Black Like Me, White Like Thee

Mar 18, 2010 | Updated May 25, 2011

The BCS football championship was a great American non-racial moment. Professional and college sports create millions, maybe even billions, of moments each year when racial differences really do not matter in America!

With the news of a professional basketball player, Gilbert Arenas, bringing a gun into the Washington Wizard locker room, and various college football and basketball players being suspended for various levels of misbehavior, a lot of the intellectuals I knew back in my life as an active professor would use these incidents to preach about the evil effects of sports on American society.

Most of the intellectuals were of a species called Eastern Liberals. Sometimes I listened to their rants, but, more often than not, I weighed in against them. "Sports in America do more than our academic departments to create the feeling that we are one nation, under God." I put the "under God" in there just to annoy them.

Whenever they argued back, I had fixed arguments for each of them. "All that English Departments do is propagate negative images of non-white people in the sanctified name of lit-rich-ture," I'd draw the name out as I'd continued my diatribe. "In the entire literary canon that we teach millions of youngsters of all races, there is not one story that tells what successful, intelligent, educated, happy, well-adjusted, self-loving, each-other-loving, black people think about life. Not one!" I always added the "not one" so I could use it later like a wound up fist.

Of course they fought back but as in most arguments I only heard what I had to say. To what they said I just echoed: "not one."

If someone was there from the history department I had a fist for them too: "American written history focuses only on the downtrodden-ness of non-white people; but with blacks the really important history should tell the world how triumphantly we survived the brutality. History doesn't give much on that, does it, Phillip?"

And God, I always wanted someone there from the Criminal Justice Department. "All you do is teach people how to manage a largely non-white prison population after they've committed crimes. Why don't universities have Social Justice Department to teach people how to help people find justice before they commit crimes?"

With such arguments, it used to be easy to shame Eastern Liberals into grumpy silence. Then I could lecture: "Professional and college sports create millions, maybe even billions, of moments each year when racial differences really do not matter! Do not matter at all!" repetition was part of my debating style back then.

"There are a lot of instances when people say: 'I don't see color of someone's skin, I see the individual,' or 'I don't make judgments based on race, I see only the qualities of the person.' In some instances this may be true, but in most instances it's bulls--t." Curse words, if spoken loudly enough by someone black, used to pin most Eastern Liberals against the wall. "But when two basketball players -- one black, one white -- are heading down court on a fast break, racial differences disappear in ways unlike in any other aspect of American life.

"When a kid in China wears a Michael Jordan jersey, a stronger cross-racial (or non-racial) identification takes place than our theoretical considerations can produce. A soccer mom doesn't select who to cheer for by race. She loses herself in cheering for the girl on her daughter's team regardless of the girl's race... " I had as many illustrations as I needed to accomplish a good "beat down."

These were friends. They were liberals. They seemed to enjoy a good beating. Conservative professor usually "took umbrage." That's what they like to do -- take umbrage at something and walk out.

"Can't handle the truth," I might hurl after them.

I thought about all this as I got my cup of yogurt (I'm a closet Eastern Liberal) and settled in Thursday night to watch the Bowl Championship Series title football game between the universities of Alabama and of Texas. The star of the Alabama team, Heisman-Trophy-winning running back, Mark Ingram, is black, and I am sure that whites from Alabama would cheer for him. The star of the Texas team, Colt McCoy, is white, and I am sure that blacks from Texas would identify with him. I began rooting for Texas because I used to live there during Air Force flight school. I never lived in Alabama.

Then McCoy got hurt, and my sympathies switched to Alabama because I knew they would win. McCoy's replacement was a barely-out-of-high-school white kid, Garrett Gilbert. He started making big mistakes, with a crowd of maybe 95,000 in the stadium and millions on television. He was nervous, poor kid. My sympathies switched back to Texas.

I wanted him to prove himself. I didn't want him to suffer a nationally spot-lighted failure. I thought about his mom and dad. Texas fell further behind, 24-6. When Garrett started engineering a Texas comeback, I pulled to the edge of my seat. What we have a game worth watching, instead of an Alabama romp. The comeback fell short...dang! I felt sad, even though I only lived in Texas for about 16 months.

Cross-posted from Race-Talk.