Who Teaches the Monkey to do as he Sees?

Working as a substitute para-educator means two things. One, I get a first hand look at one of the most marginalized groups of students in high school. Second, as a substitute I am about as on the fringes of the inside of our educational system as one can get.

With that said, it is a precarious position to get to personally know teachers who fall along the spectrum of racism within the system. Some find themselves perpetuating the discriminatory practices without knowing, some knowing but unwilling to risk job security and some cynical enough to believe it is justified. Recognizing content of history that completely excludes all perspective excluding white males of upper socio-economic classes is scary when watching the students of color absorbing this narrative as supreme. Listening to Special Education Coordinators speak to Black and Brown students as harshly as she perceives they are speaking to her while she is ignorant to the atmosphere of disrespect she has already initiated from Day 1 of the school year. These scenarios are commonplace in public school today.

Gaping cracks within our educational system have been well documented for over half a century. The question is how do we continue to repeat ourselves over and over? Teachers taught by teachers who ignore the research could be blamed. Teachers who don’t take the time to learn about educating disadvantaged community groups must shoulder the blame as well. In the end this is not an educational issue, but a societal norm of failing to critique the status quo for ourselves despite seeing results stay the same.

My mother often posed the rhetorical questions, “If everyone else jumps off of the bridge will you do it too?” We seem to get this concept interpersonally but our institutions seem to enforce justifiable reasoning to keep things the same. The rhetoric is closely known as victim blaming. Something innate about Black and Brown is the culprit.

Fifty years after the Civil Rights movement we would be hard pressed to find an average citizen who could articulate what it was for and what were its outcomes. We have a society ignorant of terms such as racism and White supremacy. Ignorant of the disproportionate statistics of Black , Latino and Native Indians within our country. Ignorant of the historical measures taken that have instituted the prejudice against them that landed us here. Still believing that good intentions and good will can repeal laws and legislation that continues to exclude these communities of access.

Who teaches the dog new tricks? Who teaches the monkey to do as he sees? Who’s voice is louder? Today we live in an America where political statements are met with blank stares and open animosity. Some respond with applause and some with inspiration and too few with understanding. We can look at the culprit or the answer, in the end we each must assume a stance to change or perpetuate the status quo.

I Ain’t Jackie but I Sho’ Ain’t Kunta

In America we have awoken to a reality that Martin’s dream has been just that for the past 50 years.  We dreamed bigotry was solved through integration.  We imagined progress was found through token achievements.  We saw visions of tokens take center stage.  But we had to awake sometime.

Watching “Dear White People” I am impressed with the relevance and genuine depiction of the complex reality that Black people face.  Who we are is and is not what has been spoken about us.  We are not the militant.  Not the ‘Uncle Tom’.  Not the sellout.  Not the thug.  We are Black.  In the United States of America we might be all of those things in a blink of an eye and none of them as we catch our breath.  In the end of the movie main character, Samantha White, states, “… dear white people .. never mind.”

Being Black is an exhausting confrontation of white people.  Too exhausted to even capitalize their Whiteness any longer.  We exist to confront, ignore, cower or despise the existance of white that makes us Black.  Not Indigenous to foreign lands, countries, tribes or cultures but American Black.

In my heart I know that the answer for our community is not in Jackie Robinson’s integration amidst hatred and harm.  Nor is it the ‘back-to-Africa’ of Marcus Garvey’s entail.  I believe it is in the loving embrace of ‘Big Mamma’s’ arms.  A time between enslavement and a man’s dream there lay a mother’s open arms.  Community.  Love.  Embrace.  Resources of faith, culture, heritage and most importantly family.  Resources that empowered generations of aristocrats that couldn’t take the neighborhood out of them.  From Baldwin, DuBois, SNCC, Madam Walker and Truth to King, X, Gregory and Ali. It is my humanity that my identity is found and fostered in the companionship of those who can see it.

The emotional and psychological exhaustion found in trying to education-ese to well intentioned white people, nice white people, on both liberal and conservative sides who would call themselves friends have depleted me once again.  Once again I expend my energies to educate, sharing concepts ignorant to their minds of convenience on a topic of leisure.  My reality.  While everyday feeling the joyous exhaustion of feeding my own community to inspire hope.  I desire to say as my dear Ms. White from my recently watched movie, “… never mind.”

Yet there is a calling that beckons.  The slow poison of racism, elitism, privilege, supremacy, affluence that runs through the very white veins of my neighbor calls for a sick twisted empathy.  Like the frog that cooks slowly in the pot on the stove.  To walk by and say nothing is to hate my neighbor.  Man was not meant to live their way and no amount of material wealth and piety can remove the waste of sexual violence, hatred, broken relationships, drug use, poverty, violence, depression that has saturated their community.  We are not called to humble lives of serving our common man because it is charity but because it is the antidote.

Who wants to love their enemy? Interesting Biblical statement that emplies recognition of an enemy while a responsibility to love.  Not condone but to be willing to share the truth.

Which Way Did He Go, Which Way Did He Go?

Man’s migration out of Africa to populate the world has widely accepted throughout academia.  With the onset of White supremacy following colonialism and both the trans-atlantic and trans-sahara slave trades the discourse of man’s explorations has been largely Eurocentric.  The idea that civilized man was derived from “the North” is the dominant narrative.  Many now hold the idea that while Europe began its “enlightenment” period the rest of the world was still in its dark ages.  Despite such wonders as the pyramids, some prefer the explanation of alien forces at work rather than the acknowledgement of advanced civilization before the dominance of European rule.

In one area I challenge this is the migration of the native out of Africa and into the Americas.  The Book They Came Before Columbus by Dr. Ivan Van Sertima reveals multiple civilizations throughout today’s Africa and Asia (today’s = this was an imposed name after European conquest not how natives identified their regions) that had known of the Americas and consequently had been traveling back and forth for centuries before columbus “discovered” the land.

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In my travels to Vera Cruz, Mexico I was able to visit the museum of the Olmec Heads discovered throughout Central America.  The heads were found in astounding condition despite their age and revealed extremely distinct features.  The features clearly reflect people groups from throughout regions of the world.  Most specifically, the African and Asian features were undeniable.  The heads can be nearly 3 meters high, 4.5 meters in circumference, and average around 8 tons in weight.  My theory is that these great stone heads were geographical markers for trade.  In a time where gps remained allusive and travel times spanned seasons versus afternoons these geographical markers were essential to maintaining connections with distant communities.

The current thought is that these heads reflect Olmec rulers during the period of the Olmec empire.  The connection to Africa has been considered unfounded in reference to the indigenous people of the Americas.  With even a marginal amount of research the dark skin pigmentation, kinky hair and full lips thought to be confined to the continent of Africa is found in much of the indigenous populations spanning the entire continent.  Considering the already known understanding of human’s migration out of the continent of Africa the connection appears simple enough.

The question then arises how did humans first arrive at the Americas?  The popular thought is that the first humans traveled from Asia across a land bridge in Northern Europe into Canada.  One aspect that sparked my imagination was that during the ice age the water levels of the ocean had massively diminished.  This caused me to consider what the land masses of the many islands of the Pacific and Atlantic were during that time.  I believe that indigenous peoples were far more likely to have traveled the warm, tropical islands from across the Pacific and even Atlantic far more than across the frozen tundra of Northern Asia and America.

Though Europe may have been the last ones to the show, the party was certainly already going on by the time they arrived.  We may need to reconsider our origins from continental or Nationalistic titles to the singular group of indigenous people we’ve always seen but rarely recognized the connection they have represented to us all.

My Difference makes all the Difference

After watching the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup it is clear that the United States has distinguished itself as a class unto itself.  This US roster was not comprised of the NBA’s elite tier of players but its second tier.  James Harden and Stephen Curry were the only players to claim All-NBA honors while half of the team was not even considered.  The US displayed a distinguished style of play, much of which was heavily criticized by commentators throughout the tournament.  Chastised for selfish, individualistic, culture of play they were warned would come to bite them as competition stiffened.  Funny thing, it never did.  Kyrie Irving who did not make an All-NBA selection won the tournament Most Valuable Player award and his offensive talent won the championship game before it really even started.

Was this the reality of world basketball today?  The US leaps and bounds beyond the rest of the world.  Would it be more competitive to have our college kids play?  Should there be something similar to the Nike Hoops Summit which fields a world team versus American team … what would that look like?  Here are some of the names that came up for the world team:  Marc Gasol, Pau Gasol, Joakim Noah, Dirk Nowitzki,Luis Scola,  Manu Ginobili, Andrei Kirilenko, Nicolas Batum, Luol Deng, Boris Diaw, Bojan Bagdanovich, Tony Parker, Goran Dragic, Milos Teodosic, Patty Mills.

Recalling most of the games I kept thinking that if only these teams (Serbia, Lithuania, Turkey … France, Spain could be included if they played the US) had backups as good as the starters they could make a game of it.  Viewing the depth of the above world roster I would argue that they may have caught up and then some.

This conclusion brought me to two realizations.  One, the depth of talent the US has is a result of its sheer size.  Two, International players may struggle in the NBA not because of a lack of talent, but a completely different style of play.  Being on a team with coaches who have a different offensive and defensive schemes may completely disrupt a talented player’s ability to contribute and in many cases impact their confidence.  There are the exceptions to those rules.  We see immense talents of Pau Gasol, and Dirk Nowitski excel but often overlooked are equally talented players like Darko Milicic and Andrea Bargnani who never seemed to take off the way their predecessors had.

It is something to note what happens when someone coming from a particular background comes into an overwhelmingly different majority culture and is forced to adjust.  There are coaches and organizations who have learned how to incorporate those from different backgrounds and maximize their talents.  Still others get buried on a bench and never receive an opportunity.  Differences are a reality of our world that can be ignored, embraced, or rejected.  No matter what we choose some will make it, some will not, just depends which particulars are yours.

A Sterling Reputation is Worth 2 Cents.

The issue of race has reached another climax in the wake of NBA owner Donald Sterling of the Los Angeles Clippers having his prejudicial beliefs and discriminatory practices exposed.   Enter in Mrs. Sterling, who after the banning of her husband says she will fight for her financial interests in the ownership of the team.  Image

Much respect to LeBron James and Doc Rivers for standing up openly and saying “No!”. Individuals who stand up are often ridiculed, criticized, and pay a huge public and financial price for doing so.  Just ask Craig Hodges, Muhammad Ali, Tommy Smith, John Carlos.  I guess once you lose your public love it is easier not to cling to it, good to see some not shying from the moment but standing up despite the public backlash.

The problem is Shelly Sterling didn’t “stand up” when her husband was continually sued for racist and discriminatory practices in years past.  She didn’t “stand up” when her husband failed to publicly apologize for his remarks  or when he would make constant racist slurs at his own players while sitting court side  next to her.  No, she stands up to be heard when her financial interest are at risk, which is also her husband Donald Sterling’s financial interests.

The answer needs to be “No” by the league.  I hope this off-season more players, especially with the Clippers team stand together to say the same thing or demand a trade promptly at the end of the season.  This  cannot be accepted at any level or made any allowances for, it is  time for them to go.

A Critique on Criticism

Josh Smith.  Monte Ellis.  DeMarcus Cousins.  Russel Westbrook.  Some of the most criticized players in the NBA.  “Not a Winner”.  “Uncoachable”.  “Not a team player”.  “Selfish”.  Many labels are placed upon people whom we do not feel are performing up to our expectations, our hopes for them, our aspirations, our …

This, unfortunately, does not stop here.  Children in sports are constantly viewed as less than an imaginary level of status worthy of value and respect.  We shake our heads at other parent’s children.  Our own children, players, students, etc.  What is this standard?  What is this imaginary plateau to which we pressure and reinforce, negatively or positively, people to strive for?

As the new season of basketball of all ages approaches, maybe we should consider this question?  Why do I have expectations, what are they, and are they true?  Sports are games.  A form of entertainment.  A source of community and opportunity to build relationships.   Just something to ponder.  Even if someone under-performs whom you are watching or playing with, maybe take a minute to take in the friend whom you share the court with, the smile on your child’s face throughout the game, the friendships on your team, the entertaining play the athlete makes on the television, even if it does not equal to the game victory you had hoped for.Image

Loyalty is Overrated

kobe-bryant-instagram-dwight-howard-rocketsSo who’s a loyal fan?
Is it you?

The die-hard fan, loyal to the end.

Who’s the heart and soul of their franchise, only to find himself traded? Have we forgotten that this is a business? Owners are business men first, second, and third and a fan dead last.

Embracing the business of professional sports can actually make for a more exciting experience, like the stock market (that I know next to nothing about) someone has to sell for someone to buy, fall to rise. Instead of being devastated by the fall anticipate the rise. This is only natural.

Cleveland Cavalier’s fall became the rise of a Miami Heat dynasty run. Duke University Men’s Basketball’s loss of spectacular Kyrie Irving became Cleveland Cavalier’s renewed hope. The Seattle Supersonic’s loss was the city of Oklahoma’s great find.

So with that said, what is on the horizon?

The Houston Rockets are poised for the next Shaq/Kobe dynast run possibly. Los Angeles Lakers are more resolved than ever to take a page from the San Antonio Spurs book and turn back the clock of time next season. The Golden State Warriors will be ready for a title shot as they step onto the top floor of the league. The Brooklyn Nets are all-in.

So as this offseason continues. Summer League unfolds. Let go of old ties to franchises and grab ahold of the new horizons emerging around this wonderful business of professional basketball.

Ps. Shouts out to Portland Trailblazers, New Orleans Pelicans, Cleveland Cavaliers and Minnesota Timberwolves.