Opinion: A few reasons to feel hopeful
This is about Kyle Korver and that white lady on the plane.
The former is an NBA veteran, a sharp-shooting forward for the Utah Jazz. The latter edged past my seat on the way to her own on a crowded flight about two weeks back. A button on her shirt caught my attention. “Black Lives Matter,” it said.
Seeing that particular woman express that particular sentiment lifted me. I tapped her and pointed to the button. “Thank you,” I said. The line moved forward and whatever she said in response, I didn’t catch it.
Which brings us to Korver. Last week, The Players Tribune, which publishes first-person essays by athletes, posted a thoughtful piece called “Privileged” in which he grapples forthrightly with what it means to be a white man in America and a white player in the mostly black NBA.
Korver zeroes in on the night in 2015 when a black teammate, Thabo Sefolosha, was arrested outside a nightclub by New York City police, who broke his leg in the process. Writes Korver: “Want to know what my first thought was? About my friend and teammate? My first thought was: What was Thabo doing out at a club on a back-to-back??
“Not, How’s he doing? Not, What happened during the arrest?? Not, Something seems off with this story. Nothing like that. Before I knew the full story, and before I’d even had the chance to talk to Thabo … I sort of blamed Thabo.”
A jury would acquit Sefolosha of disorderly conduct and resisting arrest after deliberating less than an hour and New York would end up paying $4 million to settle a federal lawsuit alleging false arrest and excessive force. But Korver’s reflexive response told him something about how we are programmed to assume the worst of black people — and about his own privilege.
The piece has made waves in the NBA fraternity. LeBron James tweeted “Salute my brother!!” NBA analyst Kenny Smith tweeted that the essay by “my new favorite player” left him teary-eyed. Former Lakers guard Byron Scott said simply, “Preach.”
It has been my experience that there are few things harder than to get some white people to wrestle with — or even concede — their own racial assumptions and privilege. There is no asininity they will not embrace, no rationalization they will not employ, no illogic they will not apply, to avoid confronting how racist America was — and is.
“Only a racist would call someone a racist,” an anonymous someone, presumably white, tweeted last week. Another chided me that calling white guys “white guys” was “name-calling.”
And so it goes.
So if one is black, it is refreshing — it is downright redemptive — to encounter a white brother or sister unafraid to be honest, to confirm that no, it’s not just your imagination. But this is about more than validation.
Korver and that woman will never know as much about being black as a black person does. Yet, counterintuitive as it may seem, their voices carry a weight on matters of race that a black person’s will not, if only because white people can’t dismiss their advocacy as self-interest. They will be heard in ways and places black people never will. Similarly, men can be more effective advocates for women and straights for gays.
But becoming that sort of advocate takes moral fiber, a willingness to shut up, listen, learn, self-examine — and speak out. It’s heartening to be reminded that such courage still exists. In an era of progress under assault, African Americans have every reason to feel anxious, angry and betrayed.
Nice to see we have a few reasons to feel hopeful, too.
— Leonard Pitts is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for The Miami Herald.