How the Nationals ballpark helped change Washington, D.C., from ‘Chocolate City’ Gentrification has brought change, not just to my neighborhood but to the entire city

Chocolate City,” referring to Washington, D.C.’s nearly 70 percent black population in the latter part of the 20th century, has been transformed in front of my very eyes. Fewer black folks in the city today is truly ironic, partly because this detraction is due to the sport that is known typically for lacking enough chocolate.

Southwest Washington, D.C., isn’t the same, and the city hasn’t been, either, for more than a decade.

In 2005, the former Washington Senators of Major League Baseball returned home as the Nationals after a stint as the Montreal Expos. This meant our youths finally had a different set of role models to look up to — not ballers, but ballplayers. Being an impressionable 10-year-old, singing first exposed me to professional baseball in D.C. when I sang the national anthem at a Nats exhibition game with the D.C. Boys Choir.

We were a handful of black boys from all across D.C. who came together in song for a few priceless moments in a world unknown to us. Performing at an MLB game definitely instilled in us a sense of culture shock and possibilities that afternoon at Robert F. Kennedy Stadium in Northeast D.C.

After the Nats’ first season at RFK, city officials revealed they were eyeing major changes to the baseball environment that ultimately affected much of D.C. In May 2006, they began constructing a new baseball stadium on South Capitol Street in D.C., just 250 feet from my boyhood home in Southwest.

Gleaming new buildings along M street, on September, 18, 2014 in Washington, DC.

Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post via Getty Images

One year earlier, I was enthralled by the national treasure I had missed out on as a kid from the city while feeling the contagious energy of the Nats’ home crowd. With a stadium in the works, I wasn’t necessarily prepared to feel that same thunderous applause, fireworks and ruckus. My family has experienced this intense fandom come alive each night the Nats play through the walls of our townhome on Carrollsburg Place Southwest — walls that feel way too thin on game days.

Our house is located right off South Capitol Street, which separates the southern quadrants of the city into Southeast and Southwest, and the team built its stadium at 1500 South Capitol St. S.E. It’s in a different quadrant, but it’s just one block over from my alley.

The stadium definitely has its bright spots, such as festive outings in The Bullpen and occasional live concerts, and D.C. is now officially making a name for itself as a sports town, which makes our fans proud to claim John Wall, Bryce Harper and Alexander Ovechkin. But with all the good that can come from having a stadium or two in the neighborhood, there are even greater consequences that have affected my family for over a decade. Not only are we witnesses to the removal of black people from Southwest, but the entire neighborhood feels this industrialization and the gentrification that came along with it.

Todd Grosshan bought a rowhouse near the stadium when it was being built, and both sets of his neighbors were uprooted. “We had neighbors on either side of us; they’re gone,” he said. “But they were renting or Section 8 and they didn’t own their houses, so the owners decided property values are high enough and they said, ‘OK, time for y’all to go.’ ”

The city desperately tried to get my family to give up our spot on the block. We wouldn’t go, and neither would many neighbors around the way who just wouldn’t budge.

Keya Kennedy, a Southwest resident who has lived in Syphax Gardens Public Housing since before the stadium was built, didn’t fear pushback from contractors. “This is our city, [and] if we work and pay our rent the same way like anybody else, then we deserve to be here just as well,” she said. “They tried to put fear in us, but that didn’t happen.”

The city has a history of attempting to put fear in black residents, and this cycle is deeply rooted in Southwest. Therefore, today’s gentrification is actually no coincidence. In 1952, according to There’s No Place Like Home: Anthropological Perspectives on Housing and Homelessness in the United States, the Redevelopment Authority enacted a “renewal plan” for Southwest that drove out its thriving black community at the time. The black population in the District went from 71 percent at its peak in the 1970s to losing the majority in 2011, just three years after the Nats came to Southwest.

The “ballpark in the ‘hood” has caused the tearing down of many longtime D.C. establishments, and the “new and improved” Southwest has since experienced new visitors frequenting the neighborhood.

Kennedy notices more white people, but not only during baseball games. “Every day, going to the Metro, in our stores,” she said. “Everywhere.”

Our black residents are annoyed that we don’t have access to many places that were signs of our identity. They were replaced.

A pedestrian walks past a construction site adjacent to Nationals Park, on September, 18, 2014 in Washington, DC.

Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post via Getty Images

“There are no gas stations around here, and no fast-food places or places for us to eat,” Kennedy said. Besides the lack of accessibility to basic necessities such as food and fuel, Southwest is missing its social atmosphere as well. The city razed many hallmarks of our once-black community, such as the nightclubs like Zanzibar and H20 on the old Waterfront.

“That was the spot,” said Michelle Stanton, a resident of D.C. for 30 years after moving here from Rhode Island. “That’s where black people went because they felt comfortable.”

All around the stadium there are new hotels, dry cleaners, banks and a trendier look for the newest occupants. I’ve never seen so many “coming soon” posters on street corners. To some, it may appear to make the area more accommodating for fans and tourists, but in reality it has driven out those who look like me.

“They came in, and they kind of bullied their way in,” said Stanton, who lives on Half Street Southwest. “They had no respect for black people … they didn’t care about black people.”

Grosshan broke down D.C. and the current state of gentrification in the simplest way he could: “Well, black folk are leaving and white folk are coming in,” he said.

Contrary to Henry Louis Gates Jr.’s four-hour series Black America Since MLK: And Still I Rise, this is quite the opposite of white flight; it’s yet another form of black migration and the African diaspora. Now it is, as the adage goes, out with the old (black) and in with the new (white).

“Chocolate City” might not ever reach the chocolateness of its heyday, according to Stanton. “That’ll never happen again,” she said. “It’s white chocolate.”

Some of us miss the real Southwest D.C. and the oh-so-real D.C. We could do without this white chocolate substitution.

“I’ve noticed a lessening of that ethnic flavor,” Grosshan said, referring to the music and partying he used to hear at night in his alley. “That’s just because of the changeover in people.”

The stadium didn’t clean up the community, it just cleaned many of us and our institutions out. An emblem of black neighborhoods has always been the black church. Second Baptist Church Southwest used to be located across from the Southwest DMV, but it sold its property and moved to District Heights, Maryland, in 2011. The neighborhood became too expensive because of the ballpark.

“[The stadium] had a definite impact on our ability to stay in Southwest,” said Janice Lucas, chairman of the church’s board of trustees. “We had been there since the early ’50s.”

Without our churches, urban flavor and ethnic atmosphere, the chocolate west has been depleted, and the District has gone from a chocolate city to a much lighter and fluffier treat that I call s’mores.

The baseball stadium’s displacement of black bodies, institutions and culture in Southwest, much like D.C.’s state of gentrification, signifies how some corporations and the many new white folks view us.

“We’re just a color to them,” Stanton said. “I guess we don’t matter.”

The words ‘I thought my life was in danger’ allow police to kill black people without fear of reprisal When the police officer assumes the power of the slave master

A slave master, four centuries ago, could avoid legal sanction for using lethal force against his enslaved property by simply saying the latter opposed correction. “I was disciplining my slave, who then resisted.” Utter those magic words and the state would level no punishment if the master committed homicide. A police officer, now, can avoid legal sanction for using lethal force against a person by simply saying the latter made the officer fear for his or her life. “I stopped someone on the street, and I then thought my life was in danger.” Utter those magic words and the state will level no punishment if the officer commits homicide.

Black folk, always the victim in the first context, also bear the brunt of these legal realities in the second. Thus, because of these magic words, black people living today, during police encounters, have the same right to life as did a stolen African in the 17th century.

My mind conceived this historical analogy while stewing in the misery produced by the acquittal of St. Anthony, Minnesota, police officer Jeronimo Yanez, who snatched away the life of Philando Castile, a black man. During a traffic stop for a busted taillight, Castile, after informing Yanez he had a firearm, reached for his identification per Yanez’s request. Yanez told him not to pull out his firearm. Castile replied, “I’m not pulling it out.” Yanez next fired his gun seven times into the white 1997 Oldsmobile, killing Castile, as his girlfriend and her 4-year-old daughter sat inches away as a man they loved breathed his final breaths while bathing in his own blood.

Yanez, on the witness stand during his trial, uttered those magic words: “I was scared to death. I thought I was going to die. … I had no other choice.” He, therefore, walked out of Ramsey County courthouse a free man, a jury acquitting him of second-degree manslaughter and other lesser offenses. Castile’s family, though, left shedding tears, a melancholic scene that recent events have forced to replay on an endless loop, most recently when former Milwaukee officer Dominique Heaggan-Brown was acquitted for killing Sylville Smith, despite the incident being filmed.

Much of the outcry about these verdicts has focused on how they reveal that racial oppression molests every aspect of our criminal justice apparatus, how the system operates as intended when it never punishes cops who kill black folk. Although this conversation must hurtle onward, we must also situate these fatal occurrences in historical context, dramatizing how harrowing the black plight continues to be. We achieve this by reckoning with a brutal truth — during police encounters, black folk have as much agency over whether they will ever lay eyes on their loved ones again as their enslaved ancestors did when being punished by their masters.

The Virginia Colony, in 1669, enacted a statute permitting the killing of an enslaved person who resisted an owner’s corrective punishment. The reasoning behind the statute appalls current sensibilities: “[I]t cannot be presumed that propensed malice,” the statute stated, “should induce any man to destroy his own estate.” Since an owner, in other words, would not lay waste to his own property because of evil intentions, the state should presume the owner acted properly when such killings occurred. Other colonies, because Virginia was the first and most influential colony, followed suit, passing similar laws. This meant something horrifying for the enslaved throughout colonial America — the law allowed an owner to kill them if the owner’s story fit a specified narrative.

So, too, can police officers kill when their stories fit a specified narrative, the I-feared-for-my-life narrative. Officers can use deadly force when reasonably believing their lives are in peril. The Supreme Court wrote, in Graham v. Connor, the situation “must be judged from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene, rather than with the 20/20 vision of hindsight.” Because prosecutors and jurors presume officers behave properly, a presumption that slave owners enjoyed too, whether they get charged or convicted turns more on their ability to recount a convincing tale than on the surrounding facts.

American society transmits explicit and implicit messages about black people’s inherent dangerousness, making us susceptible to believing a black person posed a threat in most any scenario. Cops understand that should an ordeal with a black person turn deadly, their ability to utter the magic words inoculates them from punishment, a scary fact that black folk understand all too well.

The police officer, like the slave master before him, has been allowed by the state to dispense summary justice. If white people feared, like black people do, that their lives were subject to the decision-making of an easily frightened or malicious officer, changes would surely be instituted. To prevent the next Philando Castile or Sylville Smith, black folk need allies willing to wield arms in the battle to strip the magic from words.

Pots & pans: As the NFL season approaches, every fan has championship dreams In our national fairy tale, curses will be ended or endured and even the stars are expendable

“Everything you look at can become a fairy tale and you can get a story from everything you touch.”

Hans Christian Andersen

In a month, the National Football League training camps will open, and I will imagine wide-eyed fans crawling onto the laps of storytellers to hear the old tales animated by new names.

This year, as always, players once deemed too slow, too small or too inexperienced will emerge as too determined to be denied. This year, as always, can’t-miss prospects, winners of what a Connecticut barber once called the genetic lotto, will fail to cash in on their talents. And this year, as always, players and fans hope their season will end with their index fingers in the air, proclaiming to the world, “We’re No. 1.”

This year, curses will be lifted. The chosen will lead their teams toward the promised land. Curses will also endure and fans, spurred by the mouse-click mob of social media, will exile players and teams who disappoint them to Palookaville.

This year, as always, to get ready for some football, fans and the sports media must get ready for the ways the crosscurrents of our roiling society flow through the game. Stark questions will be posed anew: How much will the players, largely African-American, be able to freely express themselves in celebration or in protest? Which transgressions will be shrugged off or punished? Who will be banished from the games? And which prodigals will be welcomed back to the playing fields, just so long as they can play at high levels?

NFL football, the nation’s defining pastime, brutal and unforgiving, is a serious game based upon acquiring turf and defending it with blood, sweat and tears.

And no matter how productive, respected and celebrated they have been, the players are expendable and disposable, just like most other American workers. All of them. All the time. Sid Luckman to Peyton Manning.

The NFL, with its long-term contracts not fully guaranteed, is the ultimate what-have-you-done-for-me-lately league, a game where few players control their futures. The games grind the players to dust. And too many players throw what’s left of their spent selves to the wind.

It’s as if they sing lines from “Going Down Slow,” a blues song whose lyrics change depending upon who sings it, though the meaning remains the same. It’s a song of rueful dissipation: I have had my fun if I never get well no more/All of my health is failing/Lord, I’m going down slow.

But none of that matters to those who love the game. The magic moments matter, the great catches, the exhilarating runs and the game-saving tackles. The roar of the adoring crowds matter. And, more than anything, the championships matter.

In each era, star players move through space in signature ways: Johnny Unitas and Jim Brown, Joe Montana and Barry Sanders, Tom Brady and Adrian Peterson. When the players move, the fans ride with them, spiraling through the air as if perched on one of Warren Moon’s pretty passes.

As always, as we look to the opening of training camps, the NFL football world turns on an axis of expectation. Anything can happen.

With a championship to win or defend, players begin each season as potential heroes in a modern fairy tale. But only the Super Bowl winners get to live happily ever after, at least until the next season.

Are you and your index fingers ready?

There’s finally more black men in Barbie’s world Mattel now has male dolls in varied skin tones and body shapes

March 9, 1959: Mattel’s Barbie doll made her first appearance in toy stores.

June 20: @Barbie tweets: #TheDollEvolves.

Over the last almost 60 years, Barbie and her friends have reflected the changing demographics of the U.S. This recent revamp is about Ken – who now comes in varied skin tones and body shapes. Last year, Mattel introduced three new Barbie dolls with different body types.

Barbie’s first black friend, Christie, was released in 1968. However, the first official Black Barbie wasn’t released until 1980. Malibu Ken, the first African-American Ken doll, came along in 1982.

Growing up, my parents didn’t buy me Barbie dolls because they didn’t look like me. Aside from the Brandy doll and a few of Barbie’s friends of color, I only owned Bratz dolls, launched by MGA Entertainment in 2001.

It’s been 12 years since I played with dolls. As a child, I had a love-hate relationship with Barbie. On the one hand, I loved having Bratz dolls that actually looked like me. I didn’t need a doll with blonde hair, blue eyes or features that were anatomically impossible for myself or any real girl to achieve.

On the other hand, all of my white friends had Barbie dolls. I remember feeling looked down upon, I wanted Barbie dolls because they did.

Now that I’m 20, I have grown to appreciate the Barbie brand for one reason in particular: They made girls think we could do anything. We all witnessed Barbie in different jobs – a police officer, a doctor, a zoologist, a ballerina. The list is gloriously long. Unlike her bosom-to-waist ratio, these were things we could realistically attain.

I hope the next generation of dolls continue to reflect the shapes, colors and hair types of the girls and boys who play with them. If I ever have children, I will allow them to play with Barbies, as long as they look like them.

Black women and girls, including me, are excited about the changes:

In wake of the hate crimes in Maryland and Oregon, self-protection becomes a priority Highly publicized, race-motivated crimes are forcing black America to think about legal carry … or not

Should we bring a gun?

It’s not exactly the question you think would come to mind while planning a leisurely getaway. But as my husband and I packed for a long weekend of culture, Southern cuisine and a well-deserved rest, it was one we repeatedly and seriously asked ourselves.

We were headed to the Spoleto Festival USA in Charleston, South Carolina, where the heat and history can be oppressive. It’s a city that sometimes feels like a foreign country, but it’s as all-American as it gets. You can stand where men, women and children were shackled, poked, prodded, bought and sold — you can feel their ghosts. Some 40 percent of the enslaved in the 13 colonies during the trans-Atlantic slave trade came through the city. And yet, here we are, a black woman and white man, mixing and mingling and applauding with audiences and performers of all races at what’s become a major tourist draw.

In Charleston, the past is never past, as unapologetic racist Dylann Roof proved when in 2015 he chose historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, known as Mother Emanuel, a spiritual and civil rights bulwark, as the site of a hate-filled killing spree, murdering nine parishioners after praying with them for the better part of an hour. In North Charleston, unarmed African-American Walter Scott was shot by a police officer in the back; it was considered imperfect justice when Scott’s killer, Michael Slager, pleaded guilty to a federal civil rights charge after a state jury could not agree on a verdict despite video evidence.

Charleston has its special history. But is it all that different from the rest of America?


In New Orleans, the decision to remove and move monuments to the Confederacy, some erected long after the Civil War’s end, is debated and resisted.

Portland, Oregon, has its own Western brand of exclusionary racism baked in the soil, exemplified by Oregon’s policy barring blacks from living there when the state entered the union in 1859 and the legacy of those actions since then. In Portland, a man has been charged in the murder of two white men and the attempted murder of a third when the three came to the aid of two African-American women, one wearing a hijab, being harangued and harassed on public transportation last month. The accused attacker was known for expressing white supremacist views at rallies and on social media.

In Maryland, my home state, an empty chair took the place of 23-year-old Richard Collins III, a recently commissioned U.S. Army second lieutenant, at his Bowie State University graduation; his life was ended as he waited for his ride at a University of Maryland bus stop. A 22-year-old white man, who was a member of a Facebook group called “Alt-Reich,” has been charged in the stabbing; authorities are investigating whether it was a hate crime.

When crowds in Charlottesville, Virginia, protesting a City Council vote to remove a park statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee marched, shouted and carried flaming torches, all that was missing was a burning cross.

There is aggression in words as well, and no one is immune. So Cleveland Cavalier great LeBron James was not that surprised when a racist slur was spray-painted on the gate of his Los Angeles home.

“Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t after you,” the saying goes.

America’s focus has turned to the danger from without, from foreign terrorism and the bad actors entering the country with mayhem in mind. Those are the stories making the headlines, though in truth, domestic terrorism is the threat many people of color fear the most.

The Southern Poverty Law Center tracks attacks by extremists and domestic terrorism and threats by hate groups, which saw an increase in the years of the Obama presidency and continue to rise.

So it made sense for my husband and me to investigate the South Carolina gun laws. The state’s “your home is your castle” Castle Doctrine extends to vehicles and workplaces, meaning our registered piece could indeed travel with us on a journey we hoped would be routine but feared could escalate in an instant.

Laws for self-protection and the Second Amendment’s right to bear arms are tricky and possibly dangerous for African-Americans, as those rights once applied only to whites — and some would say they still do. A registration did not stop legal gun owner Philando Castile from being killed in Minnesota in July 2016 by a panicked police officer, who was found not guilty of any crime this past week despite shooting into a car with a 4-year-old girl as a passenger.

Many, however, have decided taking that chance is worth it, and it has been reported that gun ownership among African-Americans is increasing.

In Charleston, in between programs of opera, dancing and jazz, we made the pilgrimage to Mother Emanuel, quiet and protected. It sits on Calhoun Street, which honors South Carolinian John C. Calhoun, a defender of slavery as a “positive good.”

On these streets, our marriage would have been a crime 50 years ago, before the Loving case removed the legal barriers. In 1998, when South Carolina threw out its unenforceable state ban, 38 percent of voters wanted to keep the pre-Loving status quo.

The Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) is planning a memorial to peace and justice in Montgomery, Alabama, acknowledging the lynching and legally sanctioned racial terror that traumatized citizens and left a legacy. “Our goal isn’t to be divisive,” Bryan Stevenson, the director of the EJI told The New York Times. “Our goal is just to get people to confront the truth of our past with some more courage.” The museum “From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration” would be one of many memorials.

Are these reminders needed? Last month, tourists visiting the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington found a noose in an exhibition on segregation. In an email to staff, museum director Lonnie Bunch said, “Today’s incident is a painful reminder of the challenges that African-Americans continue to face.”

Will America face this enemy within?

As for our final decision on that gun, we decided not to carry after all. It would have been legal, but it may not have been wise. We did, however, pack a big honkin’ knife.

Why’d it take so long for some of us to find out about Juneteenth? Some people think that it should be independence day for black Americans

I’ve been celebrating July Fourth for as long as I can remember, but I only learned about Juneteenth last year. Before you ask for my black card, hear me out.

1. Why social media is necessary

It takes a few hours for President Donald Trump’s tweet about a fake word to go viral, but it took almost 20 years for me to learn about a holiday celebrating the end of slavery in Galveston, Texas.

What’s more, I’m not alone. Nine out of 10 college students I know learned about the holiday just within the past five years.

We as a people are lacking education on a holiday that’s supposed to be ours in our classrooms and in our communities. “There’s so much vital history that school textbooks leave out, especially when it’s about African-Americans,” said Daryl Riley Jr., a junior at Hampton University. “Growing up, all I knew was that we were slaves and about Martin Luther King Jr.”

2. Holidays need branding too

The description of Juneteenth is not consistent. The San Diego Union Tribune described it as “a combination of June and nineteenth, the day in 1865 when many slaves in Texas learned they were free. Although emancipation had taken place more than two years earlier, federal troops were sent June 19, 1865, to tell slaves in Galveston, Texas, of their freedom after that news had been kept from them.” The Tribune called it the day slavery ended in America.

The Post Newspaper of Galveston County said it was the day “enslaved people were freed after Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation was ‘read on a harbor pier in Galveston.’ ”

Al.com says the day commemorates the abolition of slavery.

As a result, it’s hard to tell exactly how many people even observe Juneteenth or whether they know exactly what they are celebrating. The Galveston Island Convention and Visitors Bureau says 40 states around the country host official commemorations.

3. Now that we know, what do we do?

The NAACP hosts annual Juneteenth gatherings to teach new generations about the day.

“Throughout my undergraduate career, I performed annually at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, NAACP’s Juneteenth celebration,” said Alexjandria Edwards, a recent graduate of the University of Michigan. “Each year, I performed Negro spirituals while other artists, traditional folk storytellers, dancers and designers displayed varying forms of black excellence.”

Lyndsay Archer, a junior from Wayne State University, said, “In order for black people around the world and people of color to progress, we must be able to acknowledge and embrace our past history, learn from those experiences, and gain a sense of both pride and humility in our rich narratives.”

Come to find out, many African-Americans have mixed emotions about celebrating July Fourth. After all, blacks weren’t free in 1776.

Lauren Smith, a junior at Howard University, is one.

“I celebrate the Fourth of July because we built this country for free, so every holiday belongs to us.”

Robbie Osborne, a sophomore at Hampton University, doesn’t celebrate July Fourth as a holiday at all. “I don’t celebrate the Fourth of July because it doesn’t represent the liberation and freedom of all races in America.”

I’ve been debating whether I should look at Juneteenth as the true independence day for black people.

I’m aware that the slaves were officially freed by the Emancipation Proclamation two years earlier, but I’m in solidarity with some of the last black folks to find out. I hate being the last to find out about anything important.

I will still celebrate July Fourth because it provides my family a chance to take a break from work, to celebrate each other, eat great food and watch fireworks. I appreciate the opportunities afforded to me as an American citizen, but Juneteenth as independence day resonates more strongly for me.

Juneteenth is the celebration of black freedom from slavery in the U.S., so why is it 2017 and so many black Americans are just learning about the holiday?

Perhaps the answer is connected to why freedom, as it was intended by the Founding Fathers, feels like an impossibility for black folks. Given all of the black people in prison, the numerous unarmed black men and women who are killed by police, the wage gap between blacks and whites and all the black girls who are discouraged from rocking their natural hair in schools or at work, I’m dubious about how free we are today.

I have only known freedom, but there are still so many black people who don’t. Like the Solomon Burke song says, “None of us are free if one of us is chained.”

Pots & pans: We need to celebrate our heroes and heroines both past and present this Juneteenth No matter the when, they are all making it possible for blacks to realize the true American dream

On this date in 1865, black people enslaved in Galveston, Texas, were told the Union forces had won the Civil War and that they were free. Since then, black Americans have marked Juneteenth with jubilation, feasts, strawberry soda and other red drinks.

Today, I raise my glass of strawberry soda to salute some of the people I believe exemplify the continuing struggle to gain full civil and human rights for black people in our country, a struggle that has helped America draw closer to the vision outlined in the Declaration of Independence.

Consequently, I toast LeBron James and Kevin Durant. Since 2010, James has gone from the Cleveland Cavaliers to the Miami Heat and back again, winning three NBA championships along the way. This season, K.D. moved from the Oklahoma City Thunder to the Golden State Warriors and led that team to a 4-1 victory in the NBA Finals over LeBron’s Cavs, the defending champs. Furthermore, they triumphed by competing against each other vigorously while respecting each other as athletes and as men.

Although some deride and dismiss the significance of millionaire black athletes deciding their fates, their actions represent a generation of black athletes who feel free to pursue happiness and league championships on their own terms.

I toast broadcast journalist April Ryan and U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris from California, wonder women who seek to lasso the truth with their probing questions. They have asked questions that revealed inconvenient truths about the white male political establishment that has sought, without success, to dismiss them and shut them up.

Meanwhile, I toast Ta-Nehisi Coates and Chadwick Boseman. The two Howard University men continue the integration of the nation and the world’s fantasy life. Coates, a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation genius grant winner, has been writing the comic book Black Panther, about a genius inventor and one of the world’s smartest people. Boseman, who has captured the physicality and emotional complications of James Brown and Jackie Robinson on screen, will continue playing the Black Panther in an eponymous 2018 movie.

As Coates and Boseman champion black inclusion in society through a superhero, Lynn Nottage uses ordinary people to help America better understand today’s challenges, which are made worse by racial and class divisions.

She earns a strawberry soda salute with her bittersweet Sweat, her Pulitzer Prize-winning play that explores the end of work and the emotional chaos that follows. Colson Whitehead, a Pulitzer Prize winner for The Underground Railroad gives us a poetic vision of slavery and its aftermath. And Tracy K. Smith, another Pulitzer Prize winner (Life on Mars), and the new poet laureate of the United States, finds majesty in the everyday, just as Gwendolyn Brooks and Rita Dove did before her.

They meld the intellectual ambition of W.E.B DuBois and Booker T. Washington’s veneration for sweat and craft. They show that the road to higher ground is paved with a commitment to excellence. They show that great art is fundamental to our survival. I toast them all.

And I toast all the black people, especially the slaves, lost to the years. They bore the lash. They prayed. They loved.

And they live in today’s triumphs, undefeated and unbowed, now and forever.

The murder of Tupac Shakur is a tragedy — but the why is not a complete mystery Conspiracy theories give fans comfort but, in truth, the brilliant artist was ‘a sacrificial lamb in thug clothing’

It’s time to stop wondering who killed Tupac Shakur.

America has spent the past two decades fishing at red herrings and inventing theories about how our brilliant brother could be gunned down on the Las Vegas Strip at age 25. The real answer is obvious, yet too many of us who love the culture avoid the facts: Tupac sealed his fate with one punch to a Crip’s face.

Heartbreak can teach powerful lessons. But instead of admitting that Tupac’s genius was extinguished because he chose to play gangster, we continue to rationalize and glamorize his Thug Life, aided and abetted by a corrupt justice system that denies us much-needed closure. To prevent more Tupac tragedies, we need to understand what happened, and why:

On Sept. 7, 1996, Tupac, Death Row Records kingpin Marion “Suge” Knight and Suge’s gang of Bloods beat up a Southside Crip named Orlando “Baby Lane” Anderson in a Las Vegas casino lobby. Anderson and three other Crips went looking for payback. A few hours later, cruising the Vegas Strip in Anderson’s rented white Cadillac, they saw Suge driving a BMW with Tupac in the front passenger seat. Anderson shot Tupac from the back seat of the Caddy.

Ain’t no skullduggery to it. Just the basic street arithmetic that continues to send thousands of black males to their graves.

Anderson’s beatdown was captured on security video. Suge’s gangsters quickly spread the word that the killer was Anderson, according to what informants told police in the chaotic days after the shooting. Those anonymous sources were confirmed more than a decade later by the eyewitness account of Anderson’s uncle, Southside Crip boss Duane “Keffe D” Davis, who says he was in the car and handed Anderson the murder weapon. Keffe D’s statements are detailed in the 2011 book Murder Rap, by retired Los Angeles Police Department Detective Greg Kading.

But thanks to Internet-borne conspiracies and institutional injustice toward black life, the question of who murked Pac has never been murkier. The new Tupac biopic, All Eyez On Me, offers little clarity. Legend has enveloped Tupac’s death like barnacles on a sunken ship. But if you scrape all that away …


The machinery of Pac’s demise was set in motion in July 1996, when a crew of Crips snatched a Death Row pendant from a Blood named Trevon “Tray” Lane at Lakewood Mall near Compton, California, according to a Compton police affidavit. Two months later, Tray Lane was with Tupac and Suge at a Mike Tyson fight in Las Vegas. After the heavyweight champ knocked out Bruce Seldon in the first round, the Death Row clique left the MGM Grand arena and spotted Anderson in the lobby. Tray identified Anderson as one of the Crips who snatched his chain.

The intersection of Harmon Avenue and Las Vegas Boulevard is pictured on Sept. 8, 1996, the day after rap superstar Tupac Shakur and Death Row Records chairman Marion “Suge” Knight were both shot. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)

AP Photo/Jack Dempsey

Tupac rolled up on Anderson, rhetorically demanded, “You from the South?” and punched him in the face. Tupac, Suge and their gang proceeded to stomp Anderson out, right there in the MGM lobby.

“In the vacuum created by lack of closure, everything, no matter how far-fetched, seems somehow possible.”

These are indisputable facts, backed by witness testimony, police reports and videotape. I first saw them gathered in one place in the May 1997 issue of Vibe magazine, in a story by Rob Marriott. The report detailed how after Tupac’s slaying, Bloods launched a full-out war on Compton Crips. Suge’s henchmen told other Bloods that Tupac’s killer was Keffe D’s nephew, according to the Compton police affidavit. When the bullets stopped flying, 13 gangsters had been shot, three fatally.

“There are no easy answers to the myriad questions surrounding Tupac’s death,” Marriott wrote after his harrowing experience reporting from the streets of gangland Compton. “But it has become clear that the rap star’s death — and the three homicides that followed — are only the most visible tragedies in a web of intrigue that extends deep into the L.A. underworld.”

That web was real. At the center was the tarantula Suge Knight, who, according to evidence detailed in Murder Rap and the book LAbyrinth by Randall Sullivan, ran Death Row like a Mafia boss. Suge’s violence is well-documented. He fueled a bicoastal beef with Sean “Puffy” Combs’ Bad Boy Records and its superstar rapper Biggie Smalls, who was killed six months after Tupac. Suge had LAPD cops on his payroll, according to LAbyrinth. On top of all that, shortly before his death Tupac argued with Suge over unpaid royalties, fired Death Row lawyer David Kenner and planned to leave the label.

Police, meanwhile, added to the confusion. Las Vegas cops told LAPD detective Russell Poole, according to LAbyrinth, that “the main reason they would never solve this case is that the politicians didn’t want them to. They said the powers that be had let them know the city didn’t need an O.J.-style circus.” Poole was investigating the Biggie killing. He said that LAPD brass, bracing for a lawsuit from Biggie’s family, blocked him from following numerous leads that might have connected black LAPD cops to Death Row. Poole was ultimately removed from the case and resigned from the LAPD in 1999.

Marion “Suge” Knight and Tupac Shakur during the 10th annual Soul Train Music Awards at Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles in 1996.

Jim Smeal/WireImage

Anderson denied killing Tupac and was never charged. In 1998, Anderson was shot dead outside a Compton car wash over what police there said was a drug debt. Anderson’s killer is serving three life terms.

In 2006, Kading, the LAPD detective, was assigned to reopen the Biggie Smalls homicide case. In Murder Rap, Kading says he and his team kept hearing about Keffe D, Anderson’s uncle, who saw Smalls at the Soul Train Music Awards after-party hosted by Vibe magazine shortly before the Brooklyn rapper was killed. Kading set up a drug deal sting to coerce Keffe D into talking about Biggie’s murder. The trap worked. Kading writes that in December 2008, facing decades in prison, Keffe D sat down to work out a deal — but denied any knowledge of Smalls’ killers.

Instead, Keffe D told them about Pac’s death. Kading was in the room questioning Keffe D. The interview was recorded. The gangster’s story went like this:


In 1991, when Keffe D’s Crip gang was selling dope nationwide, he was introduced to a Harlem drug dealer named Eric “Zip” Martin. They started doing business. Two years later, Zip, who was involved in the music business, brought Keffe D to a BET party at the Paradise Club in Los Angeles. At that party, Keffe said, Zip introduced him to Combs.

Keffe D said he maintained a relationship with Puffy, and he lent him the 1964 Chevy featured in Usher’s “Can U Get Wit It” video. When the East-West beef jumped off, Keffe D said, his Crips provided security for Bad Boy on the West Coast. At one point, Keffe D alleged, Combs said he would pay a million dollars for Pac and Suge to be killed. Kading quoted Keffe D in Murder Rap as saying: “(Puffy) was like, ‘I want to get rid of them dudes.’ … I was like, ‘Man, we’ll wipe their ass out, quick … it’s nothing. Consider that done.’ ”

Combs has adamantly denied soliciting any murder.

Keffe D told Kading that he went to Vegas simply to enjoy the Tyson fight and met up there with Zip, his nephew “Baby Lane” Anderson and other Crips. After the lobby rumble, when Keffe Dheard his nephew Anderson got stomped by Death Row, they immediately planned to retaliate. Zip gave Keffe D a .40-caliber Glock. Kading wrote:

“ ‘(Zip) said it’s perfect timing,’ Keffe D recounted, leaving the exact meaning of the words up to us. Was Zip talking about killing two birds with one stone, taking out Suge and Tupac as payback for the Baby Lane beating and in the process collecting Puffy’s million-dollar bounty? It was impossible to know for sure.”

Trying to disprove these explanations is like arguing with someone who believes Barack Obama was born in Kenya.

Keffe D said that Zip departed after giving them the gun. Anderson, Keffe D and two other Crips cruised the Strip in Anderson’s rented Cadillac and spotted Tupac’s caravan. They pulled alongside the BMW driven by Suge Knight. Keffe D was in the Cadillac’s front passenger seat with the Glock, prepared to shoot, but Tupac and the BMW were on the opposite side of the Caddy. “Lane was like, ‘Give it here,’ ” Keffe D said, “and popped the dude.”

Keffe D told Kading he never got a dime of Combs’ promised payoff, although he thought Zip might have collected and not shared the loot. “If (Puffy) would have just given us half the money, I would have stayed strong,” Keffe said, explaining why he was telling on Combs.

Combs has called all of this “pure fiction” — and has said he never even used Crips as security.

Kading knew he couldn’t make a good legal case on the word of a criminal like Keffe D. He tried to coerce Zip to corroborate the story and tell on Combs by setting up a sting with Keffe D. But before the trap could be sprung, Kading’s superiors removed him from the case in 2009.

“It was almost as if, in some surreal way, Poole was right all along,” Kading wrote. “The LAPD was trying to cover up the Biggie Smalls murder, not by protecting corrupt cops but by undercutting the ability of its own investigators to make the case.”


Neither Keffe D, Zip nor anyone else has ever been charged with killing Tupac or Biggie. Zip died in 2012. Keffe D is locked up on a marijuana distribution conviction. The Las Vegas police investigation into Tupac’s murder technically remains open. “In the vacuum created by lack of closure, everything, no matter how far-fetched, seems somehow possible,” Kading wrote. “When the truth is missing in action, anything can take its place.”

Like the theory that Suge conspired with Anderson to kill Tupac because the rapper was owed millions and about to leave Death Row, which former LAPD detective Poole believed. Or that Snoop Dogg’s cousin Lil’ Half Dead, mad at ’Pac because he allegedly stole the hit song “Brenda’s Got a Baby,” helped Suge’s wife and Death Row’s head of security try to kill Suge and take over the company — but they missed Suge and hit ’Pac instead. Or that the FBI didn’t want ’Pac starting a black revolution. Or that he’s in the witness protection program. Or alive and well in Cuba.

Trying to disprove these explanations is like arguing with someone who believes Barack Obama was born in Kenya. Not since the assassination of President John F. Kennedy have conspiracy theories run so amok. But the simplest explanation is usually the right one. Of course a Crip came gunning for a crew of Bloods who dealt him a humiliating butt-whipping. Tupac beat up a killer, who then killed him. All over a piece of jewelry.

Tupac chose to live, and die, by the rules of Thug Life. Our inability to face that fact is a symptom of our inability to help our most troubled young black men.

A black BMW, riddled with bullet holes, sits in the police impound lot on Sept. 8, 1996, in Las Vegas. Rapper Tupac Shakur was shot and critically wounded while riding in the car driven by Death Row Records chairman Marion “Suge” Knight the previous night after attending the heavyweight fight between Mike Tyson and Bruce Seldon.

AP Photo/Lennox McLendon

“It’s become obvious to anyone paying attention that the gangsta image — for all its force and bluster — is nothing if not tragic, a myth of empowerment with the capacity to rob our generation of its potential greatness,” Marriott wrote in the 1997 Vibe story that connected the dots of the tragedy. “If we as a Hip Hop Nation can ever move beyond the directionless violence and self-destruction gangsta sometimes glorifies, then maybe we’ll have ’Pac to thank for it. Perhaps, in the end, he was simply a sacrificial lamb in thug’s clothing.”

Hip-hop music still thrives on violence and self-destruction, despite the rise of many incredible positive emcees. Recognizing the facts of Tupac’s death could offer some measure of redemption. There will be no help from law enforcement, no deserved clarity and closure through the process of arrest, trial and punishment. If those of us who love the culture don’t want Tupac to have died in vain, we need to come to grips with reality on our own.

Why Ice Cube should be a future Songwriters Hall of Fame inductee The film mogul is one of rap’s all-time great wordsmiths — and cultural forecasters

This week, Berry Gordy, Jay Z, and James “Jimmy Jam” Harris and Terry Lewis will be inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. They will join immortals such as Little Richard, Valerie Simpson and Nickolas Ashford, Dolly Parton, Nile Rodgers, Jerry Garcia, Marvin Gaye, Cyndi Lauper and more. This week The Undefeated celebrates future Songwriting Hall of Famers — the ones who make the whole world sing and bop, and even milly rock.


For 400 years — I got 400 tears, for 400 peers/ Died last year from gang-related crimes/ That’s why I got gang-related rhymes

— Ice Cube, from 1991’s “Us

Ice Cube pulls up on a group of friends. It’s the summer of 1989 in Los Angeles. All young black men, all from the South Central area, his friends are slanging crack. Cube, by then, is already famous, the most vicious wordsmith of America’s worst nightmare: the rap supergroup N.W.A. He rolls the window down on his Jeep.

“Yo, y’all don’t need to be out here,” he said. “All you’re gonna do is get arrested.”

His boys looked at him, puzzled. In 1980s South Central Los Angeles, the streets were a war zone. Born O’Shea Jackson in 1969, four years after the Watts riots and during the rise of the black liberation movement, Cube’s life was a courtside seat to gang and police violence. He saw black boys’ and girls’ lives cut short by violence that turned neighborhoods into prisons, and to graveyards.

Does a résumé as decorated and diverse as Cube’s obscure who he is as a songwriter?

As in many major U.S. metropolitan areas, crack was the crème de la crème narcotic. For users, crack was an escape. “It is also a drug of desperation, linked to the urban poor’s struggle to be part of the greater society,” said Joyce Hartwell, founder and director of New York’s Recovery Hotline and Addiction Anonymous Education Project. Fast money, cheap product, economically deprived ‘hoods: an elixir for violence.

Ice Cube in 1992

Waring Abbott/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

In Los Angeles alone, the murder rate had risen every year since 1985. In 1988, the year N.W.A. released Straight Outta Compton, there were 452 gang homicides — 29.7 percent of all area murders. In 1989, 554 gang homicides accounted for 32.7 percent of all homicides. The numbers would only increase, rising to 803 gang murders (39.4 percent of all) by the time the Los Angeles riots popped off, for a long list of reasons, in the spring of 1992.

So it makes sense that Cube’s friends were dumbfounded. The songs he wrote, for example, for Eazy-E’s 1988 Eazy Duz It, weren’t soundtracks of their lives. Nor were the songs quite entertainment. Cube’s lyrics, motion picture moments on records like Straight Outta’s “8 Ball (Remix),” were their lives. Cube’s friends were trapped in a hell of crack, guns, gangs, liquor stores and funeral homes. “Everybody can’t rap,” one of his friends said. “You’re living good, so you can say s— like that. If you wasn’t making money, you’d be right out here with us.”

Cube recognized quickly his platform, and the responsibility that came with being one of the most recognizable rappers in the country. For Cube, his art was chemotherapy for a cancer the country had long ignored in neighborhoods portrayed as ground zero on nightly news broadcasts. He thanked his friend and bought him a beer.

“[I said] thanks for setting me straight. Peace,” Cube told Spin in 1989. “No, I didn’t say ‘peace,’ cause peace is a fictional word. Peace is a dream.”


Thirty years after the Straight Outta Compton album, Ice Cube is a Rock & Roll Hall of Famer. He’s sold over 15 million albums through his solo work and compilations and as a leader of N.W.A. and Westside Connection. Cube has long since established himself as a force in Hollywood as a producer, screenwriter and actor, starting with 1991’s timeless ode to life in South Central, Boyz N The Hood. From there, cult classics such as 1998’s The Players Club, acclaimed smashes such as 1999’s Three Kings, as well as his Friday, Barbershop and Ride Along series strengthen his portfolio as he heads into thriller territory. Come later this month, he’ll have successfully placed Allen Iverson back on a basketball court with the creation of his BIG3 basketball league. And just last weekend, Cube gave Bill Maher a lesson in the use of the N-word. But is one of rap’s finest lyrical storytellers the victim of society’s selective amnesia? Does a résumé as decorated and diverse as Cube’s obscure who he is as a songwriter?

“It’s Ice Cube’s lyrics that forced people to take the West Coast seriously.” — Todd Boyd

“Ice Cube is the first guy outside of New York to get recognition and visibility for his lyricism,” said Todd Boyd, professor of cinema and media studies at the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts. He’s the Katherine and Frank Price Endowed Chair for the Study of Race and Popular Culture. “It’s Ice Cube’s lyrics that forced people to take the West Coast seriously.”

Cube’s relentless output during the late ’80s and early ’90s writes its own chapter of American history. He’s one of gangsta rap’s main creators, along with Ice T, Eazy-E, Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg. His music shed light on the despair, anger, yet resiliency of life in the ’hood. Cube’s 360-degree view of the black experience in America was a persuasive counterpoint to politicians and critics who painted black individuals and groups with broad strokes.

It was Cube’s call of duty to tell South Central Los Angeles’ story — which, in turn, spoke for the millions nationwide dealing with similar situations. By doing so, he warned America of a simmering resentment. His graphic street scriptures, however bold and outright disrespectful of women, law enforcement and whatever else, function as the Old Testament for what exploded on television screens across the world in the wake of the Rodney King verdict.

The first three songs on the album Straight Outta Compton, which sold 3.5 million copies (and led eventually to the acclaimed and successful 2015 biopic of the same title), became part of a 1988 hip-hop trifecta, along with Public Enemy’s It Takes A Nation of Millions To Hold Us Back and the launch of Yo! MTV Raps, which changed the culture, and music as whole. Straight Outta Compton represented art by fire. And Cube was its lead arsonist.

“Straight Outta Compton”: Straight outta Compton, crazy m—–f—– named Ice Cube/ From the gang called N—–s With Attitude/ When I’m called off, I got a sawed-off/ Squeeze the trigger and bodies are hauled off/ You, too, boy, if you f— with me/ The police are gonna have to come and get me/ Off you a–, that’s how I’m going out

“F— Tha Police”: F— the police, coming straight from the underground/ A young n—- got it bad ’cause I’m brown/ And not the other color so police think/ They have the authority to kill a minority/ F— that s— cause I ain’t the one/ For a punk m—–f—– with a badge and a gun/ To be beaten on, and thrown in jail/ We can go toe-to-toe in the middle of a cell

“Gangsta, Gangsta”: Here’s a little something about a n—- like me/ Never should’ve been let out the penitentiary/ Ice Cube, would like to say/ That I’m a crazy m—–f—– from around the way/ Since I was youth, I smoked weed out/ Now I’m the m—-f—— that you read about/ Takin’ a life or two, that’s what the hell I do/ You don’t like how I’m living?/ Well, f— you!

“Not all of what we say on records describe us,” MC Ren said in 1989. “We also describe the exploits of people around us. So this is telling it again, like it is and how people really behave.” As N.W.A.’s acclaim and infamy spread, so did its influence. Fishbone’s 1991 The Reality of My Surroundings, the Geto Boys’ 1990 “City Under Siege” and Public Enemy’s 1990 “Fight The Power” further enunciated a desperation. For Cube, it wasn’t about taking — or making — rap music literally, lyric for lyric. It was a reclamation of identity.

“[Black people] lost 400 years of teaching, of schooling of any kind of knowledge of our culture,” Cube said in a 1991 interview. “Right now, we’re in the process of getting that back through rap music.” Cube’s music was the crystal ball. On 1990’s “The N—- Ya Love To Hate,” Cube advises: The day is coming that you all hate / Just think if n—-s decide to retaliate … then Kicking s— called street knowledge / Why more n—-s in the pen than in college.

But it’s his second solo album, 1991’s Death Certificate, where final warnings were spelled out. This was Cube masterfully executing a concept album in the early ’90s, a new task for the still-infant genre, yet Death is comparable to Marvin Gaye’s 1971 What’s Going On, or Stevie Wonder’s 1973 Innervisions. Aside from Cube’s spectacular songwriting was his attention to sequencing detail. While the first half of the project revolves around life in the ghetto (“The Wrong N—- To F— Wit,” “My Summer Vacation” and “A Bird In The Hand”), the second half is Cube offering cultural and societal critiques (“Us,” “True To The Game” and “Color Blind”).

Certificate’s complex commentary provided validation that Cube was far more — if more was required — than a “gangsta rapper.” And importantly, gangsta rap itself was far more than violent imagery. “Cube was of that moment,” Dr. Boyd says. Racial and political tensions were high in the early ’90s. “And if you were tapped into that moment, you understood something was about to pop off. You didn’t know what it was. You didn’t know what form it was going to take. But you felt it. Cube personified that.”

His music shed light on the despair, anger, yet resiliency of life in the ’hood.

On Death’s “I Wanna Kill Sam,” Cube skillfully lacerates the federal government: Tied me up, took me outside/ And I was thrown in a big truck/ And it was packed like sardines/ Full of n—-s who fell for the same scheme/ Took us to a place and made us work/ All day and we couldn’t have s— to say/ Broke up the families forever/ And to this day black folks can’t stick together/ And it’s odd/ Broke us down, made us pray — to his God.”

Cube’s cutthroat examination of the medical discrimination black people receive in South Central also goes under the microscope “Alive on Arrival:” Woke up in the back of a trey / On my way to MLK/ That’s the county hospital, jack, ha/ Where n—-s die over a little scratch/ Sittin’ in the trauma center/ In my back is where the bullet entered/ “Yo, nurse, I’m gettin’ kinda warm!”/ B—–s still made me fill out the f—— form.

For “Black Korea,” Cube experienced backlash for his attack on Korean-Americans: So pay respect to the black fist/ Or we’ll burn your store right down to a crisp/ And then we’ll see ya/ Cause you can’t turn the ghetto into black Korea. “Korea” was largely viewed as a lyrical retaliation for the March 1991 killing of Latasha Harlins by a Korean-American store owner — a death that, along with the Rodney King verdict, is canonized as the two biggest sparks for the riots. Cube apologized for the song in February 1992, saying the record was not an indictment of all Korean-Americans but a rebuke of a select few stores “where my friends and I have had actual problems.”

Two months after the apology, the four Los Angeles Police Department officers who assaulted Rodney King were acquitted. To Ice Cube and residents of South Central, the verdict wasn’t surprising. This was no isolated incident. And soon, the Los Angeles skyline was painted with smoke rising from the flames that enveloped Los Angeles streets. The deplorable conditions that Cube had lamented for years, attempted to explain in interviews and broadcast to an entire country had finally come to fruition.

“That’s the only way you can get white people to hear what black people have to say. If you tear s— up,” Cube said of the riots. “This country uses violence for its justice. But then the country gets mad when we use violence for our justice.”

Ice Cube didn’t necessarily predict the L.A. riots as much as he diagnosed urban illnesses. Communities were ravaged by drugs. Resources provided to other parts of the vast city were omitted from South Central. Desperation led to violence. Although rap music had its faults, and didn’t please a lot of people, Cube’s music wasn’t created with the intention of making people feel good.

It was created with the intention of the listener feeling the pain and hopelessness of so many of the people Cube grew up around. He peeled back American hypocrisies and, in his own way, changed the course of American pop history. Cube did it for his people. He did it for those same friends he pulled up on in his Jeep, some of whom may not even be alive anymore.

“When it comes to records,” he recently told Apple’s Beats 1 radio station, “I just think you gotta be a voice for the voiceless.”

Pots & pans: Whites no longer have a monopoly on winning A Japanese driver finished first at the Indy 500, but some people can’t accept that

Over the Memorial Day weekend, Takuma Sato, one of my people, won the Indianapolis 500. After the race, Sato, short like me, drank deeply of the white milk, a liquid victory lap and the traditional ambrosia of Indy winners.

A native of Japan, Sato races for the Andretti family, whose auto racing patriarch, Mario, immigrated from Italy after World War II and made his last name synonymous with American speed and power.

Terry Frei found the whole scene tough to swallow: “I am very uncomfortable with a Japanese driver winning the Indianapolis 500 during the Memorial Day Weekend,” Frei wrote in a tweet.

Sato might be short like me, but he’s of Japanese descent, unlike Frei, the now-former sportswriter for The Denver Post, which fired him. To Frei’s way of thinking, Sato is from a country the United States fought during World War II (as it did the Andrettis’ Italy). Consequently, it’s hard for Frei, a veteran journalist with wide-ranging interests, to embrace Sato winning the great American race.

No matter Frei’s height and interests, his remarks made him appear small, his worldview narrow, parochial and exclusionary.

And yet, Frei’s remarks place him firmly in the tradition of those who have seen broad aspects of American society, from sports to elective politics, as a kind of invitational tournament with white people deciding who gets invited and under what circumstances.

It’s that tradition that Jack Johnson challenged and shattered when he became the first black man to win the world heavyweight boxing championship in 1908, setting off tremors in boxing and America that would not be stilled until Jess Willard beat him for the title in 1915.

More than 30 years later, Jackie Robinson continued the assault on artificial boundaries when he vaulted over Major League Baseball’s color barrier to play for the Brooklyn Dodgers.

In 2008, Barack Obama became the first black man to win our nation’s presidency, unleashing a whirlwind that continues to uproot and overturn assumptions about race and power in America up to this very moment.

What Frei and others with his mindset can’t understand or believe is that this is (or should be) the “open era” in sports and other aspects of society, here and abroad.

Sato can win Indy. Ichiro Suzuki, another native of Japan, can dazzle Major League Baseball with his hitting, fielding and baserunning. And Americans and other foreigners can compete and win in Japanese sumo wrestling.

Ultimately, Sato’s Indy victory and Frei’s reaction to it remind me that much of America continues to need what I think of as the “Little Joey Talk.” It’s the kind of lecture you’d give a child who confuses what he wants to happen with the way things are or should be.

For some reason, I can imagine the talk being delivered in President Donald Trump’s voice, perhaps via Twitter.

The talk goes like this: Little Joey or Little Terry. This is America. Everybody should get the chance to play. If everybody plays, anybody can win. And anybody who has a problem with that is a loser.