So how are you doing after last week? Let’s see, we had the threat of nuclear war, tiki-torch-wielding Nazis marching in the World’s Worst Luau, and we ended with a deadly race riot. By noon on Saturday, I had to take off my bra and have a good cry.
I also had to bake cakes for a birthday party I was attending that evening, so I was baking while I cried. I was worried it was going to be Like Water For Chocolate, where her emotions go into whatever food she’s cooking and everyone who eats her food experiences her same emotions. I was imagining people taking a bite of birthday cake and immediately sobbing, saying “What the hell is wrong with our country??” The good news from the weekend is that no one actually cried when they ate my carrot cakes.
I lost my anger for a while there. Instead, I was despondent, overcome with sadness and hopelessness. I couldn’t think of anything I could do. Texting with my wise friend, she told me I had one day to feel all my emotions and then, get back at it. She said she would help me by researching action items as long as I would write about it. I took her advice. I rolled around it in on Saturday and today, I woke up less sad, feeling that energizing anger. It’s okay to be pissed off. It’s a helpful and useful emotion. It galvanizes you, gets you to stop crying, put your bra back on and get to work.
So, what can we do? And also, how can we respond to a Nazi rally across the country, when this isn’t happening where we live?
First of all, we need to stop pretending this isn’t happening where we live. Perhaps the Nazis didn’t come to your little town and march down Main Street, but this crap is happening, maybe just further down the spectrum, towards the “socially acceptable” end. This is the kind of insidious racism and prejudice that can be brushed off with “I’m just kidding!” (No, you’re not.) Or, “I didn’t mean that! Why does race have anything to do with this?” (You did. It does.)
I like to think that I don’t know anyone who thinks like this or acts like this, but I recently had an altercation that proved me wrong. There is an awful lot to unpack in this story, so bear with me: we’ve got competitive kids’ sports, crazy parents, Trump supporters, racism and AAU basketball. (Huh?? Yeah. I’ll start at the beginning.)
My oldest son was on the top basketball team for a competitive AAU league this past spring. These were 8th graders. Keep that in mind. My husband and I drew straws for that day’s family activities and I won this relatively easy gig: just me and my teenage son, driving back and forth to Milwaukee for a few games.
The last game of the long day was played at night, against an African American team. The players were black, the coaches were black, the fans were black. In contrast, my son’s team was all white with the exception of one black player and his Dad, sitting in the stands. Almost right away, I noticed something was off with a couple of the Dads from our team. They were extremely agitated: yelling at the refs more than usual (who were also black); yelling at the players on the other team; making lots of noise by slamming the bleachers with a water bottle, twisted beyond recognition from agitation.
My husband had asked for constant updates on the games, so I started texting him. What the heck is up with these parents? I asked. Why are they freaking out? The yelling was getting worse, the bottle twisting getting more intense.
I kept texting updates as the game went back and forth, point by point, until finally, my son’s team won with a buzzer-beater shot. The other team just sat there, in shocked silence by the loss. And then it started.
The two angry, belligerent Dads from our team turned to the Moms from the other team and started taunting them. The photographer Dad told them he was sure there wouldn’t be any pictures on his camera of any actual basketball being played, it would just be of their kids beating up on our kids. Water Bottle Dad laughed, walked down the bleachers and joined in. The two of them stood over three black Moms, who were still sitting on the bleachers. These men towered over them, taunting and laughing. My stomach turned.
The women shook their heads and held up their hands and said “Do not start this nonsense.” They seemed so damn used to this, they already knew what kind of “nonsense” was coming their way. The men laughed again and wouldn’t stop. There was a really uncomfortable feeling in my gut. Something was wrong, something was off. This wasn’t just about sports. This was weird. This felt ugly. It looked ugly. It was escalating. A Dad from the other team started to walk over and the two Dads from our team looked eager for a fight.
Without thinking, I stood up and walked down the bleachers and stood between the Dads from our team and the parents from the other team and said to our Dads, “Hold on, we do not behave this way. We are the adults. We set good examples for our kids, this is bad sportsmanship and we do not behave this way.”
The Dads from our team laughed at me. They continued to taunt the parents of the other team that had just lost. So this time, I held my finger up like I used to do to my children when they were toddlers, looked them right in the eyes and I said, “Stop this right now. Just stop. You are trying to pick a fight here and it is not okay.”
It seemed like the Dads from our team were seeing me for the first time. They both turned, and put the entire focus of their anger on me, with Water Bottle Dad getting in my face and screaming, “SHUT UP!” The Photographer Dad laughed.
I was shocked and said, “What on earth is wrong with you? We’re on the same team!” I turned and apologized to the parents from the other team on behalf of our parents and this just pissed the angry white Dads off even more. They continued to shout at me, with one Dad egging on the other.
But now, our sons had wandered over and were there to witness it. In front of this team of 14-year old boys, Water Bottle Dad put his finger in my face and screamed, “Don’t you ever point your finger at me and tell me what to do! Don’t! You! Ever! Do! That!” He went on and on, and the other Dad kept laughing and saying, “I don’t see anything wrong with this picture, I don’t know what she’s so upset about.” This went on for my entire walk out of the gym, out of the school until we got outside. None of the other Dads from our team said anything.
We made it to our car in the parking lot, me shaking the entire time from them screaming in my face, and when we got inside the car, I immediately burst into tears and called my husband to tell him what had happened. He was incredulous. I hung up to begin the two-hour drive home and to have a hard talk with my son about what the hell just happened and what he had just witnessed.
By the time we got home, the Water Bottle Dad had called to apologize. I was in no shape to take his call, so my husband did. That poor, poor guy having to face my husband. Not because my husband yelled at him or threatened him or anything like that. What my husband did to him was so much worse: he was calm. He was curious. He asked questions. He wanted to know why this guy behaved in such a demeaning manner. He asked him how he would feel if someone did that to his wife? He asked him how he was going to explain to our sons the way he was mistreating those women? He asked him what kind of an example he wanted to be to his son.
The best part is, those type of men think my husband is “one of them.” He looks like them as a big, strong, athletic jock type. He has street cred as a former football player. He is a big man in a business suit. But he is the opposite of them. My husband talked to this Dad quietly, sighing several times. Water Bottle Dad could not stop apologizing, over and over, to my husband. He kept saying, “I have no idea what came over me. I have no idea why I got so upset. I have no idea what it was that bothered me so much about that other team or that game.”
My dude, I have a very good idea what that was all about.
I looked up those guys on Twitter. And I saw one’s proud and defiant Trump retweets. And I knew right away I didn’t imagine what I was seeing and feeling in the gym. I looked up the team owner’s twitter feed. I saw him tweeting to Trump about what a great job he was doing as President and to ignore criticisms; “open carry means adios dopes” when a shoplifter was shot to death; how Colin Kapernick is a “fake black guy” who has betrayed his country. On and on and on.
But I gave them the benefit of the doubt at first and sent this to the two Dads, and copied the coach and owners of the team:
“Thank you very much for calling and for your apology. I sincerely do appreciate you owning your behavior and taking responsibility. I was extremely upset and dismayed that this event happened in front of our children. We feel very strongly as a family that until this is addressed and explained to the kids as a team, (our son) will not participate. That’s how strongly we feel about sportsmanship. I am asking you to please address this with our sons so that they do not think this is acceptable or appropriate behavior. I am sensitive to the fact that this was two men being very disrespectful to a woman in front of our sons: This is a wonderful learning opportunity for all of our boys, I hope we can make the best of it and be productive with an unpleasant situation. Thank you.”
The Dads didn’t respond. Nor the owner. Just like when Trump refused to condemn the white supremacists clearly and boldly, the silence was deafening. It’s such an easy thing to decry, takes less than a minute and only a few sentences. But, you have to want to decry racism, bigotry and hate– and therein lies the rub.
The head coach finally wrote back, with the owners of the team CC’d on the email. The coach said he talked to the other Dads and understood it was a very physical game and the other team was rough. They understood that I was trying to stick up for those other women. But, he said, if I had just not said anything, none of this would’ve happened, it wouldn’t have escalated. And if only I had waited to confront them after the game, outside in the parking lot, away from others, the kids wouldn’t have seen them yelling at me.
We wrote them back and officially pulled our son from the team and explained in no uncertain terms our reasons for doing so. (And of course I had to respond to their advice: “Do you hear that you are telling a woman she should approach two angry, aggressive men, alone, outside in a dark parking lot, away from others? I beg of you, if you ever have a wife or a daughter, please for the love of God, NEVER GIVE HER THIS ADVICE.”)
We were very upset and uncomfortable over what happened for several weeks. I lost sleep over it. I worried I had hurt my son’s basketball prospects. I wondered why on earth I couldn’t keep my big mouth shut and just mind my own business?
But then, I saw what happened in Charlottesville this weekend.
I saw how racism, misogyny and hatred are on a continuum and that it is a slippery slope.
I saw how if you don’t stop it, cut it off at the knees, it grows.
I saw how it is passed down from one generation to another.
I saw how kids pick up on subtle and overt messages and signals that this kind of behavior is okay.
I saw how they went from wearing hoods in the KKK to walking with their faces showing in broad daylight.
There’s always pushback when you put yourself out there. There’s always repercussions when you speak your mind or take a stand. Be willing to accept these repercussions. Most of the time, they are tiny, like what I experienced. It’s uncomfortable. It’s unpleasant. That’s all.
We can afford to be uncomfortable and experience unpleasantness when our lives are extremely comfortable and pleasant nearly all the time.
When we don’t have to fight daily simply to be treated equally and with respect, like others do.
We owe it others who are not as privileged, to speak up and act up, from our comfortable perches.
We all have to learn how to speak up. It’s hard at first. It feels really uncomfortable. You will want to talk yourself out of it. Other people will try and talk you out of it. You will feel “uppity” and “brash” and “mouthy” and “bitchy” and like a liberal hippy freak.
That is ok. If that is the worst someone can hurl at you, you’re going to be okay. If the worst that has happened to me is two angry white dudes screaming “shut up” in my face and shaking their fingers in rage at me, I’m going to be just fine. Shaken, but fine.
Because I’ve come to realize, they don’t have true power over me. They don’t have power over my son. My son is going to be the athlete he is meant to be, regardless if he plays on that particular team or not. There are plenty of other teams out there, with coaches and owners who have scruples, morals and ethics. I know this to be true because my husband coaches and he would never, ever let something like this happen under his jurisdiction. And I would rather raise a son who knows how to treat women with respect, who stands up for those who are being mistreated or marginalized, than raise a great basketball player.
Think of Heather Heyer. She stood against Nazis! She stood up for what was right and paid for it with her life. I just got yelled at by angry suburban Dads in a crappy gym in Milwaukee. Uncomfortable and unpleasant, that’s all.
There are some people with amazing ideas on what you can do. How you can learn to stand up. How you can learn to affect change. My friend kept her part of the bargain and did the research, check out these links she found with great thoughts on these issues:
I really loved the following thread by Brittany Packett (@MsPackyetti) which I’ve taken from twitter and condensed into paragraph form. Start here, by choosing your lane. Choose the fourth lane. Choose to run. I’ll be right there beside you.
“In this time of peril, I hope to be instructive + help provoke folks toward action. Before you act, identify where you are. This thread in particular, is relevant for folks who experience any kind of privilege +benefit from our systems. Race, gender, religion, etc. For the sake of #Charlottesville, and my now viral tweet from yesterday, I’m going to give examples based on race, but apply as needed.
@BDTSpelman, a foremost education researcher and leader, discusses the oppression (of system racism) as a moving walkway. In any system of oppression, that walkway has 4 kind of people on it. The same is true in the *system* of white supremacy. The first person is an active perpetrator of the system. They run along the runway, in its intended direction. Neo-Nazis. The KKK. T*ump.
The 2nd person is not moving-but passively remains on the walkway, moving in it’s intended direction. Passively perpetuating + benefitting. Among these folks, you may hear terms like “colorblind,” or “but we’ve had a Black president.” Or even “reverse racism.” These folks may not be carrying torches, but they are doing nothing to reverse the direction of the moving walkway. No oppositional force.
The third group of people have been awakened enough to turn around, away from racism. But they still stand still. This can often be the aspiring white ally-who says, reads and performs equity without being actively anti-racist or anti-white supremacy. This third person is awake-but they still provide no oppositional force, and the walkway continues to move in the direction of oppression.
The fourth group is the group to which you must belong: actively anti-racist, running as hard and fast in the opposite direction as possible. Crawl first, then walk, then run, actively pulling against tide of oppression + systemic racism. When enough people do it-the walkway shifts. This is, of course, the hardest group to be in. Chances are, your loved ones aren’t there with you in group 4. As a kid, did you ever run opposite the moving walkway while on it? It’s hard. The walkway pulls you backwards. It wants you to turn back. But only massive oppositional force will turn the tide of the walkway-and change the direction from oppression to equity.
This is why it’s not enough to just not be a Klan member. It’s not enough to read the right books or follow the right thinkers. The only anti-oppression work that will make change requires you to run, consistently, with all your light, opposite systemic supremacy. This is not an indictment or judgment-but it is a chance to evaluate where you stand -and choose to run. It’s our only choice. To state in a more inclusive way: The only option is to move-however you do-in active opposition of oppression-and change the direction.”