Friday, July 14, 2006

Good at Sports? You Must Be Black.
I had an interesting chat with a self-proclaimed fundamentalist Christian at the local pool this morning. She confessed to reading my columns and liking them, though she was quick to point out that she didn't always agree with them ( doubt).

During our talk, she mentioned to me that she was a single mother of 8 (!) kids; four are grown and out of the house, 2 are hers, and the other 2 at home are actually her grandchildren of whom she has legal custody. She started talking about one of her grandkids, a 5-year-old boy who shows great athletic promise. Then, she looked me in the eye and with all seriousness said, "His mother says it's because he's half black."

Holy mother of god, I didn't see that coming. There, under the crowded shelter of the public pool, I snorted. Loud. Ear-popping loud, so much so that people jumped. Do people really still attribute natural ability in sports to one's skin color? I couldn't believe my ears, and after snorting, I just stared at her, dumbfounded. When I could trust my voice to speak without laughing, I told her that I highly doubted his blackness, regardless of total percentage of ethnicity, had anything to do with it. She shrugged her shoulders. "You never know," she said. "No," I replied. "Some of us know."

"All I know," she continued, "is that he can't sit still and is always on the go. My other 5-year-old granchild (a white girl) is content to sit and color." In my mind, I was still trying to come to grips with the fact that this woman was serious. Out loud, I suggested, "Perhaps they just have completely different personalities. It does happen." She agreed that could actually be the case.

Cuz I guess black kids don't like to color, and white kids can't kick goals on the soccer field.

We are so doomed.


T. said...

I wish I lived in Colorado to read your column.

Then again, if I had to choose between San Francisco and Colorado, I'm pretty sure I'd stick right here.

Anonymous said...

After living in the Bay Area and now living here in Windsor, you would be wise to stay put! People here are soooo closed-minded and conservative to the point of it being very scary indeed. Ms. Valentine's columns were awesome and am glad she is "here".

Jen said...

I feel sorry for that child. To be stereotyped by his own grandmother. Hopefully he has other strong rolemodels to look up to. Sadly, there are many other people out there who may actually believe as she does.

CHLuke said...

While this child may be athletic merely as a result of his individual make-up, I'd be remiss not to play devil's advocate here and say that it could be attributed to his race. As potentially harmful as it can be to stereotype and cubbyhole people, particualrly kids, with generalities, it's also a disservice to the discussion of the issue to not acknowledge the very real differences that are inherent in the races. Is it being implied that because one believes that a child could be better at sports that the person is ignorant and closed-minded? Like it or not, blacks from western Africa, where most slaves came from, have a higher percentage of fast-twitch muscle fibers and are inherently mesomorphic (muscular), which enables one to run faster and jump higher. Just as those from Ethiopia have more slow-twitch fibers and are inherently ectomorphic (thin), and hence are excellent marathoners. Just as Scandinavians have larger upper bodies and slow-twitch fibers, and hence are adept at...well, we blog okay. Oh yeah, and the hammer-throw. When was the last time a caucasian won the Olympic 100 meter dash? For that matter, when was the last time the U.S. (since we have a decent-sized African-American population) even had a caucasian make the 100 meter dash team?
This is not meant to imply that caucasians can't be fast, or more appropriately for this discussion, that all blacks are fast. But merely that there are genetic differences between the races, and even within the African race, and to deny those differences only serves to close off discussion of the issue, and to keep those whom you may wish to enlighten from hearing any further comments on the matter. And isn't it closed-minded to NOT acknowledge these differences?
The grandmother wasn't saying that the boy could only play sports, or was deficient in some other area because of his race. And does it matter whether it's because of his individual differences or his specific racial differences? The message to the child is the same (if she said it to him), that he was born with some innate abilities. I don't find that too troublesome. Do we criticize the grandparent who dotes on the child, saying how cute her cute blond curls and gorgeous blue eyes are?
I hope that makes sense; it may not, since I'm a man and hence have trouble expressing myself.

Jen said...

While I can see where you're coming from on this, I don't entirely agree. I believe that most of the information you supplied would be accurate IF the child (or his father) was a direct decendent of, or came directly from Africa. However, I'm guessing that isn't so, as the Grandmother didn't mention that. But, I could be wrong. Assuming that he is not, his genetic make-up will be mixed, as the majority of American's are. My issue is that the child is quite young and to generalize his ability or non-ability at playing sports by tying it into his race and sharing this thinking to him (or others) puts him into a different category then the other children. Singles him out based on his race. Does the Grandmother point out "white" or caucasion traits when it comes to her other Grandchildren? I doubt it. Does she feel that the grandchild that likes to read is that way because her mother is from a specific ethneticity? Acknowledging differences in children within the same family unit can be touchy in general. I.e., the parent that pigeonholes her children into categories: "Sally is the quiet one; Billy is the athelete; Joe is the comedien..." These traits may be true, but to put any child into that category (or box) risks the child fullfilling the given trait merely because they have been told they are that way. Does that make sense? You mention that we don't consider it wrong for a grandparent to say how cute the blong curles are or pretty the eyes...But, that is simply a statement about how the child looks. Which, if done excessively CAN be in issue as well, but we aren't talking about that. They aren't relating it to their RACE by saying that. A child that is of mixed races will already grow up with many more challenges than one who is not. To point out the fact they are half this, or half that, I believe just reminds them of their differences. Being of mixed race and growing up in the town of Windsor will be challenging enough. I just hope that it doesn't become a habit for this Grandmother to attribute other aspects of this child's behavior/actions to his race. I don't think she'll be doing him any favors that way. Anyway, that's my thoughts for now.

Jen said...

...sorry, I just wanted to add one more thing. The grandmother stated:

"All I know," she continued, "is that he can't sit still and is always on the go. My other 5-year-old granchild (a white girl) is content to sit and color."

While I can clearly see Chluke's viewpoint and understand that there can be different physical attributes associated with different races/cultures/etc., I'm afraid (based on the above comment) that this Grandmother isn't that advanced in her thinking. I don't feel she is being malicous; I'm guessing it's just a matter of generational thinking.

Anonymous said...

Per the grandmother: "All I know," she continued, "is that he can't sit still and is always on the go. My other 5-year-old granchild (a white girl) is content to sit and color."

How sad that this grandmother attributes this to race when it could very well be the difference between boys and girls and/or the expectations society puts on them.

Anonymous said...

Many valid points, and I agree in the potential problem with saddling a child with an limited identity. I was just taken aback by Becky's (yeah, you started this Beck!) drastic reaction to the comment, and was pointing out that there may be validity to the grandmother's comment. Also, my point re: commenting on a girls cute girls and blue eyes was that it indeed IS a genetic trait, much as the muscular make-up of a person is. Yet it's okay to point that out. And one wouldn't say that a child who likes to read gets it from her mother's ethnicity because that wouldn't be a trait associated with a given ethnicity.
But this has gone further than I intended, anyway. Merely wanted to point out that the grandmother's comment was as ludicrous as all seemed to be implying. Poor granny...
Now I know why I've never blogged before; I'll never get anything else done! Great site though, Beck!
I'm pitiful; I couldn't even remember my password, so had to do anonymous! This is CHLuke (Cool Hand Luke, for those wondering. Was going to do Sisyphus, but it's such a negative attitude to have, so went with Luke.)