Remember a few years ago when Don Imus got in trouble for referring to the Rutgers women’s basketball team as a bunch of “nappy headed hoes?” He was summarily suspended, but I remember not being all that surprised about his beliefs, only that he said them on the air.
One of the enduring myths in American culture is that sports somehow bring us all together. Movies like Remember the Titans and old TV shows like The White Shadow played on this myth that athletes working together would somehow overcome their own racial prejudices and learn to work together. (ie: White kids learn from having to play with Blacks). In the process, fans of all colors would learn to cheer together and the world would be as one.
It doesn’t quite always work out that way, just ask Tyra Batts in Buffalo, New York.
Tyra Batts, the lone African American basketball player on the senior squad of Kenmore East High School outside of Buffalo, and one other girl were suspended for fighting last week. Why does this stand out? Don’t high-school kids and even teammates fight all of the time? In this instance, Tyra finally had enough of the racist abuse she was receiving from her teammates. According to a Buffalo news report about girls’ basketball at Kenmore East:
For years, Tyra had endured this and other types of abuse. Of course she had tried to convince her teammates to stop it. Peer pressure and wanting to be a good teammate compelled the college sophomore to work it out with the other girls. But, they gave her answers typical of privileged White kids in the suburbs who have grown up with Boondocks, South Park and The Chappelle Show.
“I said, ‘You’re not allowed to say that word because I don’t like that word,’” she recalled. “They said, ‘You know we’re not racist, Tyra. It’s just a word, not a label.’ I was outnumbered.”
The reason this story hits so close to home is that as an African American who went to majority White high-schools all of my life I can identify with the struggle this young lady faced. You’re going through immense peer pressure as a student, mixed with fears of being socially ostracized, which you already are as one of the few Black kids in the building. Quiet as it’s kept, the teachers don’t really do anything about racist students because either they feel the same way or the whole idea makes them uncomfortable so they avoid it. Batts related how other teammates often made jokes during practice about shackles, slavery and other racial topics and the coach would ignore them or not address the issue directly.
There is a huge difference between a coach yelling “Stop talking during drills” and saying “Suzy that’s racist, I won’t have that on this team – hit the showers you’re done for the day.”
You can’t help but feel pity and anger when you see this high-school sophomore on video relating her experiences and having to show a level of composure and restraint that her White teammates clearly never had to learn.
The worst part of all is that usually this type of racist bullying (even though it seems like we’re only focused on taunts about looks and sexual orientation in public service campaigns these days) is only brought to light once the Black kid snaps, and they end up with the suspensions while coaches and teachers wring their hands. I’m not buying that students didn’t know about the chant, that it had been going on for years and that coaches were clueless. It’s much more likely they just didn’t want to investigate because there hadn’t been any Black students on the team before.
There will be seminars and sensitivity training at Kenmore, for sure. But, the larger issues may never be addressed. Not the fact that this type of bullying happens all the time, from opposing teams wearing Black face to racist chants from ‘fans’, we all know that won’t stop.
The real issue here is what happens after the media leaves and the school assemblies are over. When Tyra has to walk through the hallway and her coach is mad for putting her job at risk, and other White students taunt her in the bathroom or cafeteria – or when the abuse extends to the classroom from complicit teachers and former teammates. She is learning a bitter lesson that all too many African American students have to deal with in majority White high-schools: That no matter how smart, pretty, athletic or rich you may be, you’re always just “One, Two Three” steps away from being “N****R” to someone at that school.
This article originally appeared at Politic365.com.