(The following contains discussion of race and basketball. Contact authorities where required by law.)
The Washington Post recently published a piece about the 75th anniversary of the NBA. Headlined “How the NBA sweeps away its early history,” it more suitably could be titled, “When the NBA couldn’t jump.”
You see, as illustrated, the NBA’s early history was all short shorts and white, white legs.
To be honest, the pictures in the Post were more revealing than the written history. Check out that team shot of the Fort Wayne Zollner Pistons. Now that’s a whiter shade of pale.
And the Indianapolis Olympians? They put the “paste” in “pasty.”
It’s demonstrable that white men can, in fact, jump, or what’s a Dwight Stones for? But nothing defined the early game like the splendor of man soaring below the rim.
There wasn’t room for those who might soar higher.
By Republican standards, racial discrimination of this and other kinds is so ancient as to not count anymore. So let’s not discuss it in school.
Sure, let’s not, though the institutional racism that underpinned the early NBA was emblematic of just about any pursuit in the land. Woody Guthrie’s anthem mentioned “your land,” “my land” and “made for you and me.” To which black Americans interjected, “You don’t really mean me.” Guthrie did. But broad swaths of this land didn't.
If one digs below the epidermal, white pushback against that indefinable thing called “critical race theory” is about two other words that might get uttered: “institutional” and “racism.”
It’s taking umbrage at the assertion that any of our institutions still have white supremacy or separatism as a life force.
Needless to say, the United States has a long history of problematic race relations and injustices that have visited people of color.
Not to make anyone feel uncomfortable, but “institutional racism” is not that hard a case to make considering the actions of some police forces or of a major political party that panders to aggrieved whites and consciously targets people of color with voter suppression laws and gerrymandering.
Let’s lay money on odds that Republican censors will make sure that Isabel Wilkerson’s “Caste” is not on any high school reading list in affected states.
Wilkerson’s theme is that race is a social construct for a peculiarly American form of oppression dating back to slavery.
Slavery was all about business, but combined with the concept of birthright for those arriving in the 15th and 16th centuries, the color of those in chains became, what Wilkerson calls, “a birthmark” that “ruled them out of the human race.”
A major contributor, she writes, was Christianity, another institution none dare besmirch. But the biblical “curse of Ham” long ago led some believers to assert that slavery was God’s plan for certain of Noah’s descendants. Look it up. Wait. First check with the authorities.
“Caste is not hatred,” Wilkerson writes. It’s about order. India has its own caste system. The Nazis had their own and – as Wilkerson documents – modeled it after America’s.
OK, the subject was basketball. When the NBA started in 1949 it was all white, though two preceding leagues nosed up to integration before backing off.
Those who consider racism dead and buried don’t dare consider the ripple effect of all those young and soaring hoopsters of color who didn’t get that opportunity, and the younger ones who didn’t have the role models. It applies in every occupation or profession we know, and that includes policing and politics.
So I have a simple test by which to affirm or disprove assumptions about that institutional racism which, we are told, doesn’t exist anymore. Ask it yourself: Does my Legislature look like America?
Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.