Think back over the past six months: Lincoln, Django, the 2012 Election, Serena Williams, “Cornball brothers”, ESPN’s “First Take” in general, (the silliness of) The Game vs. Michelle Malkin, the constant toils of cable news, and the list could go on forever. Never have we been so inundated with the effort by politicians, musicians, filmmakers, and athletes to promote racial enlightenment.
Just yesterday, I had an in depth discussion with famed ESPN and SB Nation personality – Bomani Jones. He is actually one of my favorite journalists, mainly because he doesn’t give a damn if you disagree with him. Needless to say, we handle things differently. My way may not be right, his way may not be wrong but both of us hold true to the methods upon which we handle the enduring specter of racism.
The discussion was simple enough. What do you do when the essence or evidence of racism rears its ugly head? Jones, a fearless, well-educated, and well-connected sports figure has his way – he tends to shout injustices from a mountaintop, engaging the masses. I prefer my own way, addressing differences – one relationship at a time – by being so good at what you do that people see value in your presence and your value in their lives. I believe that this, above anything, bridges the divide and leads to meaningful discussion.
Here was the beginning of our conversation:
LOLOLOL RT @web: You fix it by being damn good at what you do and talking about division as little as possible.
— Bomani Jones (@bomani_jones) January 4, 2013
Let’s be honest, racism endures on despite all logic. I have personally and painfully faced it but I seldom ever let it dictate my actions. Dignity, during times of adversity, does more than any words shouted, sign displayed, or fist clenched.
My first paper was a 12 page essay on Jackie Robinson, in the 3rd grade. It is encased at my grandmother’s house to this very day. I grew up with the notion that Jackie did more for bridging the divide than any professional civil rights advocate. Fast forward 70 years later and things aren’t much different in the world of international soccer.
Those soccer fields have always been a battleground for racial rhetoric towards the players. It is not always easy for a player of a different ethnicity to play in a foreign country. AC Milan’s Kevin Prince-Boateng, of Ghana, faced a venomous bout of racial slurs from the fans of fellow Italian side Pro Patria. A beautiful example of dignity in action? In a calculated act of defiance, he booted the ball into the stands, took off his jersey and walked to the locker room. Once his teammates realized the issue at hand, they joined him. The game was over, just like that.
Now, this made international news. Not because of the racism, racism is the norm and responding in anger is the norm. So rather, the news of Prince-Boateng’s response circulated the globe because dignity is difficult and dignity is rare. He could have very easily verbally retaliated, keeping in the spirit of what international soccer stars have done for decades. But instead, he chose a different route and because of it – we are all a little bit more aware and the stadium’s audience is probably ashamed.
Most importantly, we are now having a conversation on racism based on empathy and compassion and not detachment – as if to say, “It is not my problem.” It is our problem.
Arsenal legend Patrick Vieira had this to say:
“It was brave of Kevin Prince Boateng to do what he did today, and it was the right thing. We need to stand up and stand together. Well done. Now is the time for the football authorities to stand up and do something. We need to see real actions that will have a genuine influence.”
Sometimes, just sometimes, the best way to compete is by no longer playing the game the way that it has been played. Dignity is difficult. You are competing with yourself, holding back: fear, frustration, regret, resentment, or even retribution. But if you can handle raw pain with dignity, like Boateng, you won’t just compete, you will win.