Women’s March organizers have received unexpected donations for upcoming convention Detroit is the backdrop, and the city’s sports figures want to make sure people can attend

The revolution was televised. On Jan. 21, networks tuned in to watch 2.6 million people across the world come together for an iconic moment. A five-hour rally known as the Women’s March took place.

The event highlighted topics dealing with criminal justice reform, social justice, racial discrimination, domestic violence and women’s rights, and it implored entertainers, celebrity speakers, actors and activists to help progress the cause.

Now, the Women’s March organization is taking its activism further. The first Women’s Convention will be held in Detroit from Oct. 27-29. The massive gathering, which will bring together thousands of women and allies of all backgrounds for a weekend of workshops, strategy sessions, inspiring forums and intersectional movement building, will aim to continue the preparation going into the 2018 midterm elections in Detroit.

The convention is set to bring first-time activists, movement leaders and rising political stars to the forefront. And it’s all happening a few short weeks after NFL players sat, knelt or raised their fists in protest during the national anthem in direct response to President Donald Trump’s recent comments regarding on-field protests.

Now, Detroit-based players, coaches and their families are taking their causes a bit further and stretching their likeness to organizations such as the Women’s March for their upcoming Women’s Convention. To date, former Detroit Lions linebacker DeAndre Levy and his wife, Desire Vincent Levy, recently donated $30,000, along with Detroit Pistons president and head coach Stan Van Gundy and his wife, Kim, who have also donated $10,000 to a scholarship fund for the convention.

Activist Tamika D. Mallory, national co-chairwoman for the Women’s March and founder of Mallory Consulting, said players coming together to help with the cause isn’t surprising.

“I think that has really garnered the attention of NFL supporters,” Mallory said. “With all of the issues we see happening with the NFL and how it sort of intersects with some of the issues that the Women’s March has been bringing to the forefront, it would make sense that there would be players and others within the sports industry who would want to support and help.”

Mallory notes that while the Women’s March did not have any past relationships with players, the Gathering for Justice, the organization that the Women’s March is part of, has a relationship with Colin Kaepernick.

“He donated to the gathering prior to the Women’s March and has had a very strong relationship with us,” she said. “I think that it [the decision to donate] was really important for us because it lets us know that people are not disconnected from the issues. That just because a person is playing for a sports team and it may sometimes seem as though they’re not necessarily connected to what’s happening on the ground, that’s not in fact the case. That people are actually listening, that the work that we’re doing resonates with folks from all industries. So it is certainly very encouraging to have the support of people from the sports industry, for certain.”

The organization’s decision to choose Detroit as the place to hold the Women’s Convention was made during the summer and “very intentional.”

“We were looking across the country, looking for cities that we thought represented all the issues in our Unity Principles, a place that’s sort of a microcosm of the issues that we know are happening to marginalize people in America,” she said. “Detroit specifically, you’re looking at a place where gentrification, workers’ rights, the police accountability issue, right down the road from Flint, where the water crisis continues to today. Looking at economic stability, or instability, and just looking at the displacement of black and brown folks and how that plays out within the Detroit area. Even gun violence, a major issue there. We looked at Phoenix, Arizona, we also looked at Atlanta, Georgia, and Detroit was always the No. 1 choice for us, so when we were able to find dates that worked, we went there.

“We wanted to go to a place that we could bring folks from across the country to hear from people who are dealing with very, very serious challenges, but also we know that Detroit is a place where you have so many great organizers, people who have organized and done great work throughout history, and so we know that there’s also a great cultural experience that people coming from all over the country can benefit from. Lastly, we wanted to make sure that when bringing resources into a particular city, that we as Women’s March would bring our resources to a community that needs those resources and needs an infusion of care from people across the country.”

The Levys attended the Women’s March in January. The two made their donation to the Women’s Convention “to support women and girls from Detroit to be able to attend the conference” and “for local vendors to be able to vend in a social justice city.”

“I was really excited when I learned that it was going to be coming to Detroit,” Desire Vincent Levy said. “This is important because it’s a convergence of a lot of different individuals from Detroit, from around the country, coming together to connect and build and learn. Supporting that, the connection and convergence, just given the climate of the world right now, I think is very important.”

The Levys are no strangers to giving. They host a fundraiser called Our Issue, which raises money for the backlog of neglected rape kits in Detroit.

“We also have a scholarship in partnership with the Detroit Food Academy that is funded through a dinner series called Regenerate Detroit,” Levy added.

With the climate of what’s going on right now with football players’ silent protests, Levy believes the NFL and Women’s March organization can collaborate more.

“I think both are looking for solutions and sparking and continuing conversations about inequality and injustice that’s occurring in our society,” Levy said. “To me they both have the same aspiration: to spark conversation, to get people engaged that maybe wouldn’t normally be engaged and, quite honestly, need to be engaged.”

The organizers refer to the convention as a place where people can get the tools that they need to organize locally and connect with other organizers so they are able to continue their local work.

“The resources that we have received and continue to receive from people in the sports industry and other influencers alike, it’s helpful to give us the space and the opportunity to provide them these necessary tools to organizers and activists,” Mallory said.

The new Thurgood ‘Marshall’ movie is a thrilling What-Had-Happened-Was Superstar Chadwick Boseman and director Reggie Hudlin talk colorism and the black film renaissance

Chadwick Boseman remembers the exact moment when he understood why the work he was doing — not just the grabbing of marquees, not just working alongside Hollywood’s top talent, not just surprising critics with how easily he melts into a role of some of the world’s most famous men — was cemented.

He was on the set of Draft Day, a 2014 sports drama about the Cleveland Browns and its general manager (Kevin Costner) who wants to turn around his consistently losing team with a hot draft pick. “When you’re doing a car shot,” Boseman says, leaning in and slightly pushing back the sleeves of his sharp, black bomber, “you’re following the lead car.” He said they stopped in front of the projects. “I get out of the car, and somebody says, ‘Yo, that’s that dude from that baseball movie outside, right?!’ Everybody in the projects came outside, and they were like, ‘Hey, hey, hey! I got your movie on DVD in the house!’ The DVD hadn’t come out yet. They were like, ‘It didn’t come out yet? Oh, no, no. We didn’t mean it that way. But look — I saw it.’ ” He says that’s what it’s all about. “You want people to appreciate what you’ve been doing.”

This week, Boseman’s latest film, Marshall, opens. Once again, the actor takes on a role of a historical, powerful-in-his-field man. He’s portrayed baseball and civil rights icon Jackie Robinson and the influential James Brown. Now he’s legendary lawyer and eventual Supreme Court justice Thurgood Marshall.

It’s an interesting casting, to be sure. Part of Marshall’s story is rooted in his light skin. It was a privilege. Marshall himself was the highest of yellows, and his skin color — on the verge of passable — was unmissable. Boseman, on the other hand is decidedly black, with striking chocolate skin — and that factor almost prevented him from even going after the role.

It’s an interesting casting, to be sure. Part of Marshall’s story is rooted in his light skin. It was a privilege.

Reginald Hudlin, the film’s director, said it’s been a hot topic, even among his close circle. “I’ve had friends who admitted to me, ‘I went in going I don’t know if this casting works.’ And they also have admitted, within 20 seconds, that concern was gone, it had never occurred to them. Because Chadwick’s performance is the exact spirit of Thurgood Marshall. He said that people who have clerked under Marshall, who knew him intimately, are more than satisfied. They’re like, ‘Oh, my God, how did you capture all those little nuances of his personality? You guys nailed it.’ To have that affirmed by people who have firsthand knowledge is a huge relief.”


But Marshall isn’t a biopic. It’s a dissection of one of the best legal minds in American history. And as he has done in his previous biographical work, you stop wondering about the actor at all, let alone the shade of his skin. “If this was a cradle-to-grave story about Marshall, obviously we would have to deal with his complexion,” said Boseman, who is also credited as a producer on the film. “Right now, we’re dealing with one case. He’s walking into this courtroom as a black man. He’s not a black man passing as a white man. He didn’t try to pass as a white man. He showed up as the black attorney, right? He showed up as a black man and got gagged for being black, right?”

“They didn’t say,” Boseman stops to laugh, “ ‘We’re going to gag you because you’re light-skinned-ded.’ ”

Marshall, at its best, is an examination of Marshall’s brilliance. It’s an up-close, deep dive into how Marshall changed the course of American history. “Everything is a risk,” Boseman said. “No matter what movie you do, it’s a risk. … It’s also a risk, if you look like the person, to play the role because then there’s the pressure of doing certain things a certain way.”

The court case used to examine Marshall’s legal savvy is relatively unknown — a black man in Connecticut (Sterling K. Brown) is accused of raping a white woman (Kate Hudson) — and Marshall is stripped of his voice. He’s told by a racist judge that he can’t speak in the courtroom. He couldn’t speak on behalf of his client at all. Instead, he had to employ Sam Friedman, an insurance lawyer who is a white Jewish man (Josh Gad), and teach him how to try this case. There’s a tone of Mighty Whitey here, to be sure, intermingled with a lesson on the importance of allies. Timely.

That said, it’s Boseman’s film. And not for nothing, he absolutely nails it. In four short years, the Howard University-educated Boseman has positioned himself as a force. He’s a box-office draw, and at the top of next year he leads the highly anticipated Black Panther, which surely will change the course of Hollywood, or at least continue to challenge the notion that films with predominantly black casts don’t travel internationally.

Not that Boseman isn’t up for the challenge. He’s the black man — sometimes he’s by himself — gracing Vanity Fair-like magazine gatefold layouts representing the next biggest thing in Hollywood. His representation is undeniable. And he understands his worth.


This film feels very much like 2017. It takes place in December 1940, a time when the NAACP was concentrating on its litigation in the South, suing over voting rights and equal pay for black teachers and segregation in higher education. But in the North, issues abounded as well — in Bridgeport, Connecticut, for example, there was a 1933 law that banned racial discrimination in public places, and it went unenforced in 1940. Marshall was 32 years old at the time and just beginning the work that would change the lives of black Americans for generations to come.

That notion of public discrimination is tested constantly — turn to any current news headline or cable TV news lower third for quick proof. And Marshall the movie sometimes feels like a thrilling, current-day, true-life drama. Often, when we talk about the historic work the NAACP did with Marshall as its chief legal brain trust, we think about the work done south of the Mason-Dixon line. But this case is set in a conservative white Connecticut town — away from the hard-and-fast Jim Crow laws that crippled black folks who lived in American Southern states.

“That was very much our intent. ‘Why did you choose this case? Why didn’t you do him as a Supreme Court justice? How come you didn’t do Brown v. Board of Education? Those are all worthy stories, stories that the public thinks they know — ‘Oh, I learned about Brown in fifth grade. I got that.’ You don’t got this,” Hudlin said. “You don’t know this case, you don’t know the outcome of this case, which gives me the chance to be true to genre. Because I think genre is what saves these movies from being medicine movies, which I despise. You want to make a movie that works if it wasn’t Thurgood Marshall. If Joe Blow was against the odds in this legal case, does the movie still work?”

It does. “This crime has all these broader implications, economic implications, for black folk. And for the institution of the NAACP. The truth is messy. Everyone comes into the case with their own particular set of -isms,” Hudlin said. “The challenge is, do you respect the process of the legal system to get to uncomfortable truths? And do you have enough personal integrity to acknowledge uncomfortable truths as they emerge, that don’t fit your preconceived notions? That’s how America works, you know?”


This film premieres right at the start of Hollywood’s award season preseason. In the fourth quarter of each year, we’ve come to expect the year’s best to be presented, or some of the year’s most generously budgeted films to hit the big screen.

But Marshall, perhaps, carries a bigger weight. It feels like a tipoff of a major moment for black creatives both behind and in front of the camera. This is the first time we’ve seen so many black directors working on films of this magnitude and at this level. Coming soon after this film are projects by directors Ava DuVernay (A Wrinkle In Time) and Ryan Coogler (Black Panther), and Gina Prince-Bythewood is writing and directing Spider-Man spinoff Silver & Black. And the list goes on.

“He showed up as a black man and got gagged for being black. They didn’t say, ‘We’re going to gag you because you’re light-skinned-ded.’ ” — Chadwick Boseman

“I would say like three, maybe four years ago … in separate moments … we’ve talked about what’s been happening over the past few years. And I remember leaving several of those conversations, and we said, ‘Let’s not say it publicly, but we’re in the renaissance,’ ” Boseman says. “Let’s not say it publicly, because if we say it, then people will think we’re happy with it. That we’re satisfied with that. So let’s not ever actually say it. I think now we’re at a point where there’s no point in not saying it, because it’s obvious that this is a different moment.”

This is a huge moment, but it comes with questions — plenty of them.

“My bigger-picture analysis is that there are 20-year cycles,” said Hudlin. “You have this explosion in the 1970s with the blaxploitation movement, which created a set of stars and a set of icons so powerful they still resonate today. You can say Shaft, you can say Superfly, you can say Foxy Brown, and those things still mean things to people 40 years later.” He said that then there was a five- or 10-year period, a kind of collapsing, where basically in the ’80s you have Eddie Murphy and Prince. They don’t have folks really able to make movies. “Then, in the ’90s, there was that explosion of Spike Lee, and myself, and John Singleton. Those films were different from the movies of the ’70s. More personal, you know?”

He said blacks were telling their own stories, and there were greater production values. “And then like a 10-year period, a shutdown, and really you have Tyler Perry. And now this new wave, right? And when you look at all three of these periods, the thing is, the movies get bigger, they get more varied in their subject matter, and the production value keeps increasing. When you look at the bounty of black images, of black filmmakers working in film and television — no. We’ve never had it this good. We’ve never had material this rich, and to me, the outstanding question is, when does it no longer become a cycle and becomes a fixture and part of the entertainment landscape?”

As they say on social media, that’s a question that needs an answer.

Study: Women of color underrepresented in corporate America, but also more ambitious and entrepreneurial Black women are especially more likely to desire to start their own businesses

A new study, Women in the Workplace 2017, gets straight to the point: “Women remain underrepresented at every level in corporate America, despite earning more college degrees than men for thirty years and counting.” The gap stretches from entry-level to C-suite executive jobs. It’s more pronounced for women of color generally, and is particularly acute for black women, the study finds.

“Women of color are the most underrepresented group in the corporate pipeline. They experience the greatest challenges. Yet they receive the least support — and efforts to increase diversity are not adequately addressing the magnitude of the issues they face,” the study found. “Compared to white women, things are worse for women of color, and they are particularly difficult for black women.”

The third annual report was released Tuesday. A partnership between McKinsey & Company and LeanIn.Org, it surveyed human resources practices for 222 companies and 70,000 employees, detailing their experiences regarding gender, career and work-life issues.

Rachel Thomas, president of LeanIn.org, called this year’s numbers “sadly, a very similar story to what we’ve seen for the last three years,” with progress possibly stalling. The 2015 report said it would take 100 years to reach gender parity in the workforce. In 2017, “1 in 5 C-level executives are women and, really sadly, 1 in 30 are women of color,” Thomas said.

This year’s report detailed the ways gender and race/ethnicity intersect.“It’s double discrimination,” Thomas said. “And it’s why women of color are having a worse experience.”

Here’s part of that experience by the numbers: 31 percent of black women say their managers advocate for them for opportunity, compared with 34 percent of Latina women, 40 percent of Asian women and 41 percent of white women. Black women feel less likely to interact with senior leaders, get advice or get stretch assignments from managers, and only 29 percent of black women believe the best opportunities go to the most deserving employees. That number is 34 percent for Latina women and 40 percent of Asian and white women.

Despite these findings, the study says, women of color have higher ambitions to be top executives than white women. And black women are significantly more likely to want to skip the corporate dance altogether and start their own businesses.

It’s heartening that despite their difficulties, “women of color are more ambitious than white women on average, and that black women in particular, who are having a particularly challenging experience in the workplace, lean more entrepreneurial,” Thomas said.

Sherry Sims, a former human resources professional, corporate recruiter and founder of the national Black Career Women’s Network, a community of online mentoring and coaching, said the findings track with stories that black women have shared with her. One of the most common complaints “is the overlooking when it comes to promotions and how they have felt defeated or deflated after that has happened,” Sims said. “How they’ve hit a wall because they didn’t get the position.”

Sometimes these women want to know how to be better prepared the next time a position comes open. But sometimes, Sims said, they’re battling bias, unconscious or otherwise.

“That story typically is the straw that broke the camel’s back,” she said. “I think that what happens with the entrepreneurship piece, some naturally have talents and skills to be that, and they desire that naturally, and then some use it as an opportunity to create the freedom they’re looking for in terms of being able to use their skill sets.”

Thomas said the companies surveyed get customized reports comparing their diversity efforts against others in their industries. “Because the real is that if you don’t fully see the problem and you don’t understand the problem, you can’t drive change.”

Sims said black women need to mentor each other and find people, sometimes outside of their managers, willing and able to groom them. And they have to recognize that sometimes, “all that preparation and being strategic doesn’t pay off. Navigating the workplace culture is more complex than people think,” and the specific ways that race and gender can play out, often “makes it a tough culture to crack.”

John Carlos, John Wooten know Kaepernick’s road is a long one After 50 years of fighting for change, these old warriors are unbowed but tired

Five decades before a backup NFL quarterback used the national anthem to tell America it can do better — enraging a U.S. president and millions of others, suffering the personal and professional consequences — John Carlos did the same.

He was the original.

He paid his dues, put in the time, working for social change for so long that he and Tommie Smith, his teammate on that Olympic podium in Mexico City, became the gold standard of athlete activism. They’re now so revered for their conviction and courage during the bubbling-over racial cauldron of the 1960s that there are statues of them on their college campus at San Jose State.

Carlos is now 72 years old. But he still can’t smell the roses. Or catch barely a sniff of satisfaction for all the work put in. His voice is raspy. He sounds exhausted. He knew it wasn’t over, this centuries-old cage fight for human rights. He just figured there would be more enlightened soldiers by now.

“It’s been a wakeup call for the last 50 f—ing years to let them know,” Carlos says from his home in Atlanta. “Excuse my language.”

“Like I been sayin’ for 50 years, there ain’t no neutrality. You gotta be on one side or the other. This man [President Donald Trump] is pushing them to make a decision, to find out who they really are. It’s time to get involved, to speak your truth — ‘You’re going to call me for what I am and respond to me for what I am’ — or you’re going to be a sucka for all eternity.”

You don’t want to be a sucka for all eternity.


A group of top African-American athletes from different sporting disciplines gather to give support and hear the boxer Muhammad Ali give his reasons for rejecting the draft during the Vietnam War, at a meeting of the Negro Industrial and Economic Union, held in Cleveland, June 4, 1967. Seated in the front row, from left to right: Bill Russell, Muhammad Ali, Jim Brown, and Kareem Abdul Jabbar. Standing behind them are: Carl Stokes, Walter Beach, Bobby Mitchell, Sid Williams, Curtis McClinton, Willie Davis, Jim Shorter and John Wooten.

Bettmann/Contributor/Getty Images

John Wooten was blocking for Jim Brown in Cleveland and learned a brother needed help: Muhammad Ali was facing charges for refusing to fight the war in Vietnam. Wooten began calling famous black athletes willing to stand with Ali at the Cleveland Summit. From Brown to the future Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, they all said, “No problem, we’ll be there.”

He knew it wouldn’t be over in 1967 when he stood behind The Greatest and alongside Bill Russell at that historic conclave of change agents. But 50 years later, Wooten is 80 years old, and there’s no sense of triumph for him either. No sense of finality in his war against inequality.

It’s going on midnight at his home in Arlington, Texas. He’s tired, the words tumbling slowly and deliberately through the receiver.

“It’s obvious to me that nowhere does our president understand the Constitution of this country,” says Wooten, the chairman of the Fritz Pollard Alliance, which promotes diversity in the coaching ranks and front offices of the NFL. “Because those players standing or kneeling or sitting did not break one single law of this country, nor have they broken any rule in the National Football League.”

Wooten has a couple of more thoughts before going to bed, so he can get up and fight tomorrow.

“When does unsportsmanlike conduct come in when men are standing to show this country that they are concerned about the young people being killed across the country? Are the football players and athletes to pretend this doesn’t exist?”


These two athletic icons for human rights know that change comes embarrassingly slowly. Fighting for it is soul-siphoning hard. Discouragement and defeat are just as frequent, if not more frequent, than success and victory. It wears you down and can leave you bitter.

“Listen, man, they are out there all the time,” said Carlos of the racists in our midst. “When they come, they come in numbers. The real sad thing is, they’re more united than we’ve ever been. Even people now, they think these dudes [protesting] hate their country instead of fighting for a better world and saying we can do better. Fifty years after Tommie and me, really, how far have we come?”

“It’s time to get involved, to speak your truth — ‘You’re going to call me for what I am and respond to me for what I am’ — or you’re going to be a sucka for all eternity.” – John Carlos

Next summer is the golden anniversary of Carlos and Smith bowing their heads, standing on the podium without shoes to symbolize American poverty, and raising their gloved fists. The next day they were expelled from the U.S. team and sent home. For the next 10 years, “my life was hell,” Carlos told Vox last year. He lost much more than money: friends, his marriage. They loved him. But they were scared they, too, would be ostracized.

Ali’s anti-war position was blasphemy to many Americans in 1967. But “we didn’t care about any perceived threats,” Wooten told the Cleveland Plain-Dealer this past year to mark the summit’s anniversary. “We weren’t concerned because we weren’t going to waver. We were unified. We all had a real relationship with each other, and we knew we were doing something for the betterment of all.”

The country forked in thought with some repulsed and others viewing their acts as courageous.

Just like … now.

“Why does it take for [Trump] to make that one statement to make all [players] react now, when they know they should’ve reacted earlier anyway?” Carlos said. “They should have been out there a long time ago to support [Colin] Kaepernick and Michael Bennett. They all should have been rallying around them.

“But Trump done put it on the line now and told them, ‘If you do it, we gon’ spank your a–.’ And that’s a threat. So now it’s on the owners — should they disrespect the will of their players, their human rights?”

Says Wooten: “I hope these players will … show the president and the country the unity felt by all of us who want to see a better, more just world. And that those who feel it is an affront to patriotism will one day see that this act of solidarity is about making America better, not worse.”

Many NFL owners locked arms with their players on Sunday. Some released statements in support of their socially conscious employees. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith bonded over a common enemy.

“Those players standing or kneeling or sitting did not break one single law of this country, nor have they broken any rule in the National Football League.” – John Wooten

Former Cleveland Browns great John Wooten watches during an NFL football game between the Browns and New York Jets on Sunday, Nov. 14, 2010, in Cleveland.

AP Photo/David Richard

Wooten is more measured than Carlos, who is animated, sometimes angry and trying ineffectually to avoid a public scrap with Trump.

“The man is creating so much division in the country,” he continued. “You better get ready for the next Civil War, brother. Not to mention the wall. What can I say, man? If I get out there right now, I’m going to lambaste the man so bad, ’cause I ain’t gonna hold s— back about where his mind his. I don’t want to get into no running battle with this fool.”

Voice rising, Carlos is spiritually back in the ’60s. And, of course, that’s the most wrenching part: Fifty years later, not enough has changed.


Large chunks of our society don’t see black men kneeling for racial justice and a more equitable country. They see people demeaning Arlington National Cemetery’s dead.

Wooten and Carlos know of this historical bait and switch. They refuse to allow #TakeAKnee to be reframed as a referendum on “The Star-Spangled Banner.” It’s a protest of police brutality and racism, the often senseless killing of black men by overwhelmingly white law enforcement. That’s it.

“You would think the NFL is a Hollywood show now, the way they promote it on TV, where it’s about family and inclusive and we’re all happy,” Carlos says derisively.

“Until we go into a meeting to find out why this young man isn’t in the NFL now playing. He’s played for several years. He’s gone to the Super Bowl. He’s better than a lot of quarterbacks in the league. Why is it that he’s not playing? But [Goodell] refuses to answer and address that, and the public refuses to demand him to do that. And everybody eats it up and does nothing.”

Carlos is resigned to the fact that most people will never care as much as he does. Wooten is more hopeful, if equally tired. For 50 years, nothing has happened quickly for either of them.

It’s the right fight; it’s just not an easy one. You devote your life to something for that long, you pay a price. People get burned out. It’s deflating.

But the best of them keep going, because they know the alternative. It’s too important, too ingrained in their identities. Today’s players need their wisdom and strength now just as Ali and Smith needed them then.

John Carlos is 72. John Wooten is 80. Their joints throb. They’re tired. And 50 years later, they still live for the fight.

At American Legion Hall, patriotism is complicated by the persistent realities of being black Discomfort with national anthem protests coupled with disgust over Trump’s denunciation of players

Old Glory flapped in the breeze outside American Legion Hall 263 near Baltimore Sunday as a group of black veterans and their relatives gathered inside to enjoy America’s game.

The Baltimore Ravens were getting roasted by the Jacksonville Jaguars on television, but much of the talk was about the groundswell of national anthem protests triggered by President Donald Trump’s angry outburst denouncing them. Dozens of Ravens and Jaguar players took a knee in defiance of Trump, and many others stood on the sidelines locking arms in a show of support.

“This much is for sure, Trump only fueled the fire,” said Richard Smith, 71, who served with the 82nd Airborne during the Vietnam War before going on to a career as a butcher. “It is amazing that he had more to say about this than he did about those racists marching in Charlottesville.”

Smith is proud of his military service and proud of his imperfect country. Truth be told, he was ambivalent about the NFL players who took a knee or raised a fist during the national anthem. But once Trump weighed in — calling on NFL owners who see players “disrespecting the flag” to “get that son of a b—- off the field right now” — Smith felt disgust, not solidarity, with the commander in chief.

“I don’t agree with taking a knee when the Star-Spangled Banner is played,” Smith said. “I thought it was not the right way to protest real problems. But, that said, I know Trump never served in the military. Now, he is cursing and disrespecting these guys. It only makes their point.”

Many of the Legionnaires and their family members voiced similar sentiments as they came to the hall for an afternoon of football as they do every Sunday during the NFL season. On one hand, they know better than most the sacrifice of military service. They also believe deeply in the promise of America. They spoke proudly of leading happy, productive lives and having children and grandchildren living the American Dream, with good jobs, nice homes, and successful families.

Ronald E. Randall Sr., outside of Jackson and Johnson Memorial Post 263 during the Ravens game.

Reginald Thomas II for The Undefeated

But their sense of patriotism and reverence for the nation’s symbols are complicated by the persistent realities of being black. They salute the American flag that flies in front of their stucco-faced hall. They rise for the national anthem. But they also know firsthand that their allegiance to the flag has not always protected their rights. For them, the national anthem can come across as both a song of soaring inspiration and a hollow tune.

Ronald E. Randall Sr., 69, a retired school custodian whose father and brother served in the Navy, grew up not far from the legion hall in an enclave that has been all black since just after Emancipation. As a kid, he was barred from the white-only swimming pools during Baltimore’s sweltering summers. His mother could not shop along the local commercial strip. That was for whites only, too. He was in junior high when the public schools were integrated, and he remembers he and his black friends having to brawl with insult-hurling white students before they were left alone.

Legal segregation was struck from the books more than six decades ago, but the stretch of wood-frame homes in the neighborhood, now known as the Winters Lane Historic District, remains overwhelmingly black. Economics, it turns out, is as effective as the law when it comes to limiting mobility. Homes just a few blocks away in mostly white Catonsville sell for at least double the cost of those on Winters Lane.

“That’s the kind of thing that makes people say really nothing has changed,” Randall said. “The players see that and that is what they are protesting. I don’t carry hate in my heart, but I know a lot of white folks have no respect for us.”

They rise for the national anthem. But they also know firsthand that their allegiance to the flag has not always protected their rights.

Smith remembers family members telling stories from when housing segregation in Baltimore was enforced not just by compliant real estate agents, but also by the fists and bricks of whites who could not countenance black neighbors.

“People used to attack you if you went into certain neighborhoods, just for being black,” he said. “We’ve come a long way, but racism is going to be with us for a long time.”

Consuella Rheubottom, 77, who has two sons who served in the Army, tends bar at the hall. Fewer than a dozen people are in the dimly lit bar, a couple are playing on slot machines and others sit on their stools, watching the game on two flat screens.

Rheubottom said she felt some discomfort with the anthem protests. Yet, she felt repulsed — and scrambled to turn her television off — when she heard Trump insulting the players who chose to demonstrate.

“I was not sure what I thought about the protests. I can’t say that I firmly support them. I did not oppose them either,” she said, looking up as she mixed whiskey sours. “But I do know that what the president said is ignorant.”

Edward Neal, 85, a retired laboratory technician wearing a Ravens cap, slowly settled into a corner stool in the hall’s bar as conversation about the protests wore on. It was not long before he joined in.

Consuella Rheubottom makes whiskey sours at Jackson and Johnson Memorial Post 263 during the Ravens game.

Reginald Thomas II for The Undefeated

He has mixed feelings about it all, he said. Neal agreed that the protesters have a point. While race relations have improved during his lifetime, he said, there is still is a long way to go to achieve equality. At the same time, he has deep respect for those who choose to serve in the military, because has seen the physical costs of war up close. Serving as a medical corpsman during the Korean War, he helped treat troops with severed limbs and horrific burns. That kind of sacrifice, he said, should always be respected. The anthem protests can lead people to think that the sacrifice is not being honored, he said.

He added that teams should stand together. Unity is tested when some kneel and others stand for the anthem. And issues of social justice, he argued, are best debated in the halls of government and the courts.

Despite that, Neal took no comfort from Trump’s words. “What the president said was out of order,” he said. “If that is all he had to contribute, he should have said nothing.”

Ibram Kendi, one of the nation’s leading scholars of racism, says education and love are not the answer Founder of new anti-racism center at American University sees impact of policy, culture on black athletes

It’s a Wednesday night at a bookstore in a well-off part of Washington, D.C., and every seat is taken. More than 100 people spill into the aisles or crowd the stacks past the philosophy and cookbook sections to hear Ibram X. Kendi talk about the racist ideas that founded the nation. About how racial progress is always followed by new and more sophisticated racist progress. And, especially, about the deeply held beliefs that most Americans, including black people and liberal whites, woke up with this morning that they don’t even know are racist and wrong.

For instance, “Black neighborhoods are not more dangerous than white neighborhoods and neither are black people,” Kendi tells the crowd. Layers of racist ideas account for why we think so.

Last year, the 35-year-old scholar became the youngest person to win the National Book Award for nonfiction in 30 years for Stamped from the Beginning, The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America.

And this year, his moment continues. He’s just moved to Washington, where he is launching the Antiracist Research and Policy Center at American University next week. He’s a historian of racism at a time when our public conversation is fixed on it, when successive presidents have triggered the tribal apprehensions of our Mason-Dixon lines, and when the threat of shoot-you-down, run-you-over racial violence feels as close at hand as the peril to the republic from fake facts and revisionist history. This convergence of circumstances keeps him perpetually on book tour.

Ibram Kendi, right, addresses the audience as Washington Post reporter Wesley Lowery, who was the presenter for the event, stands by.

André Chung for The Undefeated

A diverse group made up a standing-room-only audience during Dr. Ibram Kendi’s recent book promotion event at Politics and Prose.

André Chung for The Undefeated

With the breadth of his scholarship and expanse of his reach, Kendi has been compared to the famed late historian John Hope Franklin, except he wears his locs long and his edges laid. He used to fantasize about a career in the NBA — or, at the very least, on SportsCenter. He’ll hit you back on Twitter.

Just so you know, black people are not inherently better athletes than white people, Kendi says. We only think so because “black people have not only been rendered inferior to white people, they’ve been rendered like animals,” and thus physically superior creatures. It’s an old racist idea that helped justify African-Americans’ suitability for backbreaking labor and medical experiments and the theft of their children. “When we embrace this as part of our identity,” Kendi says, “we don’t understand.” He wants to correct our misunderstandings.

Education, love and exemplary black people will not deliver America from racism, Kendi says. Racist ideas grow out of discriminatory policies, he argues, not the other way around. And if his new center can help identify and dismantle those policies in the U.S. and around the world, he believes we can start to eliminate racism. At least that’s the goal.

As the evening wears on in the crowded bookstore, people line up at microphones to question, challenge or offer up hosannas to this young scholar, who, in many ways, is just getting started.


Ibram Kendi is the new founding director of The Anti-Racist and Policy Center at American University. He is a leading thinker on race and his 2016 book, “Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America” won the National Book Award.

André Chung for The Undefeated

Kendi apologizes for the spare office space he shares with a colleague inside American University’s School of International Service. The walls are bare, and his name has not yet made it outside the door. He’s still unpacking from the move to D.C. with his wife, Sadiqa, a pediatric emergency room physician at Children’s National Health Center, and their 1-year-old daughter, Imani. It’s an ambitiously busy life.

Besides being the founding director of the research center, he’s teaching history and international relations as part of a joint appointment that brought him from the University of Florida, where he was a professor of African-American history.

He’s learning the city, and working on priorities for the center — part think tank, policy shop and incubator for anti-racism strategies — which formally launches next fall. It joins dozens of other customized centers of racial research. One of the earliest and most notable, the W.E.B Du Bois Research Institute at Harvard University, rose to prominence under the leadership of Henry Louis Gates Jr. This year, “year zero,” is to raise funds and recruit researchers, faculty and students.

The goal is to identify inequalities, identify the policies that create and maintain those inequalities, and propose correctives in six areas: criminal justice, education, economics, health, environment and politics. Kendi also hopes to create an online library of anti-racist thinking. He’s still considering initial projects.

But when he talks about racism, he is not still puzzling out his ideas. Kendi has spent thousands of hours reading thousands of documents, including “some of the most horrific things that have ever been said about black people,” to uncover the origins of racist thought. His words are distilled, precise, authoritative. His voice never rises. He is, temperamentally, an antidote to the heat of the subject matter and the hyperbole of the times.

“We have been taught that ignorance and hate lead to racist ideas, lead to racist policies,” Kendi said. “If the fundamental problem is ignorance and hate, then your solutions are going to be focused on education, and love and persuasion. But of course [Stamped from the Beginning] shows that the actual foundation of racism is not ignorance and hate, but self-interest, particularly economic and political and cultural.” Self-interest drives racist policies that benefit that self-interest. When the policies are challenged because they produce inequalities, racist ideas spring up to justify those policies. Hate flows freely from there.

The self-interest: The Portuguese had to justify their pioneering slave trade of African people before the pope.

The racist idea: Africans are barbarians. If we remove them from Africa and enslave them, they could be civilized.

“We can understand this very simply with slavery. I’m enslaving people because I want to make money. Abolitionists are resisting me, so I’m going to convince Americans that these people should be enslaved because they’re black, and then people will start believing those ideas: that these people are so barbaric, that they need to be enslaved, or that they are so childlike that they need to be enslaved.”

Kendi boils racist ideas down to an irreducible core: Any idea that suggests one racial group is superior or inferior to another group in any way is a racist idea, he says, and there are two types. Segregationist ideas contend racial groups are created unequal. Assimilationist ideas, as Kendi defines them, argue that both discrimination and problematic black people are to blame for inequalities.

“The actual foundation of racism is not ignorance and hate, but self-interest.”

Americans who don’t carry tiki torches react viscerally to segregationist ideas like those on display at the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, that left one young counter-protester dead. Assimilationist ideas are more subtle, seductive and coded.

“You can be someone who has no intention to be racist,” who believes in and fights for equality, “but because you’re conditioned in a world that is racist and a country that is structured in anti-black racism, you yourself can perpetuate those ideas,” says Kendi. No matter what color you are.

Anti-racist ideas hold that racial groups are equal. That the only thing inferior about black people is their opportunities. “The only thing wrong with black people is that we think there is something wrong with black people,” a line that Kendi uses like a mantra.

The Blue Lives Matter (the problem is violent black people) Black Lives Matter (the problem is the criminal justice system, poor training and police bias) and All Lives Matter (the problem is police and black people) arguments are extensions of the same, three-way debate (segregationist, anti-racist and assimilationist) that Americans have been having since the founding of the country.

“We’ve been taught American history as a steady march of racial progress,” but it’s always been a dual march of racial and racist progress, which we see from Charlottesville to “their Trump Tower,” Kendi says.

This is the jump-off Kendi uses to frame the most roiling issues of the day. But before he could build that frame, he first had to deal with his own racism.


Ibram Kendi

André Chung for The Undefeated

Kendi was born Ibram H. Rogers in Jamaica, Queens, New York, to parents who’d been student activists and were inspired by black liberation theology. He grew up playing basketball and still is an ardent New York Knicks fan.

The family moved to Manassas, Virginia, where Kendi attended Stonewall Jackson High School (named for the Confederate general) and dreamed of a career on the hardwood. The slim, 6-foot-1 former guard says he specialized in the no-look pass. “I consider the beautiful pass the most beautiful part of the game of basketball,” he says.

Sweet passing aside, his basketball aspirations were irrevocably dashed his sophomore year when he failed to make the junior varsity team. “I was so crushed,” Kendi says.

He studied journalism at Florida A&M University and initially wanted to be a broadcaster or a sportswriter. But after internships at The Mobile Register and The Atlanta Journal Constitution, he began to shift his career focus. He wound up getting a doctorate in African-American studies from Temple University. His first book, on the black student protest movement in the ’60s and ’70s, was published in 2012. He began researching Stamped from the Beginning the following year.

That’s when he started to re-examine some of his most deeply held beliefs about race. “I was born into a world of racist ideas, many of which I had consumed myself,” says Kendi. “I had to come to grips with … some of the things that I imagined and thought,” about black people “and one of the first and most obvious ones was the idea that black neighborhoods are more dangerous than white neighborhoods, which is a very popular idea.”

The highest instances of violent crime correspond with high unemployment and poverty, and that holds true across racial lines, Kendi found. Most white poverty, unemployment and thus violent crimes occur in rural areas, while for blacks those ills are more concentrated in densely populated urban neighborhoods. If impoverished white communities “had five times more people, then that community would have five times, presumably, more violent crime.”

“I was born into a world of racist ideas, many of which I had consumed myself.”

Another racist idea: “I believed that black children were achieving at a lower level than white children. And I believed in the existence of an achievement gap,” says Kendi. Standardized tests prioritize reading and writing as measures of verbal proficiency, as opposed to the wider ability to articulate. And they test subject areas where black schools are vastly underresourced.

“I certainly am somebody who advocates equalizing the resources of school and creating a situation in which we actually live up to our pronouncements that we live in a meritorious society,” says Kendi. “But even if these schools persist in being resourced unequally, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the students in the schools with lesser resources are intellectually inferior to the students with better resources.” He reaches into history to illustrate his point: Just because slaves’ lives were circumscribed, they faced more adversity and they dealt with more violence, that doesn’t mean enslaved people were inferior to people who were free.

A “more lighthearted area” he had to confront was his ideas about dating black women. “Black women were angry, they didn’t know what they want, they’re difficult,” he’d heard. “And from my standpoint, those are some of the things that I said when I was having some difficulties in dating.” When we have negative experiences with individuals, “we often say there’s a problem with that black group,” without realizing those are racist ideas.

Now, he’s a poster child for black love. He and his telegenic wife met on Match.com and debuted their new last name Kendi (“loved one” in the Kenyan language of Meru) at their 2013 wedding in Jamaica, which was featured in Essence magazine.

Mark Anthony Neal, a professor of African and African-American studies at Duke University, calls Kendi part of a vanguard of young black historians, which includes Treva Lindsey at Ohio State and Brittney Cooper of Rutgers, who are transforming the field. Part of what makes him right for the moment is his ability to speak to millennials, who have access to lots of information but can’t always decipher what is good or bad. “What he has written is an accessible history of black folks,” said Neal. In terms of a book for general readers “that covers such a wide historical period, the only thing I can think about in terms of comparison is John Hope Franklin’s From Slavery to Freedom.”

Kendi’s book resonates like the 2015 National Book Award winner, Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, said Neal. “Ta-Nehisi’s was kind of an emotional analysis of what this moment is. Kendi’s was to bring that kind of energy, except to do it in a historical context. I think it’s important to be able to talk about the history of these racist ideas, the impact they’ve had on black people and black life.”

With regard to the most front-and-center issue in sports today, athletes and activism, Kendi says it’s important to remember that the athlete/activists of the 1960s — Muhammad Ali, Jim Brown and Tommie Smith — all spoke out in the context of the Black Power movement, which is “precisely what’s happening now” with Colin Kaepernick and others who were inspired by Black Lives Matter. “We look for athletes to generate movements, when historically athletes have been good at being athletes, which is precisely what they should be good at, and we should be looking to activists to generate movements.” There will then be those athletes who use their platforms to support those movements and ideologies.

Kendi says that while the numbers of black players on the fields, courts and arenas have increased dramatically over the past 50 years, it’s been harder to make shifts at other positions.

“We should determine diversity in sports, just like outside of sports, not by the transient players but by the people who are permanent, like the owners, like the coaches, like the sports writers, like the executives.” If those groups “are lily-white, then [a sport] is simply not diverse.”

This kind of analysis gives Kendi cachet beyond the ivory tower and makes him popular with students, Neal said. Young people see Kendi with his locs and his ability to communicate in a vernacular they know and that expands their thinking about the possibilities for their own lives. They’ll say, “This is somebody I can imagine being somewhere down the line,” said Neal.

“We should determine diversity in sports, just like outside of sports, not by the transient players but by the people who are permanent, like the owners, like the coaches, like the sportswriters, like the executives.”

Peter Starr, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at American University and one of those responsible for bringing Kendi to the university, cites Washington as an organic place to do anti-racist work. “To make real lasting change, change that lasts beyond changes of administrations and flips from one party to the next, you really need to reach out to people who are making more fundamental policy on the ground, in the agencies and throughout the government,” he said.

Starr calls Kendi’s vision to use researchers from around the country an approach that mirrors what happens in the sciences. “He’s got a very expansive vision of the center, and we really think this is a center that’s not just the usual, relatively small, one-person shop,” he said.

He calls Stamped from the Beginning the kind of book scholars write in their 50s and 60s. But Kendi’s impact will transcend the written words, Starr said. Especially since American has struggled with racist incidents recently.

In May, bananas were found hanging from nooses at three locations on the American University campus. This followed racist social media messages and a banana thrown into a black student’s dorm in the past few years.

For students of color and “all students, being able to look to someone like Ibram Kendi, who is a model of intelligent scholarship and activism informed by deep contextual and historical understanding,” is powerful, said Starr. He’s got “a fire to make a difference in the world that I’m not sure I’ve ever seen in another scholar, frankly.”


Ibram Kendi greets fans at Politics and Prose after discussing his book.

André Chung for The Undefeated

At the bookstore, the questions, and disquisitions posing as questions, continue as the crowd grapples with, or pushes back against, Kendi’s ideas about race and America.

“I think that the issue is that the Africans and the Europeans really can’t mix,” one person steps to the mic to say.

Across the room, another questioner says, “Gentiles are underrepresented on Wall Street. White males are underrepresented in the NBA. At what point does the assimilation shift into something where other factors come into play?”

“All right now, tell it like it is,” says E. Veronica Pace, a genealogist who steps to the microphone and identifies herself as a student of Howard University sociologist E. Franklin Frazier. She asks about the book’s title, which was taken from a speech in which Confederate President Jefferson Davis called racial inequality “stamped from the beginning.”

Finally, the talk is over and people form a line that stretches toward the door to have him sign their books. “If we are all mindful about this and put our hearts and souls into it, we can turn this ship around,” says James Kilgore, whose wife is in the line. He’s says he’s waiting to see what Kendi is going to do.

For starters, he’s working on another book, a memoir entitled How to be An Anti-Racist. “Racist ideas become almost like a drug. Once you hear them and become hooked, you need more in order to sustain the way you see the world, right?” Kendi says. “I was hooked for a long time,” and now “I’m trying to relieve other people.”

And he’s focused on launching the center he’d like to help change the world. The former sports reporter reaches for a metaphor. It’s a rare moment where his equanimity seems to falter, just for a bit, perhaps from the weight of the task at hand. “I’m on the court and I’ve suited up. Now the game is about to start and I have to be ready to perform,” Kendi says. “And to win.”

March on Washington Film Fest features 9th Wonder, Diahann Carroll and Eric Holder This year’s festival looks at civil rights across sports, entertainment, higher education and the legal system

The March on Washington Film Festival returns this month for its fifth year of celebrating films that explore themes of civil rights, activism and social justice.

Panels and events including actress Diahann Carroll, producer 9th Wonder and former Attorney General Eric Holder are among the highlights of the 21 events that run from July 13-22.

Holder will be on hand for a couple of events. He’s part of a panel discussing Walk With Me: The Trials of Damon J. Keith before an invitation-only audience July 20 at the Supreme Court. And he and his wife, Sharon Malone, will be presenting writer Ta-Nehisi Coates with the Vivian Malone Courage Award on July 15. Vivian Malone, Sharon’s sister, was one of two students who integrated the University of Alabama in 1963 and became its first black graduate in 1965.

Carroll will be attending to support a documentary-in-progress co-directed by her daughter, Suzanne Kay. Festivalgoers will get a glimpse of the film from Kay and Margo Speciale about The Ed Sullivan Show and its importance in introducing America to black artists. Sullivan faced threats and boycotts for integrating his variety show, one of the most watched programs in America, but he persisted nevertheless. The full documentary is expected to be completed in 2018.

9th Wonder, the ear behind Jay-Z’s Black Album, Kendrick Lamar’s Damn., and Anderson .Paak’s Malibu, will be on hand to discuss The Hip-Hop Fellow (2014) with the Kennedy Center’s new director of hip-hop programming, Simone Eccleston, on July 21. The Hip-Hop Fellow follows 9th Wonder (also known as Patrick Douthit) as a fellow at Harvard’s Hip-Hop Research Institute, where he also taught for the 2012-13 school year. Among the records that 9th Wonder selected to be archived in Harvard’s Loeb Music Library: A Tribe Called Quest‘s The Low End Theory, Lauryn Hill’s The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, Nas’ Illmatic and Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly.

This year’s festival also marks the introduction of the Freedom’s Children Student Journalists Competition. Earlier this year, students from around the country submitted work for the chance to cover the festival for various journalism outlets. The Undefeated is participating and will be running work from the winners.

Also worth a gander:

Olympic Pride, American Prejudice

Deborah Riley Draper’s 2016 documentary, narrated by Blair Underwood, looks beyond Jesse Owens to the 17 other black American athletes who participated in the 1936 Berlin Olympics, some of whom also won medals at the Games.

Scarred Justice: The Orangeburg Massacre 1968

When many people think of violent clashes between college students and the police, the horrors of Kent State spring to mind. But Scarred Justice: The Orangeburg Massacre 1968, the 2008 film from directors Bestor Cram and Judy Richardson, reveals the history and context behind a standoff at South Carolina State University in 1968, when South Carolina Highway Patrol officers killed three protesters and injured 27 others who were demonstrating for the desegregation of an Orangeburg bowling alley.

Winnie

Director Pascale Lamche’s 2017 documentary about the freedom fighter and former wife of Nelson Mandela premiered this year at Sundance. Winnie Mandela sat for four interviews in two years with Lamche, and the result is a look at her fight against apartheid in South Africa and the toll it took on her and her marriage. The festival will host a discussion at the National Museum of Women in the Arts on July 19 with poet Elizabeth Alexander and Gay McDougall of the U.N. Committee for Ending Racial Discrimination.

Festival attendees can check out the full event lineup and purchase passes and tickets at http://marchonwashingtonfilmfestival.org.

This article has been changed to correct the number of events and the relationship of Vivian and Sharon Malone.

The fight for reparations can be a useful decoy in solving America’s racial wealth gap ‘Baby bonds’ is a more politically viable answer to the disparity in black and white wealth

Reparations can help close the racial wealth gap — just not the way you might think.

America’s racial wealth gap should leave us all gloomy. For every dollar owned by the median black household, the median white household owned $13. And for every dollar owned by the median Latino household, the median white household owned $10. Those numbers are from a recent study, The Asset Value of Whiteness, produced by researchers at the think tank Demos and Brandeis University, based on data from 2013.

Our path to this inequity began centuries ago: Slavery. Segregation. Redlining. We don’t appreciate how much programs like the GI Bill disproportionately helped white World War II veterans attend college and buy homes with guaranteed mortgages. This and other federal policies intentionally bolstered a largely white American middle class while crippling that of people of color.

A country in which wealth is so unevenly distributed along racial lines reproduces racial stratification generation after generation. As the study notes, if “a substantial racial wealth gap persists, white households will continue to enjoy greater advantages than their black and Latino neighbors in meeting the financial challenges of everyday life and will be able to make greater investments in their children, passing economic advantages on.”

Crucially, the report refutes theories that a lack of personal responsibility explains the gap. Minorities should just attend college more. Raise their children in two-parent households. Get full-time jobs. Spend less money. None of these appreciably closes the racial wealth gap, though.

How can we ameliorate this situation? I see two ways forward.

One way is to champion universal policies that help all racial groups but disproportionately help people of color because they disproportionately lack wealth. An idea called “baby bonds” is the best version of such a policy.

The other way is to push for race-conscious policies such as reparations. The former provides a more viable route, given political realities, but reparations can be a strategic decoy that eases the acceptance of baby bonds. We must walk both paths if the racial wealth gap is to ever be closed.


William “Sandy” Darity Jr., a Duke economics professor, and Darrick Hamilton, an economics professor at The New School in New York, came up with the idea for baby bonds.

Each newborn child would be granted a bond, a federally funded trust fund of sorts. The poorest child would get, say, $60,000, with the amount dwindling to nothing for the children of the richest families. The money would be put in an interest-bearing account that becomes accessible upon adulthood and could only be used for wealth-building activities, such as going to college or putting a down payment on a home. They figure the program would cost about $60 billion per year, which, Darity and Hamilton wrote in an academic paper, is “less than 10% of the non-war spending budget for the Department of Defense.”

Some might contend that baby bonds, by focusing on wealth rather than race, unsatisfactorily address a racial problem. But, Darity and Hamilton argue in their paper, “Since the distributions of white and non-white wealth are so disparate — 85% of black families have wealth holdings below the median white family — wealth can be an effective non-race-based instrument to eliminate racial inequality.” Darity told me he thinks baby bonds “could go a long way toward closing the racial wealth gap.”

The universality of baby bonds also gives it the potential to attract support from an interracial coalition of working-class people pursuing their own economic self-interest. Such a coalition could form a base that a political majority can rest upon. A poor white person in West Virginia would have as much reason to support this program as a poor black person in rural Alabama. Baby bonds might get people to appreciate their commonality with others who, because of race, rarely think of themselves as having the same interests.

Given our political climate, many will be pessimistic about the likelihood of forming such an interracial coalition. Although that sentiment is understandable, we have reason for optimism.

The current era in American politics can be compared to Southern Redemption, the period when white supremacist politicians regained power after Reconstruction. In the wake of Redemption, however, Southern populist movements in the late 1800s gained traction, getting poor white folk to ally with poor black folk by explicitly arguing that powerful white elites kept them both in poverty. These populist politicians carried a consistent and truthful message: White elites used racism to separate white and black folk who were mired in destitution yet could be lifted together through responsive lawmaking.

These times call for a similar movement, which will admittedly require a gargantuan effort. But the fact that politicians in the 1880s, two decades after the end of slavery, were able to join working people of different races should give us hope. Baby bonds — particularly because they focus on what people are most concerned with, the future of their children — can be a policy that drives this movement.


Reparations are the most prominent race-conscious means to address the racial wealth gap. But when can we conclude that a seed will never germinate? Black folk have been working the reparations land for more than two centuries with little to show for it.

During the Revolutionary War, Peter, a free black man behind British lines, was enslaved by William Steel, an American officer. Peter was freed after six months, but years later he sued Steel for back wages, one of the first claims for reparations for the atrocities visited upon black people. The court held that he articulated a viable claim but awarded him no money.

Toward the end of the Civil War, when black folk who freed themselves cried out for land of their own, Gen. William T. Sherman’s Special Field Order No. 15 provided them a loaned mule and 40-acre plots on the Southern coastline. President Andrew Johnson later revoked it, however, returning the land to its original white owners.

In 1894, a bill was introduced in the U.S. Senate that would have paid a lump sum of at most $500 and monthly pensions ranging from $4 to $15 to formerly enslaved people and their children. This and comparable bills never received floor votes in either house of Congress, and the “pension movement” fizzled once World War I started. Reparations arguments bubbled up again during the 1960s. And in every congressional session since 1987, Rep. John Conyers has introduced a bill that would form a commission to study the effects of slavery and American apartheid and “recommend appropriate remedies.” This bill has gone nowhere. The struggle continues, but the goal is still far away in the distance.

Reparations were once just about slavery. Its proponents have updated the claim to include harm from Jim Crow, 19th- and 20th-century white-over-black governing and 21st-century racial discrimination. The underlying claim is simple: A series of evils have been inflicted on black people, causing various lacerations requiring healing. That healing, under the most-discussed scenarios, would come in the form of taxpayer-funded payouts. And therein lies the issue — the belief that white folk would ever take billions out of their pockets to specifically remedy the harm perpetrated upon black folk.

The reparations movement has never managed to get around that impasse, as many white people are loath to do right by black people without also reaping a benefit.

To flesh out the point, let’s examine Sherman’s field order. He devised it not to champion black interests but to aid himself: He needed a way to discard, while also providing for, the freedmen who had followed his troops during their march from Atlanta to the Atlantic Ocean. And he desired to punish the Confederates who started the war. He achieved both with one move. If he thought the order would have helped the freedmen but undercut the Union’s interests, Sherman would never have championed it, and President Abraham Lincoln would never have endorsed it.

Besides doing nothing to close the racial wealth gap regarding Latinos, reparations provide little to black folk — because it’s a dream that will never come to life.


Despite my pessimism about reparations, the movement can act as a strategic decoy to help popularize a policy like baby bonds.

Think back to Martin Luther King Jr.’s civil rights movement triumphs. He was one voice among many petitioning for racial equality. Several of the others who registered nationally came from his political left. Malcolm X and black power advocates like Stokely Carmichael helped King because they made his militancy appear moderate. King’s desire for black folk to be equal partners in American democracy departed dramatically from the status quo, yet he looked judicious in a sea of more militant aesthetics.

Advocacy for reparations can have the same effect: It can be the radical idea that makes baby bonds seem like a moderate panacea to the racial wealth gap.

Even so, reparations should be sold differently to be a better strategic decoy. Al Brophy, a law professor at the University of North Carolina and the author of Reparations: Pro and Con, told me that, “one time I flippantly suggested we should [put forward a reparations bill] in Congress and call it the ‘White Supremacy Maintenance Act.’ Call it something that will be acceptable to the voters and put something else in it.” I concur with Brophy’s main thrust. The times perhaps call for a marketing shift that plays to many white folks’ self-interest.

That new rationale for reparations should focus on how centuries of racism has created a market inefficiency that harms everyone. American capitalism underperforms since black folk, 13 percent of the country’s population, are unable to contribute as much as they should because of a lack of wealth. The injustices that black folk have suffered hurt all participants in our economy, not just black folk. Perhaps an unemployed white man from Cincinnati, for instance, would have a job if a black woman had the money to start a small business. Reparations for black folk, in other words, would redound to everyone’s benefit.

According to a 2016 YouGov poll, two-thirds of Americans oppose reparations. I don’t expect this new rationale to drag reparations across the all-important “50 percent in favor” threshold. This is a smart tactical shift, nonetheless, for two reasons. First, it could make reparations more popular, coaxing its opponents to favor a less radical idea like baby bonds. Second, selling reparations like this teaches white people to cease thinking about wealth as a zero-sum game — more wealth for people of color doesn’t necessarily mean less wealth for them.

How an all-black high school team starring Oscar Robertson changed Hoosier Hysteria The Crispus Attucks Tigers are back in the Indiana state finals for the first time in 58 years

Long before there was March Madness – which is now a multibillion-dollar industry – there was the more localized phenomenon known as Hoosier Hysteria: the run-up to the Indiana state high school basketball championship.

High school basketball in Indiana has long been akin to religion. When I was playing at Indianapolis’ Crispus Attucks High School, Butler University Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, site of the final rounds of the tournament, was the cathedral. And the state title was and still is the holy grail.

Until 1997, all Indiana high schools, whether they had 100 students or 2,500, were in one single class and competed for the same title. No matter how poorly a school might have fared during the regular season, it got a second chance when the four rounds of the state tournament began.

Today there are four classes instead of one, ranked according to school size from 4A down to 1A. The tournament’s final rounds were moved from Butler Fieldhouse in 1971 and, since 2000, have been played in Bankers Life Fieldhouse, home of the NBA Indiana Pacers and WNBA Indiana Fever. And for the first time in 58 years, the Crispus Attucks Tigers are in the state final on Saturday, competing in Class 3A this time around. You can bet I’ll be there to cheer them on.

The bad, bad Tigers are back.

Breaking a 44-year drought

Before 1955, teams from smaller cities and towns, some so small they were barely on the map, routinely won the state title. No school from Indianapolis – Indiana’s largest city and its the state capital – had won the championship in 44 years of organized high school basketball.

But in 1955, our Crispus Attucks Tigers had an opportunity to change all that – because we were in the state’s Final Four for the first time.

Attucks had been a source of pride for Indianapolis’ black community ever since its doors opened. Our parents, our teachers and our community had taught us pride in ourselves, inner dignity and resilience in the face of adversity. Our school was known as much for its academic excellence as its athletic achievements.

We had lost only one game all season, and we were not going to lose this game. We were comfortable playing at Butler Fieldhouse, where we played many of our “home” games anyway. (Our school gym was too small to host basketball games.) And we were eagerly looking forward to the traditional champion’s ride on the fire truck and a big celebration downtown. Or so we thought, anyway.

No Indiana farm boys here

Butler Fieldhouse was packed with 15,000 fans on that Saturday night, but it seemed eerily quiet as we took the floor against Gary Roosevelt High School, led by burly center Wilson Eison and future NBA star Dick Barnett.

Even Attucks fans, confined as always to a corner of the fieldhouse and surrounded by police, seemed more subdued than usual as they cheered for their “bad, bad Tigers.”

For the first time, two all-black schools were meeting for the state championship. Not only might Indianapolis have its first state champion – Indiana would have its first all-black state champion. That would also be a first for the entire country.

The mythological image of Indiana basketball for many years was that of the skinny farm boy shooting at a rusty hoop nailed above the barn door. But there were no skinny farm boys on the court that night. Both teams were made up of kids who had developed their games on inner-city public playgrounds.

We had changed the game. We had proven emphatically that our up-tempo style of basketball could be just as effective as the plodding, feet-on-the-floor approach many coaches still favored.

And we thought we might have also changed the culture as well. Our fan base was now spreading throughout the city. Luke Walton, the radio play-by-play announcer, was now referring to us as “Indianapolis Attucks.” Perhaps we had opened a small crack in the walls of segregation and discrimination that stood at the time.

The Klan ‘brings us together’

From the time it opened in 1927, Crispus Attucks had been a segregated school. Front organizations for the Ku Klux Klan had pressured the Indianapolis school board into moving black high school students out of the general student population into a separate school of their own. All-black high schools were built in Gary and Evansville as well.

Even in the mid-’50s, the Klan had tremendous influence in Indiana politics, business and education. At one point, an estimated 25 percent of all white men in Indiana were members. One of the Grand Dragons of the Klan was based in Indianapolis, from which he oversaw a fiefdom of 23 states.

Our school was named for a man of color – part African-American, part Native American – who was the first casualty of the Boston Massacre in 1770 and by extension, the American Revolution. According to legend, the Klan marched past our school in a victory parade when the school opened.

But the move to segregate us backfired spectacularly at that time.

Attucks was overcrowded, and its facilities substandard compared with other schools. But most Attucks teachers had advanced degrees, and some had doctorates. Excluded from teaching at white schools, these dedicated men and women were determined to create a superior academic environment within the confines of a segregated school system.

Academics shaped everyone at Attucks

The impetus for academic excellence came from Russell A. Lane, Attucks’ principal from 1930 to 1957. He had a law degree and a doctorate in education, and believed that Attucks should set the standard for secondary school education. He expanded the curriculum accordingly, with college prep courses included.

Lane also emphasized cultural pride, discipline and respect. Athletes were students first and foremost, and enjoyed no special privileges. They were also reminded that any time they stepped on a court or an athletic field, they were representing not just Attucks, but the entire black community.

And while we may not have been aware of it at the time, our quest for a breakthrough on behalf of all-black schools was part of the larger social context of the mid-’50s.

The Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Brown v. Board of Education had legally put an end to school segregation in 1954, although it would take years for the law to be fully implemented.

Earlier in 1955, Marian Anderson – denied the right to sing in Washington’s Constitution Hall 16 years previously – had become the first black artist to sing at the Metropolitan Opera.

Later that year, Emmett Till was brutally murdered in Mississippi, and his killers were never brought to justice. Rosa Parks refused to move to the back of the bus and set off the Montgomery bus boycott that accelerated the civil rights movement.

Ray Crowe speeds up the game

On that evening in Butler Fieldhouse, however, all we were thinking about was winning a state championship. Attucks had come close once previously, reaching the final four in 1951 in Ray Crowe’s very first year as head coach.

For its first six years, Attucks was not allowed to play against member schools in the Indiana High School Athletic Association (IHSAA), and it took 15 years to gain admittance to IHSAA membership and the “Hoosier Hysteria” that was state tournament competition.

Before 1951, Attucks had been focused more on “legitimacy,” on gaining acceptance in the larger community. Its basketball teams played a technically sound but passive, nonconfrontational game so as not to upset anyone.

All that changed when Crowe, a math and physical education teacher, was promoted from assistant coach into the head coach position and, against all odds, launched Attucks’ period of greatest athletic success.

Crowe was totally on board with the Attucks philosophy of academic excellence above all else. That did not mean he was comfortable with the status quo when it came to basketball. He noted that “Some of the older teachers still thought we needed to avoid being too aggressive and confrontational. I needed to make them understand that the worst disgrace we could bring to the school was to lose when we had a chance to win.”

Crowe installed the more up-tempo style of play that his players were already playing on the playgrounds. It was faster, louder, more stop-and-go, more improvised – a style that, like jazz, allowed for individual excellence within a team context.

You had to be in great shape to play for Crowe. You ran on offense, pressed on defense. I think he had probably learned from the visionary coach John McClendon that you could play an all-out running game and score a lot of points while minimizing turnovers and maintaining discipline, good fundamentals and strong defense.

How the ‘Dust Bowl’ shaped our teams

 

My family – dad, mom, older brothers Bailey and Henry, and me – had moved to Indianapolis from the farms of central Tennessee in 1942, when I was 4 years old. Indianapolis was hostile territory if you were black. I was naïve about the depths of segregation in Indianapolis and in the world.

We kids being black, poor, and unwelcome outside our own neighborhood, our activities were pretty much limited to school, church, and sports. And basketball was the king of all sports. Guys played from sunrise to sundown.

There was a vacant lot near our house, and someone put up a backboard and a hoop. Our games would kick up clouds of dust, so the lot became known as the Dust Bowl. Even when we started playing on asphalt courts at the nearby Lockefield Gardens housing project, “the Dust Bowl” became the generic name for anywhere we played outdoors.

Players from Attucks dominated at both the Dust Bowl and the Senate Avenue YMCA, where indoor pickup games were played. The older players didn’t want to play with us younger kids, so we had to keep challenging them until we were competitive enough to stay on the court.

The Dust Bowl was the crucible in which my game was forged. I learned the importance of playing against people who were better than you, so you can learn from them and improve your own game.

Every moment we weren’t on the court, I was off to the side, working on my game. I started developing a side-step, fadeaway jump shot, releasing it above my head so it wouldn’t be blocked by taller players. I would even shoot at night by moonlight until the neighbors would tell me to go home.

Tom Sleet – coach, mentor, inspiration

I could practice all day and night, but I still needed someone to give me direction and structure. That person was Tom Sleet, who coached my seventh- and eighth-grade teams at Public School No. 17 and freshman basketball at Attucks. He taught us the critical importance of the fundamentals – that athleticism and gamesmanship, aka basketball intelligence – don’t mean anything unless you can execute consistently.

We learned how to pivot, how to box out under the boards, how to set a pick, how to pass and cut, how to move without the ball. Basically, we were running what is now known as the triangle offense in the seventh grade. Coach Sleet also emphasized the importance of defense and taught us how to play a tough, intense man-to-man game.

More importantly, he showed us how to become good citizens, and gave us self-confidence, a winning attitude and the encouragement to believe that we could succeed on the court and in other facets of life.

My first experience facing white players on the same court came when I was in the seventh grade at P.S. No. 17. In the eighth grade, we won the city’s first junior high school tournament.

People started taking notice, including Attucks coaches who were in the stands. Some of the older players at the Dust Bowl, seeing how serious I was about my game, started taking me under their wings and giving me helpful tips.

Following our tournament win, we got even more good news in our household: my oldest brother Bailey, better known as “Flap,” was chosen for Crowe’s first varsity squad at Attucks.

Flap was always a better shooter than I was. And where I was quiet and reserved, keeping my true feelings internalized, he was always vocal in speaking up for himself, which often put him at odds with his coach. He went on to star at Indiana Central University, setting an Indiana collegiate scoring record that stood for many years. Then he played for the Globetrotters and briefly for the NBA’s Syracuse Nationals and Cincinnati Royals, but I felt he never got the shot at the pro game that he truly deserved. He died much too young, in 1996.

Flap puts Attucks on the map

But Flap made a lasting contribution to the lore of Indiana high school basketball. His last-second shot capped a 10-point comeback against perennial powerhouse Anderson in the 1951 semi-state finals and put Attucks in the Final Four for the first time.

Even though the team lost in the semifinals and would not make it to the Final Four again for four years, this win was a turning point for Attucks basketball.

Attucks teams brought a new flair to the game, which horrified basketball purists. Having played pickup games at the Dust Bowl for years, they could play “positionless basketball” long before that term was in vogue. They had been further schooled by Sleet and Albert Spurlock, who taught industrial arts and coached track, cross-country and junior varsity basketball. All Crowe had to do was apply the finishing touches.

Crowe ran very few set plays, but his teams still played with discipline – focusing on team success, sharing the ball, working for good shots, deferring to the better shooters, playing within themselves without showboating.

And he emphasized that whatever the fans, your opponents, or the officials threw at you, you were to maintain your poise and composure. Keep your cool. He was not going to lose a game on a technical foul, and his players were not either.

Starting in 1951, Crowe’s teams were burned by bad calls in the state tournament three years in a row. He became determined that referees not be allowed to influence the outcome of a game. (This was a tall order, since there were no black officials in the Indiana Officials Association.) He stressed the need to build an early lead and keep it. His mantra was, “The first 10 points are for the refs … the rest are for us.”

He also allowed his tallest players to dunk the ball during warm-ups, alternating right and left hands, giving opponents a little preview of what they were up against before the game even began.

Attucks’ visually exciting style of play coincided with the emergence of television, and tournament games were now shown live statewide on TV.

I had seen very few varsity games up to this point. But when I watched Attucks beat Anderson on TV, I got a vision of what I could achieve.

Following in my brother’s footsteps

In 1953, Bailey graduated and went on to Indiana Central University. And, thanks to puberty and another summer of work on the farm, I grew from 5-8 to 6-3 and packed on some muscle. As a sophomore, I joined the junior varsity group lined up for tryouts. But Bill Mason, a senior guard I knew well from the Dust Bowl, kept beckoning to me. “Come on over here, Oscar,” he said. “This is where you belong.”

I was the last person chosen for the varsity, and assigned my brother’s old number, 43. Even if you were among the chosen, Crowe made it clear that your first priority was academics. All players from grades nine to 12 met in his homeroom first thing every morning. He called the roll and talked us through our homework assignments. If grades had been issued, he posted them for all to see. And then we were off to the other courses on our schedules. The day was interrupted by a second roll call at midday. The city fathers wanted to make sure we were all “in our place” and not out wreaking havoc.

I enjoyed school – the process of learning, the wisdom our teachers passed on, the personal attention and encouragement they gave us. I was naturally shy and did not raise my hand to volunteer answers, but I was ready if called upon. And bit by bit, I came out of my shell and learned to interact with people in settings other than the basketball court.

Stars Hallie Bryant and Willie Gardner had graduated along with my brother, and we were considered an unknown quantity for 1953-54. I was assigned to play forward and, sometimes the pivot as well. I came off the bench to score 15 points in our opener and started after that.

My game wasn’t yet as consistent as I wanted it to be, but we were winning – despite season-ending injuries to Willie Merriweather, Winford O’Neal and Sheddrick Mitchell, our three tallest and most talented players. By this point, I was assuming more of a leadership role, and coach moved me to guard so I could bring the ball up and create more movement on offense.

Even without our star threesome, we were still competitive till the very end of the season. In the semi-state finals, however, we lost 65-52 to tiny Milan High School, which was en route to a 32-30 championship win over perennial powerhouse Muncie Central, thanks to “the shot” by Bobby Plump.

And we took at least one small step on the culture side. As we advanced through the tournament, superintendent of schools H. L. Shibler arranged for cheerleaders from all the Indianapolis schools to join forces with our cheerleaders for the first time. That became a tradition from that point on.

1955 could be our year

As Attucks’ popularity grew, our “team without a gym” cut down on the road trips and began playing more Indianapolis schools – sometimes at the Arsenal Tech gym on the east side of town, and more and more often at Butler Fieldhouse. We could draw up to 11,000 people for our games, and were supposedly the best-drawing high school team in the country. The money went right back into improving conditions at our school.

Going into the 1954-55 season, our expectations were high. O’Neal had graduated, but Merriweather and Mitchell were back from their injuries. We had a solid, deep squad and another year’s experience playing together.

We finished the regular season 20-1, losing only at Connersville, where we had fallen too far behind to mount a comeback on their wet, slippery court and came up one point short. Then it was on to the sectionals, the regionals, and the semi-state, where we faced basically the same Muncie Central team that had lost to Milan the previous year.

Stealing the ‘game of the century’

Central and Attucks had traded No. 1 rankings all season long, and some of the media were calling this “the game of the century.” And it was a close, hard-fought battle. After numerous lead changes, Central had the ball for a last shot with 10 seconds left, but I deliberately played well behind my man and then leapt forward to steal the pass and seal a 71-70 win.

In the first afternoon game of the finals, New Albany put up a good fight, but we pulled away at the end and won 79-67. In the second game, Gary Roosevelt had its hands full with Fort Wayne North before winning 68-66.

Between the afternoon and evening games, neither Attucks nor Roosevelt teams were permitted to rest in Butler University’s dorms during the break, although white teams had always done so during previous tournament weekends. The Roosevelt players stayed with families in town, while our team was crowded into a downtown hotel room.

We figured Roosevelt would be tired in the second game, and we were right. We pressed them from the beginning, jumped off to an early lead and never looked back. We were up 21 at the half, and the only suspense was about whether we’d score 100 points. Final score: Attucks 97, Roosevelt 74.

Eison, who went on to be named Indiana’s “Mr. Basketball,” had 32 points and set a three-game tournament scoring record. I had 30 with a bit of time left, but when I saw a little-used senior forward named Willie Burnley open near the basket, I felt it was more important for him to get into the championship game scoring column than it was for me to tie the record.

A celebration denied

When the final horn sounded, we could not contain our jubilation as we raced onto the court. There’s a picture of me on a ladder, cutting down the net with a mile-wide smile on my face. But our win came with a bittersweet aftertaste.

As we climbed aboard a fire truck for the traditional ride downtown, followed by a caravan of our fans cheering for their “bad, bad Tigers,” we had a strange feeling about the trip.

And when we got to Monument Circle, we didn’t stop and get off and join our fans in celebration. There would be no downtown celebration. Instead, Mayor Alex Clark read a brief tribute, we took another lap around the circle, and then our parade was redirected to Northwestern Park in the black section near Attucks, where 25,000 people celebrated around a huge bonfire.

That’s when it hit me. It seemed like it was OK for us to win for the city, and bring pride to the general population, but we were still considered second-class citizens. I hung around for a while, but I wasn’t really in much of a mood to celebrate, so I went home.

Soon enough, we learned that city officials had called Lane before the finals and informed him that there would be no celebrating downtown. Merchants and city officials were concerned that if our “colored” fans were permitted to celebrate at Monument Circle, they would riot, loot and destroy businesses, shoot out the streetlights, and engage in all other sorts of unspeakable mischief.

Can’t bring back the thrill

Once we learned what the city fathers had done to us, I was furious. To this day, I cannot forget the pain of being rejected in my own hometown. Our Attucks championship teams have since been celebrated many times, but there’s no way to bring back the innocent excitement our group of deserving black teenagers – who had earned the traditional celebration – was looking forward to at that point in time.

The following year, when we won our second consecutive state championship, capping off an undefeated season and a record 45-game winning streak, I refused to take part in another bogus, second-class celebration, and just went home after the game.

It was obvious that if basketball’s popularity discouraged racial discrimination, the public at large still had not gotten the memo. Athletic excellence might change attitudes on a personal and cultural level, but it could not by itself end institutionalized segregation and discrimination.

Fortunately for history, Bob Collins, a sports reporter for the Indianapolis Star, accurately chronicled all Indiana high school athletic teams – including Crispus Attucks basketball – despite enduring continued harassment from whites.

And that first Indiana state championship remains one of the highlights of my playing career, along with the gold medal won by our undefeated 1960 U.S. Olympic basketball team and the Milwaukee Bucks’ first and only NBA title in 1971. Against all odds, we had accomplished something that could never be taken away.

The ‘bad, bad Tigers’ are back

Attucks’ success had unintended consequences. Middle-class blacks began enrolling their kids in schools other than Attucks, and those schools also snapped up the black student athletes who lived in their districts.

Despite his 179-20 record over seven years, and three consecutive trips to the state finals, Coach Crowe was never named Indiana Coach of the Year. Bill Garrett, a former “Mr. Basketball” who had been the first black player at Indiana University, succeeded Crowe as coach in 1957 and led Attucks to its third state title of the decade in 1959. Crowe had been promoted to athletic director when a new principal replaced Lane.

The traditional fire truck ride downtown was discontinued more than 45 years ago, when the state finals were moved from Butler Fieldhouse to Indiana University’s Assembly Hall.

Lockefield Gardens and the Dust Bowl no longer exist, having given way long ago to the campus of Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis and IU Health University Hospital.

Attucks was spared the wrecking ball but was downgraded to a junior high school, then became a medical magnet high school serving the hospital. For many years, its days of basketball dominance were but a distant memory.

But now the program has been rejuvenated, and I’m betting that Saturday’s visit to the state finals will not be their last. The “bad, bad Tigers” are back.

Why do so many white people deny the existence of white privilege? They’re surrounded by pieces of the puzzle, but can’t put them together

Team Westport, a town-sponsored diversity committee in predominantly white Westport, Connecticut, recently caused an uproar by sponsoring an essay contest for high school students. An essay contest — how could something so innocuous incite anyone? But this was no ordinary contest. No, it was one that asked students to — gasp — consider white privilege and search for any marks it may have left upon their lives.

One resident of this wealthy Manhattan suburb, Bari Reiner, 72, denounced the contest as offensive. “It’s an open town,” Reiner told the Associated Press. “There are no barricades here. Nobody says if you’re black or whatever, you can’t move here.”

That this white enclave permits a “black or whatever person” to reside there disproves nothing about white privilege, of course. Denying white privilege while misunderstanding the concept, well, that song has blared throughout American history. This land is ripe with Bari Reiners.

This ordeal led me to ponder a question relevant to our race conversation, to the extent such a conversation takes place: Why do the white folk who deny white privilege think that way? The answer, I believe, is that American culture conditions white folk to not fully grasp how society privileges them. They are surrounded by the pieces of the puzzle. But they have been miseducated on how to complete the image that portrays their racial group in an unflattering light.


Many white people rebut the notion that white privilege augments their lives. That’s because they consume the world in a specific manner, through what sociologist Joe Feagin calls the “white racial frame.” Think of a frame as the process by which people take in new information, sift through the data, sort the important from the unimportant and decide how to feel about it all.

Feagin argues that American culture has taught whites to believe they represent the intellectual and cultural vanguard, to conclude that racial inequalities cannot be traced to their past or present behavior and to view their dominant status — their privilege — as natural and yet invisible.

An example of how white people view their privilege as natural and invisible appears in Arlie Russell Hochschild’s book Strangers in Their Own Land. She interviews working-class and middle-class white people in Louisiana and learns they’re disenchanted with their government and no longer recognize their country. They feel as if black folk, other minorities, immigrants and refugees have cut ahead of them in line, meaning the government caters to others before them. The line-cutting angers them, although they never question why they should occupy the first position. That implicit assumption — I should be tended to before all others — encapsulates how they view white privilege as natural and invisible.

The white folk who most view the world through the white racial frame will interpret events to defend racial injustice and a whites-on-top racial hierarchy. The wealth of evidence demonstrating police officers often brutalize black people, for instance, establishes that black people deserve the blame. The white racial frame deludes white folk into believing the system is operating as it should when it advantages them and disadvantages people of color.

Believing the system, when the system favors them, warrants vociferous defense, has become a cultural-family heirloom, much like grandma’s pearl necklace or grandpa’s gold pocket watch. Thus, when many white people hear requests to scour their lives for signs of white privilege, they are being asked to execute a mental routine they have been trained to perform poorly. White privilege is unconsciously considered both normative and normal — meaning, the system should privilege them and the daily privileges they receive never register as special.

Instead of knowledge and acceptance of white privilege, many white people display ignorance: What is this privilege of which you speak? I do not detect a hint of it. Perhaps you are being lifted by a race-based privilege because surely it is not I.

Such ignorance becomes a tool of racial domination. By denying the unfairness, white folk never have to confront it.

Charles Mills, in his book The Racial Contract, argues that this ignorance produces “the ironic outcome that whites will in general be unable to understand the world they themselves have made.” This country was built on privileging whites over nonwhites. But this truth has been lost because many white people have programmed their antennas to disregard that signal.

White folk who do detect white privilege have learned to neither reflexively disregard evidence of their privilege nor twist it into proof against its existence. Only a minority of the population, sadly, has reprogrammed itself in this way.


Some contend that working-class white folk should not be expected to perceive their privilege. The well-to-do, so the argument goes, obviously reap these benefits and therefore criticizing the wealthy who fail to reckon with their privilege is proper. White people living paycheck to paycheck, however, should be excused for their denials. Detecting it proves too hard for them, considering that we talk about white privilege in ways that would confound anyone in their circumstance.

J.D. Vance, the author of Hillbilly Elegy, a memoir of an economically struggling and largely white small town in Ohio, articulated a version of this thesis in a podcast with Vox’s Ezra Klein.

Vance invoked the hypothetical son of an unemployed West Virginia coal miner who resides in an all-white economic wasteland. This son, confined to a pocket of poverty, tastes no hint of his supposed privilege. Thus, Vance told Klein, “If you’re asking [him] to check his privilege … you’re asking just too much from basic human cognition. That kid cannot look at his life and say about a group of people that he doesn’t understand, that he doesn’t even interact with a lot day to day, that their lives are much worse than his, and I think that’s one of the things that the modern discourse around racial privilege and racial disadvantage misses.”

In a National Review piece, Vance bolstered the claim that the white working-class inhabit a world that increasingly obscures white privilege from their field of vision: “the privileges that matter — that is, the ones they see — are vanishing because of destitution: the privilege to pay for college without bankruptcy, the privilege to work a decent job, the privilege to put food on the table without the aid of food stamps, the privilege not to learn of yet another classmate’s premature death.”

But Vance’s argument is wanting. For one, American culture, not impoverishment, has taught white folk to misunderstand white privilege. Individual white people shoulder no responsibility for creating white privilege, but denying its presence prolongs its life span. And that does warrant criticism. Granting the white working-class this moral reprieve absolves them from culpability.

To understand that white privilege is real only requires believing people of color when we tell our stories, and belief is not contingent upon socioeconomic status. The white working class hears these stories. But many choose to disregard them and castigate minorities for blaming the white man for all problems.

Now some might respond that the white working class has its own story, one imbued with struggle. Their story rings true — people born into economic turmoil, regardless of race, face tough times indeed. But the two stories don’t conflict.

Pre-Civil War, when poverty captured lots of white folk in its vast net, white privilege was nonetheless a strong force — not because white skin protected against descent into poverty but rather because it ensured white folk would never endure a range of negative experiences inflicted upon only people of color. Then, it was slavery and now it’s something else.

That coal miner’s son will never sit down on his bed, parents standing over him, faces stamped with worry, as they explain how to survive a police encounter. That coal miner’s son, once he decides to leave his parents’ home, will harbor no fears of being denied an apartment because of his race. If he decides to participate in politics, he will never worry about a state legislature trying to stop people who look like him from voting. Right now, as the evidence of the white supremacist leanings of presidential advisers comes pouring out of their respective closets, that coal miner’s son can watch events unfold without personal fear of his own government.

The issue is not that some white people lack a proper vantage point to see their privilege, but that from their vantage point they have chosen to avert their gaze.


Vance, in his National Review piece, invoked the phrase “check your privilege,” and although the coal miner’s son has likely never been told that, the phrase has fallen from a lot of lips recently, particularly on college campuses. I must confess I believe it to be an unfruitful conversation starter. “Check your privilege,” after all, is a command and robust dialogue rarely commences with demanding that the audience complete a task.

But I doubt most black people summon the “check your privilege” mantra to convince listeners. Civil rights activist and poet James Weldon Johnson once wrote “the colored people of this country know and understand the white people better than the white people know and understand them.” Black folk, for self-preservation, have become self-taught Caucasian anthropologists. Tressie McMillan Cottom, a sociology professor at Virginia Commonwealth University, endorsed this point when writing that black folk have learned “to anticipate white people’s emotions and fears and grievances because their issues are singularly our problem.” Because we, to use Cottom’s phrase, “know our whites,” we know full well they won’t check their privileges simply because we tell them to.

“Privilege checkers” likely pursue a more emotionally thrilling mission — basking in the sweet catharsis of telling white people just how we feel about them.

Consequently, Vance is right — the white privilege conversation features glaring imperfections. And that might push a person to conclude that some portion of the problem is that we talk about privilege in the wrong way.

In the future, wise thinkers might devise more persuasive arguments to convince white people about their privilege. But many will still choose ignorance over knowledge until they resolve to see the world as it is, not how they imagine it to be.