The morning after the Utah Jazz lost in Los Angeles to the Lakers, Jazz fans were online clamoring about what the loss could mean for playoff seeding, the Jazz’s overall injury woes, or if it meant anything at all. Then Kyle Korver dropped The Player’s Tribune article that reminded us how silly it is for us to invest all this time, energy, and work into a silly game of putting a ball through a hoop ten feet in the air when the majority of us Jazz fans have a much more difficult issue to resolve: our privilege.
In the past 30 days the Utah Jazz—their ownership, management, players, and fans—have seen themselves thrust into the forefront of a discussion on racial tensions in America. Like an actor thrust prematurely on stage with little rehearsal, it’s been a work in progress. The state of Utah, its fans, and the Jazz ownership are not the faces you’d expect pushing the discourse because ... well ... the majority of us are white. Kyle Korver in his article highlighted this:
There’s an elephant in the room that I’ve been thinking about a lot over these last few weeks. It’s the fact that, demographically, if we’re being honest: I have more in common with the fans in the crowd at your average NBA game than I have with the players on the court.
And after the events in Salt Lake City last month, and as we’ve been discussing them since, I’ve really started to recognize the role those demographics play in my privilege. It’s like — I may be Thabo’s friend, or Ekpe’s teammate, or Russ’s colleague; I may work with those guys. And I absolutely 100% stand with them.
But I look like the other guy.
And whether I like it or not? I’m beginning to understand how that means something.
To be honest, when the Russell Westbrook story broke out I was afraid to put pen to paper. I’m not all white—I’m 1⁄4 Latinx—but I’ve always been treated as a white guy. I look white. I act white. My family, for all intents and purposes, is a typical white suburban family. Everything that was racist, discriminatory, or oppressive happened to my mother or my grandmother when they were younger. As Kyle Korver put it:
I can also fade into the crowd, and my face can blend in with the faces of those hecklers, any time I want.
I can cloak my ethnicity. That’s a privilege. A remarkable privilege. I have had friends and sometimes family make derogatory remarks about minorities when I’m in the room because everyone in the room appears white. When I was younger, I’d go along with it because it was easier to blend in and not cause a scene than to just chuckle and let a joke slide even if the butt of the joke was my own kin. When I was younger I was worried about appearing to be “offended about everything” which is just another codified way for people to explain their way of a racist joke or comment without apologizing.
As I got older, I stopped allowing it. I was okay with the uncomfortable silence that happened after I interjected that the joke was racist or wrong. As this conversation gets pushed forward more and more, those of us who have the privilege of “blending in” have to stand out. We have to call out behavior as Kyle Korver pointed out.
And so, again, banning a guy like Russ’s heckler? To me, that’s the “easy” part. But if we’re really going to make a difference as a league, as a community, and as a country on this issue….. it’s like I said — I just think we need to push ourselves another step further.
First, by identifying that less visible, less obvious behavior as what it is: racism.
And then second, by denouncing that racism — actively, and at every level.
Returning to the Russell Westbrook incident, I remember people saying, “Why didn’t anybody call out that guy for saying racist stuff?” I think about times where sometimes I haven’t been the first person to call out the behavior. Good people—white people—have called out the wrong behavior, but I see quite often the person instigating such behavior will challenge that person by being sensitive or a “social justice warrior” (SJW) as if wrong can’t be wrong. If I’m in the vicinity I can bring up I’m partly Latinx then the person will slow their roll pretty quickly. I’m not some oppressed minority as I have already said. But the mere presence of a minority is enough to shut the person up.
It’s wrong that I feel the need to co-opt my mother and grandmother’s discrimination in order to engage in racial discussions. I should just be able to say, “That’s wrong and isn’t right,” not “As someone who is 1⁄4 Latinx, that’s offensive.” I feel guilty using it like some anti-racist Infinity Stone instead of getting my own hands dirty. As if we as white people have to rely upon those of color to prevent us from being the most corrupt version of ourselves. That’s called privilege.
There’s another batch of privilege that many are talking about in response to the Kyle Korver article, it’s the privilege of Kyle Korver getting elevated for being the mouthpiece of valiant social change without hearing a lot of the degrading “If he doesn’t like it, he can go back to where he came from” or “To shut up and dribble”. That’s a privilege. Bomani Jones brought this to light:
Even his tweet is highlighting the privilege Kyle Korver and white people have, “so maybe you’ll listen to kyle korver if you won’t listen to me.” We’re guilty of having to rely on someone to “black-splain” to us the racial injustice without ever having to live the pain, injustice, or inequality that minorities go through in their lives. Kyle Korver’s piece is getting shared into oblivion because a good majority of us who are white are reckoning with what it really means to be white and how to yield the influence—whether consciously gained or not—that we have.
Kyle Korver was able to share this and be praised at an unprecedented level. That’s a very good thing. He’s able to reach ears, hearts, and households that wouldn’t read or hear the message because of his skin color. But that is also privilege. There are other Utah Jazz players that have been active in enacting change at a much deeper level for much longer. Thabo Sefolosha in the piece donated part of his settlement from the NYPD to an Atlanta-based nonprofit that helps support and train public defenders across the country.
Ekpe Udoh is enacting change with the masses with #EkpesBookClub. His book club has been engaging Utah Jazz fans—the majority of them white—to read books that gets them out of their own experience and into the experiences of others whether it’s through Things Fall Apart that tells about pre-colonial life in the south-eastern part of Nigeria and the arrival of the Europeans during the late nineteenth century, the Autobiography of Malcolm X by Malcolm X and Alex Haey that chronicles Malcolm X’s philosophy of black pride, black nationalism, and pan-Africanism, or Becoming by Michelle Obama that speaks to her experiences in gaining her voice and time in the White House.
Much like when everyone applauded Beto O’Rourke for his thoughts on the Black Lives Matter movement, it wasn’t that he was bringing anything new to the discussion that activists and those in the black community hadn’t said, it was that he was white while saying them.
Being white and popular brings a bigger megaphone. That’s extreme privilege. Ekpe Udoh even brought up that very issue when talking about the role Gail Miller can have in this discussion.
“I’m appreciative of what they’ve done. You know this wasn’t the first — may not be the last —time, but they finally put their feet down. But if she [Utah Jazz owner Gail Miller] can create some kind of change — she’s a wealthy woman. She can hop on the phone with 29 other owners, and other owners, and try to keep them accountable. And now she’s put herself out there and now I think it’s up to the players to hold the organization accountable.”
We must also acknowledge that there have been countless athletes in the past who have blazed the trail whether it was Mohammed Ali who refused to go to Vietnam, Shareef Abdul-Rahim who was suspended for refusing to stand for the National Anthem, or Colin Kaepernick who kneeled to bring attention to racial inequality during the National Anthem who were publicly flogged, shamed, and finger wagged as they tried to bring attention to larger issues. The latter brought the ire of politicians, a President, and became a lightning rod for all that was wrong.
A discussion on Colin Kaepernick—and partly LeBron James involvement in social issues—even exposed the racial tectonic plates in my own family that I never realized existed just a couple years ago when he was brought up at a family dinner. That discussion abruptly ended with someone yelling, “If they don’t like it they can go back to where they came from!” My wife and I left immediately. We as a family talked about it later in the week that followed through texts, phone calls, and social media. These were TOUGH discussions, but necessary ones.
I can guarantee any criticism about Kyle Korver’s message is going to be treated a lot differently than Kaepernick and LeBron. I don’t see Kyle Korver’s face getting flashed on FOX News in the next few days or even weeks as a lightning rod for hate and the status quo.
Reading Kyle Korver’s piece brought a lot of emotions because I have the luxury—even as I am enough of a minority to get a college scholarship—to blend in. I, also, am woefully undereducated on issues and want to do more. When the Russell Westbrook incident occurred, I shied away from writing a strong story on this website. I was scared of making my voice heard or trying to navigate the difficult issue. Kyle Korver’s piece resonated with me and made me realize I can’t hide in the shadows, I’ve got to use my privilege for good because my privilege affords me a larger megaphone.
But if I’m being real, I should have already known that. All of us should have.