It’s generally accepted that America is overdue for a serious conversation about race.
Most often, when the words you just read appear together, the assumption is that it’s time for white folks to get somewhere, sit down and try to comprehend the challenges that come with being an African American in America — which, though possibly true, ignores the racial experiences of other ethnicities. I mean, even if black folk get everything out of our collective system, a “race conversation” still is incomplete without hearing the stories of American Indians. Or Latinx, for that matter.
Or self-aware white guys, like NBA player Kyle Korver.
Korver dived into the deep end of the race conversation yesterday, with a piece published on The Player’s Tribune called “Privileged.” It’s always refreshing to see a white male unflinchingly call out white privilege. It’s another level when they acknowledge how they benefit from it.
Korver somehow takes it to even another level, acknowledging that the fact that if he chose to avoid conversations about race altogether . . . well, that’s privilege in itself:
What I’m realizing is, no matter how passionately I commit to being an ally, and no matter how unwavering my support is for NBA and WNBA players of color….. I’m still in this conversation from the privileged perspective of opting in to it. Which of course means that on the flip side, I could just as easily opt out of it. Every day, I’m given that choice — I’m granted that privilege — based on the color of my skin.
In other words, I can say every right thing in the world: I can voice my solidarity with Russ after what happened in Utah. I can evolve my position on what happened to Thabo in New York. I can be that weird dude in Get Out bragging about how he’d have voted for Obama a third term. I can condemn every racist heckler I’ve ever known.
But I can also fade into the crowd, and my face can blend in with the faces of those hecklers, any time I want.
I realize that now. And maybe in years past, just realizing something would’ve felt like progress. But it’s NOT years past — it’s today. And I know I have to do better. So I’m trying to push myself further.
I’m trying to ask myself what I should actually do.
How can I — as a white man, part of this systemic problem — become part of the solution when it comes to racism in my workplace? In my community? In this country?
It’s a thoroughly thoughtful read. And a reminder that underneath these jerseys are fully-formed human beings, many with more wisdom and insight than you might expect from a basketball player.
And see how that stereotype just hopped right in there? You know, the “dumb jock” one? Nobody in America is immune to stereotypes, including me. But we can’t live like they’re true.
Anyway, I recommend checking out Korver’s complete column, then maybe discussing it with someone who doesn’t look like you do. As Americans, we have to learn how to talk about this most uncomfortable issue in a way that doesn’t automatically make some white folks into the enemy — which is a stereotype in itself. The fact is that many white Americans have stood up to racists throughout history. Many of them paid the price with their lives.
The race issue in America is much more nuanced than we usually treat it. Racism is poison, PERIOD. Just because it was sweeter to white folks doesn’t make it any less poisonous. It’s time to start talking about race as an AMERICAN problem instead of a “black folk vs. white folk” problem.
America won’t beat racism with stereotypes. It’s like trying to put out a fire with jet fuel.