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Black people are incredibly hard on themselves. From the time a black child is conscious of their existence, they are expected to shoulder the responsibility of “behaving” for the benefit of the race. All in a misguided effort to… prove our worth maybe, as though we’re intruding on white Americans’ personal living room and we’d better not get dirt on their rug! It is always imperative black people do more, be better, but more importantly expect nothing.
When the Milwaukee Bucks walked out on a playoff game with the Orlando Magic in protest of the killing of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin, and the continued parade of murdered black people all across America, it caught the league off guard. There was no meeting, no leaks, it was just a beautiful spontaneous gesture; black men defiantly refusing their audience pleasure in order to reckon with the blood on this country’s hands. Unfortunately it was the kind of gesture that could not simply be tolerated in The Most Progressive League™️.
For all the NFL’s problems, the fact of its backwardness would’ve made a stunt like what the Bucks pulled somewhat more meaningful. It likely would’ve counted as a forfeit, perhaps they’d have paid a fine and though maybe a few players would’ve sat out their own games in solidarity, likely no other team would have the guts to have done the same. Under such arcane restrictions, the smallest bit of resistance can turn the sport on its head—all Kaepernick had to do was take a knee and the country is still fighting itself about it. The downside of being a progressive league is as soon as Milwaukee made their statement, a race throughout the league for every other team to match their efforts began because… well can’t let another team outdo their own social justice stand. Even worse, once all the playoff teams cancelled their games, the league itself scrambled to save face and align themselves as supportive and on the side of the players. This took a brave moment and turned it into a league-wide postponement which is… still nice in its own way, but not radical. Later, during a players’ meeting, some lamented over the fact that the Bucks pulled this stunt without consulting the other players in the league. The thinking being that it’s important they stand united in anything they do.
If this sounds like a judgement or a bit of a ridicule of the NBA and it’s pivot to social justice activism, it’s not. Not EXACTLY at least. The NBA and it’s athletes traverse in the favorite zone of black liberalism, the frustrating one called GOOD INTENTION. From the minute this pandemic-proof bubble was constructed they have tried to turn it into a platform for very soft, feel good messaging; the intention being that while watching a Serge Ibaka layup on a court that reads black lives matter, you might be convinced that it’s true. What happened the other day was exciting and propulsive because it was unexpected and it got your attention in the way Nike Jerseys with EQUALITY written on the back never could and it quickly grew into a disappointment as the machinery of a billion-dollar corporate enterprise went to work dismantling any notion of a prolonged strike as a response to the senseless violence. There were the predictable concerns over money, the wishy-washy back and forth of people being unsure about stopping and there were the “outside agitators” like former president Obama and others, most likely including agents, telling the players they could accomplish more by playing. How exactly that’s true no one has to bother explaining apparently.
It is unfair certainly that we put so much pressure on ourselves to solve this country’s problems, that said the dilutive come up with to do so seem extremely lacking. Much of the disappointment of this entire ordeal is not what happened but that they teased out the idea of something even greater just to cave in a matter of hours. It’s not black athletes responsibility to deal with racism, nor would anyone with sense ask them to, but to watch a group of black athletes—the only class of black people that can surpass the prison of race with every made basket—come so close to recognizing their true power and contorting a capitalist machine as revenge for the murder of their people is too tantalizing to not be disappointed by the outcome. Ultimately black liberal ideals won and the players will increase opportunities for voting, continue to express lovely words about equality and respect and financial literacy or something. The fight for “representation” on Netflix shows and magazine covers will have to stand in for actual freedom. It’s not black people’s job to fix racism, they simply won’t be able to, but this quest to achieve respect from white people as though they’ll benevolently bestow our right to live after enough time of being on our best behavior is pathetic and a cycle that has to end. This country only cares about its wealthiest, whitest members; any bid for “order” or coming together is built on a foundation that never questions this status quo. The black liberal cause wants you to believe that we are dealing with reasonable people who will come thru for you if you are polite (and if you’re really serious about it this time I guess).
president Obama, despite what any republican believes, was the closest we’ve come to a sequel to Reagan until Trump (an essay for another time). A charismatic celebrity propping up a vision of America as an earnest melting pot of capitalistic idealism, and he bailed out Wall Street, discouraged black radical movements, bombed foreign countries and acquiesced to republicans again and again for that vision. How much of that was done in an effort, however misguided, to ensure another black person got a shot at the job no one can know but Obama has certified himself to carry the ideals of a typical black liberal. Happy to concede and concede in the hope that it will amount to something and despite the election of Trump refuting the idea that it ever will, he presses on. How much longer will black people keep this performance going? How many times do we hide under the shield of “getting out and vote” as a solution, even in the face of the worst voter suppression in years? Liberalism is especially pointless when democracy is dead.
What are we afraid will happen when we burn the cities down? If they can abuse us any worse it won’t be because of our behavior it’ll be because they want to. Having a platform to express yourself is a beautiful things, and using it responsibly by standing up for your people absolutely matters. It won’t amount to much though when no one is listening, and in that circumstance, how will you get their attention then?