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Ron Artest == Black Culture?

That’s not going to change. I’m never going to change my culture. Yao has played with a lot of black players, but I don’t think he’s ever played with a black player that really represents his culture as much as I represent my culture.

The question, really, is what is Ron Artest's culture? Ron implies in his statement that he "represents black culture". Is that really true? I'm a white man and I ask that question because I really want to know. Does Ron Artest represent black culture? And really, what is black culture? A few anecdotes over the years that have made me really think about ethnic differences:

  • In the late 70's, when James Harris was the quarterback for the LA Rams, I asked my dad why there weren't more black quarterbacks? He said, "because they aren't smart enough". So, I didn't exactly come from the most forward thinking home.
  • I grew up in San Antonio, which even in the early 80's was at least 40% hispanic. My basketball team in high school had a 50/50 split. 7 white guys, 7 black guys, and 1 Hispanic.
  • In my third year of college at Texas A&M (not exactly a bastion of racial diversity) I was taking a class that was required to become a Resident Advisor -- one of those people who lived in the dorm that were in charge of making sure you stayed mostly out of trouble -- and part of the class was learning about ethnic diversity. A woman, an African-American woman (though in the 80's it was 'black') came to our class and discussed ethnic diversity. The metaphor she used was that culture was like a salad. And the salad was made up of a mix of various components that all retained their individual indentity. And that together they made an interesting thing. That they weren't a mix of ingredients that were then blended, like a soup, where the identity of the ingredients were lost. This made sense to me. The next day at lunch, a black guy I had known since elementary school, and who was taking the same class, asked me what I thought of the lecture. I said, "I thought it was pretty interesting. I hadn't thought of things that way". He said, "I thought it was complete bullshit."
  • The same year, as part of the same class, I went to see a speech/presentation/lecture about cultural diversity. The speaker was a black man who, if I recall correctly, was the highest ranking black executive at Ford Motor Company. The punchline of his lecture that has stuck with me after all these years was that he said, and I'm paraphrasing, "We worked our butts off for 100 years to be Negro with a capital 'N' and now we want to be black with a little 'b'."
  • In 1999, an African-American woman wrote an article for Sporting News (I think it was Sporting News) about the NFL Draft and how Ricky Williams slipped to the 5th spot because he was "too black". Ricky Williams got drafted after 3 other black players. Two of whom were quarterbacks. I never understood what "too black" meant.
  • From 1999-2005, I worked with an African-American woman from Dallas South Oak Cliff. I'm in the software industry. She was one of the quality assurance engineers on our team. She was tough. She was sweet. I thought she was black. I could give her grief for saying things like, "I just got my nails did". I would come back with, "you just got your nails done." She said, "No, you get your nails DID." One of the more interesting stories she told me was of the parents of the richy-rich parents of her volleyball team's players saying, "you know, you speak very well." She related the story and just laughed, as if to say, "Poor dumb rich white people".

I don't know Ron Artest. I can't really judge his values. I just want to know what black culture is. The Bling? Dr. J? Ray Lewis? David Robinson? Prison-style tats? Bill Russell? Shaq? Tim Duncan? My African-American neighbor? The white kid next door who wears his pants so his crack shows? The rednecks in Bastrop who fight dogs? My techno-weenie retired military African-American co-worker? My co-workers who smoke pot? My Baptist co-workers? Who of these people does Ron Artest claim to represent? What culture does he represent more than they do? Do the African-American players on the Spurs NOT represent their culture? Are they slackers for not representing their culture more?

There is no doubt in my mind that we live in a racist society. I have no doubt that minorities are denied jobs because of their race. I have no doubt that minorities have to work harder than a white man just to get as far. I think one of the great fallacies of every racist argument is to take one or two -- or even a handful of -- anecdotes and apply it to an entire ethnicity as a way to justify your racist opinion. Any justification that says, "I knew this one guy" or "One time this guy" is complete shit. No one person represents an ethnicity. No 12 people represent an ethnicity. I don't represent White Culture. No person who claims to represent White Culture represents me. Yes, I know I used a capital 'W' and a capital 'C' for White Culture and a little 'b' and a little 'c' for black culture. It seemed natural to do. What does that tell you? I won't go back an edit it out like I know I should.

No matter how much I would like to claim I'm ethnically neutral, I know I can't. I know that I have to fight it constantly. I know I have to constantly monitor myself, not because I think I'm a superior white male, but because I've been raised in a society that rewards me for my white maleness. I won't deny it. I can't. I have benefited from being both white and male. But damn it, nobody is going to say that they represent my white male culture and have me agree with them. So, I ask again, what is the Black Culture that Ron Artest represents more than any other black player who has played with Yao?

 

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