Wednesday, I played a couple of games of C-league basketball. A nice diversion from a month of nice diversions. I played with my own team and then joined up with another since I was still feeling fairly awake. It’s that second game that I’d like to talk about. There was a lot going on there besides just shoddy basketball.
The team that we were playing was made up entirely of black men. I knew a couple of the guys, but not well. We, on the other hand, were pretty much lily white.
Anyway, the game began and as things progressed it seemed that they were getting almost every call. Our guy would miss a lay up in traffic and there would be no call. Their guy would miss a put back and the whistle would blow.
I looked over and the referee was also a black guy. He had refereed an earlier game of mine and I thought he had done an excellent job and was quite capable. This game seemed quite out of character for him.
Now, a couple of my teammates began to take notice of this striking officiating trend and started to comment to themselves about what they thought was going on. Everyone was a bit on edge, and there was more than just the slightest bit of tension in the air. It didn’t help matters that we were all getting a little too interested in winning the game.
I was reminded a bit of the movie American History X, which made me more than just a little bit uncomfortable. At any rate, they won; we lost. We all shook hands afterwards and that was it.
Or was it? That game seems to me to be just a reflection of a much greater problem on campus. It doesn’t really matter exactly who the people were who were playing in that game or who the referee was. That’s irrelevant and this is not meant to point the finger at any of them.
What this is supposed to demonstrate is that perhaps race relations on campus aren’t quite as friendly, honest and open as we like to think them to be. Even more frightening though is that this isn’t really a minority issue, it’s more of a black/white issue. This tension seems to exist between these two communities and not so much between others.
The reason why this issue is limited to these two groups may have something to do with having an institution like the Black Student Union, which successfully allows for a distinct black culture. Other minority groups don’t have this type of institution and many of them seem to have been somewhat assimilated into the main body of campus culture. Perhaps I’m reaching here, but I think the argument is sound that this tension is mainly white/black rather than white/minority.
Let me tell you where I’m coming from here. I went to a middle school back home which is where I think I get my own personal model for race relations. Swanson Middle School was about 50% minority and everybody interacted with everyone else fully and there were few divisions. Admittedly, the problems of race probably don’t exist quite to the same degree at age 12, but it seems to me that the way it was for me then is still the way it’s supposed to be.
Here on the other hand, you don’t know how many times I’ve heard kids say nigger. I’m no better. I was embarrassed when I asked myself how many black kids I really know here. The reality is that, as we were warned in the 60s, we have two campuses, one black and one white.
That problem, though bad, pales in comparison to the problem we create by not recognizing it. This neglect is what is killing us. I hear students complaining that we have a specific Black Student Union house and no other buildings set aside for use by a certain race, except for perhaps the JRC, but how many of those students are willing to express that opinion openly?
The first reaction of most when confronted with issues of race is to say, “Not me.” Denial is our first instinct.
Everyone may admit to the problem, but no one to causing it. No one is willing to take the risk of standing up and admitting that not only is there a problem but that they themselves are part of it. I’ll admit to it though. I’m one of the worst.
I sit up here with this column week after week pontificating about the problems that I see. And then, when it comes to one of the things that I care the most about, I find I am a hypocrite. We need to stand and admit our faults on this matter, as individuals and as a campus. On this issue, only those who are part of the problem can really affect the solution.
It’s not that we have bad race relations, but that we don’t really have them at all. Sure, you may say hi to a couple people in passing, but take a look at Baxter at meal times. The divide is obvious, and we just ignore it.
Well, I think it’s time to address the problem rather than ignore it. It can and does grow worse with our negligence. Our first step is for each of us to admit that personally, there is something wrong.