One of my Faithful Readers who also happens to be one of my most Faithful Suppliers of interesting information turned me on this week to Dr. Boyce Watkins at Black Voices. Watkins is all over the internet, which is, needless to say, such a huge continent (as it were) that a computer junkie could get lost in it permanently, just going from site to site to site endlessly until hell froze over or their fingers stopped moving and their lifeless form slumped onto the keyboard when they went to that great website in the sky (or wherever). So it's crucial to have a few contributers who keep you posted about this and that.
Anyway, I've added Black Voices to my blogroll and want to steer you to catch one of Watkins' video commentaries on that site, where you will find many more. I tried to figure out how to embed the video here, but apparently they don't want that done, so I have to send you there instead. But not without adding my two cents first (or afterwards, if you like it like that).
The video in question is part of Watkins' "What the Hayell...?" series and is entitled "What the Hayell is Going on with Black Boys Only Wanting to be Athletes?" And I agree with him on all counts. I have mentioned this topic before, but as a college professor, I don't think we can talk (or write) about it enough.
I first realized this was a problem when I began to work with Black adolescent males who had been sentenced to serve time in a residential facility in Miami. It was my job to help them increase their employability. It became apparent to me this was going to be no mean trick when I discovered that few of them could read past a third grade level. Even fewer, it turned out, could write much more than their name. Some had trouble just sitting in one place for more than a couple of minutes. Following directions was not their strong suit by a long shot either. And at least one I came across used the F-word as pretty much every article of speech in every sentence. So my work was definitely cut out for me.
Nevertheless, I came to love them unconditionally and strove to help them in whatever ways I could. What was particularly interesting though, as Watkins notes in his video, was that these kids -- ages eleven to seventeen and remarkably like their less troubled peers in this respect -- all answered the question "What would you like to be when you become an adult?" with "I want to be a...[professional ball player of some kind]." Only the game of choice varied.
I was fascinated.
They didn't seem to have any idea why this was problematic. They didn't seem, for example, to have processed the fact that, at best, there are only a few hundred professional athletic slots in the whole country. Nor had anyone brought to their attention the much, much greater numbers of those professional athlete wanta-be's whose broken bodies and shattered dreams start littering the fields and courts from middle school on up. But I was up to the task.
"Okay," I responded. "Can you tell me where pro teams get their players?"
They didn't hesitate. "College teams," they fired back.
"Uh-huh," I agreed. "And where do college teams get their players?"
Again they didn't flinch, though they were beginning to look uneasy. "High school teams," they answered warily, not sure they wanted this dialogue to go further.
"That's right," I continued anyway, ready to deliver the coup de grace. "And where are you...?"
Within three weeks, going around the circle again, they all had different answers. One wanted to be a truck driver. Another talked about his uncle in the dock workers union maybe being able to put in a word for him. And only one had stayed with his earlier commitment to professional sports.
Those who had chosen new goals were not reaching for the moon. In fact, I had to work with them a while longer before they could believe that anybody who works for it can go to college. They thought you had to be rich and brilliant and White to do that. And nobody -- apparently -- had told them any different in a language they could understand.
In the fifteen years since then, I have seen one modification or another of this same mindset in young Black males from almost every kind of neighborhood, along with their coaches, teachers, and a saddening number of Black parents. College to these kids (and their hangers-on) is a means to an end -- and the end isn't a professional job, unless the job is as a professional athlete.
So I stand in front of big classes with maybe fifteen or twenty Black males in them and say, "The only reason some Black males are such good athletes is they start honing their craft at three-years-old, pushing a ball instead of reading a book. Any child that spends six hours a night shooting freethrows will get good at it. Likewise, any child that reads and does homework six hours a night will get good at that."
They look at me as if this had never occurred to them, which is no wonder since it never occurred to their parents either or to their teachers or to their coaches. And why is that anyway?
Because White Supremacy trains us all to think Black men are beasts of burden who might be good at bulling through a line or making a layup shot or bitch-slapping women on a video or fearlessly pulling off crimes, but nothing else. And who's best interest is that in?