Last week, I received an e-mail from a man named Keith in Atlanta.
He wrote: "I keep hearing and seeing all these allegations and books about Barry Bonds using steroids but I've yet to hear one person, other than some clown trying to make a dollar by slandering his name, say they have ever seen him use them. He has not admitted to using steroids, nor has he ever tested positive, so why is the media feeding this nonsense?! As far as I'm concerned, it's all a bunch of hearsay ...
"I wonder if Barry were a white baseball player trying to break the home-run record if the media would entertain these unfounded allegations? ... Once again racist America has reared its ugly head ..."
It goes on, but you get the point. I wish Keith didn't feel that way, but I'm not surprised he does.
I've spent 11 years writing about race - among other things - in this space. In that time, two frustrating truths have become clear to me. The first is that many white Americans labor under the self-justifying fantasy that racism just up and disappeared 40 years ago. The second is that many black Americans labor under the equally vexing belief that racism explains everything, that it is the all-purpose excuse any time one of "us" gets in trouble, gets criticized or just gets rude service in the checkout line.
I'm assuming here that Keith is black, something he doesn't say in his e-mail. If I'm mistaken, I apologize, but he certainly fits the pattern.
Meaning the O.J. Simpson pattern, the Michael Jackson pattern, the Mike Tyson pattern, the tiresome pattern of reflexively treating as a racial martyr any one of us who gets in dutch. Even if, as was the case with Simpson and Jackson, that person had largely severed ties with our community before trouble arose.
The aforementioned Barry Bonds, for the uninitiated, is a powerhouse slugger for the San Francisco Giants who has issued credibility-straining denials that his Incredible Hulk physique has anything to do with steroids.
But in their new book, "Game of Shadows" (recently excerpted in Sports Illustrated), reporters Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams allege that Bonds undertook a furious doping regimen in 1998 in hopes of claiming the record for most home runs in a single season, which he did. And Hank Aaron's record for most home runs, all time, is within his reach.
The "hearsay" Keith refers to includes, according to the authors, over a thousand pages of documents, grand jury testimony, and more than 200 interviews, including talks with Bonds' former girlfriend, who turned over legal transcripts and audiotapes of voice mails Bonds left her. Perhaps most damning is Bonds' silence since the story broke. If you were falsely accused of being a liar and a drug user, wouldn't you - or your attorney - be screaming bloody murder?
To the degree this story is about anything, it is about the new American predilection for cheating one's way to the top. I hope Keith's e-mail does not presage any effort by the black community en masse to make it a story about race. In the first place, because there are enough real stories, horror stories, about race that we don't need to make any up.
And in the second place, because it diminishes our credibility and moral authority. It puts us on a par with the fabled boy who cried wolf.
This will come as a newsflash to some of us, but black people, being human, are capable of doing bad things. Not every story that is unflattering to a black is evidence of racial animus. Nor is every sin committed by a black traceable to racial discrimination.
To say otherwise is lazy reasoning at best, an insult to our ancestors' suffering at worst. They understood, I think, better than we, what racism does to you and demands of you.
Sometimes, yes, it is a ball and chain. But it should never be a crutch.