Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Boiling Point

Okay, so I had this beautiful post planned about Baltimore and my love of the city and our awesome win on Sunday. However, upon doing some reading to prepare salient details about the game and our team, I got so steaming mad that my lovely prose went out the window. So, this probably won't be a gorgeous post of gushing language and butterflies, but here goes.

To put it bluntly, people are racist.

The laws may have changed, may be changing; our schools are integrated, though still, I would say, unequal; we drink out of the same water fountains, and we eat in the same restaurants. But here we are, with those basic advances and acknowledgements of certain civil rights, and as I read sports articles about the Baltimore Ravens I am faced with this ugly truth that people are full of hate and spite, and that a lot of that involves race.

Crime is not new - crime in professional and recreational sports, in particular, is as pervasive as it is entrenched. Recently, discussions (I'll say discussions, when I mean uninformed, rage-filled online diatribes) of Ray Lewis's criminal history have abounded, and I can understand why - we will never know what really happened thirteen years ago, and perhaps, though the criminal justice system did its work, people are left unsatisfied. And it's easy, really easy, to look at someone famous, on a different team, from a different background, and find as many ways as possible to tear them down. Part of that is competition, sure - but in this case, I think there's a lot more at work.

Because most of those people discussing Ray Lewis's past? They mention his skin color. They mention his faith in God, mocking it. They mention Baltimore as a black city, as a city filled with crime. And they say that we shouldn't really have won - that it was some kind of fluke, that the 'Niners should have had a fifth quarter, and that football is screwing over the white guys, somehow, because a predominantly African-American team doesn't really deserve to win the Super Bowl.

Because black people can't really be that good at football.

Because all black men are thugs.

Because a black man's faith is just a lie.

Because a black man's pride and passion makes him a sissy - makes him not strong, but weak.

Can you imagine living your whole life believing these things? And I'm not talking about overt racism, necessarily, but the every day kind - the kind that lives in the above statements, making them the fundamental truths of a poisoned society. It's the racism that sounds so reasonable, relying on past experience and concepts of propriety and masculinity. It's a racism that becomes a part of someone's identity as an American, or as a man, or as a sports fan. It's sickening, and it's everywhere.

Just as an experiment, I think I'll turn those previous statements on their heads - tell me if this is familiar.

"Young black athletes are making it harder for white athletes to succeed, because the NFL and college sports practice affirmative action, which must be wrong."

"The faces I see on the street scare me - they look menacing and brutish. Strong, athletic black men, like the ones who play football, are threatening, too. They must come from a life of crime."

"The way black people worship God is different from the services and prayers I know. I feel like they make a lot of noise and get really emotional. That's not the way I worship. It seems fake to me, off-putting."

"I don't think men should cry, and when I see athletes overcome with emotion - like Ray Lewis in the postseason - it makes me uncomfortable. And somehow the pride he has in his team and talents shows that he is too emotional, and that he's just a weak man, not to be taken seriously."

What makes me sad is that these statements could easily be brushed off as part of the reality of modern life. People have taken offense with affirmative action - and it is okay to disagree with the policy, of course, but so many of us use these social endeavors for equality to disregard the actual talents and skills of African-Americans. It's as if saying, affirmative action, is the same as saying, African-Americans aren't really good enough, but white society pities them. Do people not hear what they are saying? How horrible, how nasty, how limiting.

People worry about crime. Makes sense - crime is not good. But crime has no color. Crime, different crimes, might be economically based, but it's pretty clear that people are going to break the law no matter what they look like. We've got an economy which is the result of rich, white collar crime, and we've got a penal system which is the result of poor, drug-related crime. It's all crime (though I would argue that a lot of the punishments regarding drug-related crime come out of some pretty ugly legislation) and skin color really, really doesn't matter.

People make fun of Ray Lewis's faith. And, to that, I say - how dare you? Lewis's praise of God before and after a game has got to be one of the most harmless, and perhaps beautiful, examples of faith. And no, it's not decorous, and it isn't silent, and it's messy with tears and laughter - and it is real. Being raised in an Anglican church, with strict rules of how God should be worshipped, I am delighted to see someone praise God so openly, genuinely, wildly. And, if Tebow can make such a huge deal of his faith, why can't Lewis?

Why can't men be emotional - and again, it's not a white thing, a black thing, an any color thing, when men are or are not expressive. What gets to me is that people are using Lewis's honesty, his love for his brothers, to say that he must be "womanish" - making him seem less powerful, less of a man, less of a valid and valued athlete. People are taking away his agency, his ability to have feelings and strength. And why? Why? Why is it necessary to make Lewis out to be both a thug and a wimp?

Growing up in Baltimore, most of the faces I saw were black. And it never occurred to me, never, that there was anything wrong with that. It never entered my mind that I should pity, mock, fear, my friends, neighbors, fellow congregants. So when I see this awful stuff, and when it's said with such calm, such expectation of acceptance, I boil.

We won the Super Bowl, and we feel pride. And people might wish it had gone otherwise - but can the racism. Stop it.

America needs to be better than that.

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