks? Since, you know, assertive self-advocacy was successful in this case.
- Please refrain from pointing out that some Missouri players and coaches of color disagreed with the protest. Congratulations, you just realized that Black people are individuals who can disagree with one another, and just became a bit less racist. Keep working at it.
The conclusion here is simple: if you find yourself confused, angry, or skeptical about the intersection of race, college education, and athletics, your charge is to just try and be as inquisitive and open-minded as a high schooler.