I was 27 years old when Doug Williams became the first black quarterback to start at that position in the Super Bowl. I remember when this happened like it was yesterday, not because I was surprised that he did this, but because it seemed ridiculous to me that it had taken that long for it to happen. I clearly remember thinking back to all the games I had watched of many different sports and could not for the life of me understand why this was the case. I began to talk to old people (the same age I am now), who were, in turn, surprised by my surprise. One gentleman I admired told me that “We” never thought blacks were smart enough to handle the intellectual challenges of the position. Another said that “We” never let black kids learn how to be a quarterback because they didn’t seem calm and secure enough. Who was this “We”? And why was I included in this group. It was, to be honest, the first time I understood what institutional racism truly was. I had read about it and seen it; I am sure. Now I understood it – a little.
Nobody sent a flyer out to all the white people and gave them the parameters of why or why not certain kinds of people could do certain kinds of things. I certainly never got that memo. At the time we thought that we had made a huge dent in the racism that was so enmeshed in American history; after all, we celebrated Black History Month during the shortest month of the year (since 1926 in this country) and we had a national day to recognize the Rev. Dr. M.L. King, Jr. (which became an official federal holiday in 1986). We were well on our way to being post-racial (he types with sarcasm dripping from his fingertips). It turns out that we had and have a long way to go when it comes to dealing with our original sin of racism. The fact that we keep saying “The First Black…” makes this seem evident to me.
So, ure; we elected a man whose father was black to the presidency in 2008. And on February 12th we will have two talented young quarterbacks of African heritage starting in the Super Bowl for the first time. This second fact is being splashed all over the news like it’s some kind of major achievement; and I guess it is, sort of. Not for me. Having to write these things down reminds me, once again, just how racist this country is, and just how far we have to go. Imagine if behaved this way with women and latinos and – oh wait, we do.
I didn’t grow up thinking that people were smart or dumb or athletic or nerdy or cool because they were a certain race or gender or religion. And it wasn’t that I was raised in a hippy dippy household filled with peace and love where I learned that everyone was equal and the same inside; I wasn’t. The truth is that I used my brain to understand that it was never okay to judge someone based on their similarities or differences to me; I guess I took my Sunday School lessons seriously. I guess I saw people for who they were, not for what they weren’t. I wasn’t special in this way; lots of the folks I have known over the years live the same way. Unfortunately, lots do not. And that is the problem, isn’t it? Having been pigeonholed all my life, I understand the unfairness of stereotyping. I wish more people felt the same.
Prayer – Forgive us for dividing and demeaning ourselves and others – we are all made in Your image. Thank You for that. Amen. Today’s art is called “Race and the Illusion of Equality” by Jean-Michel