It was a stark reminder to many who keep their collective heads in the sand. Arguably the biggest name in sports today had an unfortunate and harrowing experience at his California residence, forcing us all to again examine the rampant plague that exists in America. Yes, by now you know of the unconscionable and cowardly incident that occurred recently at a home owned by Lebron James. An unspeakable racial epithet was written on the front gate of his property, and it forces anyone with even half a conscience to stop and examine just how deplorable it was and how much ground there is to cover in this country in terms of race relations and equality.
While James handled himself admirably in discussing the episode with the national media gathered to cover the NBA Finals, he was clearly visibly shaken as he addressed the point that really matters: Racism is alive and well and continues to be problematic in this country.
Before someone asks what I know about the damage that evolves from racial hate, let me share my thoughts regarding the matter as a whole, in addition to the James situation. I was raised in a rural, small-town setting where people constantly were making hateful statements regarding African-Americans and other minorities. Throughout the late 1960s and until I graduated high school in 1977, I was surrounded by those who hated for no reason, and I heard countless inappropriate references and numerous off-color jokes regarding people who had never bothered me or said such similar vile things to me.
Thank goodness I had two stellar parents to explain to me the error of society’s ways and to teach me all people should be equal. It was the greatest gift I ever received, as it shaped the way I would foster my thoughts and ultimately live my life. My mother, who was from the hills of Tennessee, and my father, raised in a small farming community in North Carolina, had lived through some of the most blatant racial discourse in American history, and they were determined for me to understand what the history book in the schools I attended wouldn’t chronicle accurately. Looking back, it was a turning point in my life, and I’m so grateful to them both. Despite being taught that way, I still struggled with the fact that there was a divide in the world I lived in when it came down to accepting those different from you as equal, and why many people I knew were prejudiced in their thought processes. How could his be?
Clearly I haven’t experienced the trials and tribulations of those who are of a different ethnicity, but I have often been mortified about the things I see and hear that impact them in a profound and truly saddening way. If you want to point out that it’s impossible for me to truly understand what it feels like to be discriminated against, well go ahead and have at it, because your analysis would be spot on. I will admit, I’ve never to my knowledge been discriminated against for being white in America. That alone, however, does not diminish my ability to recognize what was painted on James’ gate as wrong, hateful and, of course, criminal. If I had to guess what happened and why he was subjected to such an atrocity, I’d go with many of a different race being jealous of the phenomenal financial success he has earned, and their inability to recognize his right to reside in any neighborhood he wants, especially an upscale setting that is inhabited primarily by white professionals. No, I cannot prove that, but if I could wager on it in Vegas, I’d bet everything I own upon it.
Yes, the occurrence at the James residence was tragic, but it also serves as a relevant and compelling reminder of just how bad the problem in America is and how much work needs to be done. While I have no issue with those who commit such crimes being punished to the maximum extent of the law, the conversation clearly starts with how we educate our children and reinstituting respect for all, regardless of any ethnic or cultural differences. That’s a mountain of a task and one that will never be fully scaled in my lifetime, but that’s no free pass to sit back and not participate in the discussion.
If we learned anything from James himself, it was how to address the matter at hand calmly and with grace and dignity. Those attributes won’t silence or deter those who vandalized his home, but it is a step in the right direction. We also don’t have to be a high-profile athlete or entertainer to leave our mark on society and make progress in resolving this massive dilemma. Speaking out is not hard, and it can make a difference. Spend time with someone different than you and share your thoughts in exchange for theirs. Be mindful of the calamity that is racism and challenge yourself and those around you to work toward an outcome that is charged with understanding and compassion, as opposed to hate and disrespect. You have heard the greatest basketball player in the world say if it can happen to him, it can happen to anyone, and in your heart you know he’s right. Don’t allow what happened to him to be swept under the rug without examining it and considering what you can do to make the world a little better.
Lebron is right; there is a long way to go in terms of racial equality in this country, so why not start today in terms of rejecting anyone or anything that even remotely suggests otherwise? Extend a hand to those impacted unjustly, and talk to your children and your grandchildren about where we’ve been in this country and where we need to be. Get started on the work James referenced and make an impact. It’s not too late, and it’s easy to do. You don’t have to be a global icon to truly make a difference. Make it a priority, and take stock in the fact you’re changing the world, not just someone’s mind.
Danny Bridges, who could never thank his parents enough for the wisdom and guidance they provided, can be reached at (317) 370-8447 or at Bridgeshd@aol.com.