Thursday, February 23, 2006


I watched a lot of sports as a kid. I even watched the Winter Olympics, which is more than most of America (including me) can say in our 2006 American Idol-run world. I particularly remember watching the 1980 Lake Placid Games. You know, The Miracle On Ice…that Olympics. I even remember Eric Heiden winning race after race in speed skating. I didn’t know shit about ice skating, but if it was anything like the sock slide I was doing in my tighty whities across the splintery wooden floor in my living room in Flatbush as I imitated him, I was the shit at it. Anyway, long story short…ice is cold…and only found in cold places…so I did my laps of the living room, did my “U.S.A.” chants and a fortnight or so later I went back to watching Knick games on channel 9 (Remember when sports events came to us on regular TV? That was the shit. What was I talking about again? Oh yeah…)

Anyway, that’s about as much attention as the Winter Olympics ever got from me. And from what I understand that was more than could be said for most Black people. Lots of snow, ice and cold? That ain’t the forecast that’s gonna entice the descendants of the sun people to come out and play.

So, 26 years later, I hear about Shani, a brother from the South Side of Chicago that is supposed to be the shit at ice skating. Then came the controversy that leads me to say…

First of all…fuck the “U…S…A!”

Fuck the chant. Fuck the flag. Fuck the entire muthafuckin’ farce.

I’m sorry, Shani. I’m sorry that even the oft repeated promise of the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat must be added to the long ass list of unkept promises that this country has reneged on when it has come time for the Black man to get his. You are a gold medalist. A gold fuckin’ medalist. It ain’t summertime! This ain’t track! But there you stand…or more accurately, glide, the absolute picture of athletic prowess. You should be negotiating your Wheaties deal. Instead you have to defend yourself for focusing on a dream you’ve had for longer than I’ll ever know. I’m sorry that they shit on your moment, Shani.

Please know that I’m proud of you. I’m embarrassed that I’m proud. I mean, in 2006, I still find myself tuning in to game shows and rooting for the Black person. I scratch my head as Art Shell has to wait a lifetime to get another chance to coach as the NFL shuffles white mediocrity from sideline to sideline, season after season. I root for you…even though I don’t know the first thing about your sport. I root for you, for the same reason that I rooted for Tiger to win the Masters and I root for Venus and Serena to win everything. There’s still that gnawing feeling in me that something is being proven, that if you win, maybe the next Black kid who turns to something besides football or basketball won’t be seen as a freak of nature. But more importantly, I root because I know that somewhere some racist just had a bad day. That makes me smile.

My father told me an anecdote I suspect you can appreciate. A White co-worker confided in my father that he cried himself to sleep the night that Hank Aaron broke Babe Ruth’s record. What was my father supposed to say to that bullshit? “Sorry that a Black man now holds the most precious of American sports records.” No, he just told me the story years later and we got to enjoy that even through death threats, through any hardship, it is possible to succeed, to excel at the highest levels. I hope that man is still crying. I hope he dies crying. Fuck him.

So, apparently all this fuss is because you weren’t willing to put your dreams on the back burner for some White boy. You see, I hate that it was expected, but I understand. He thought he was in some movie…you’ve seen others like it…Let’s call it “The Legend of Nigga Vance” (no disrespect to Will, who handles his business, so far as I’m concerned). This is the basic plot. A Black man with knowledge, wisdom and skill subjugates himself and serves to make some White man’s dream come true, to make his life better. (The real version goes like this. America asks the Black man to go someplace he may or may not have heard of to fight and die for democracy while denying him any at home. See: WWII, Iraq.) You didn’t help to fix anybody’s swing. You chose to win for yourself. America hates that. I love it.

You ain’t got to smile, neither. I don’t know what it was like to be the Black boy from the South Side in the world of speed skating, but I imagine that was some lonely shit. I went to Polytechnic Preparatory Country Day School for high school, Yale for college and USC (aka the University of Spoiled Children) for film school and that lily white reality must have been like an afternoon at Freaknik compared to what you had to deal with.

So, congratulations, Shani! I’m proud of you. Maybe by the next millennium a nigga won’t still be feelin’ good about the first Black (fill-in-the-blank), but today that is my reality. And you may not get a Wheaties deal, but this morning I salute you and all that you’ve accomplished, all that you must have endured.

I don’t feel much like chanting “U.S.A” the way I did when I was 8.

I’ve got no punchline to wrap this up. This shit ain’t funny to me.


Blogger Nik said...

...and let the church say amen.

1:27 PM  

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