The Face of Institutional Racism

20140705_012711120_iOS

The other day, my high school freshman son had a lacrosse game for school. My white son goes to an independent college preparatory school that prides itself on its diversity. As a result, his team is made up of kids from various racial, socioeconomic, and cultural groups. There are about 65 students per class. It’s not a school known for its athletic titles, but it has a few. They played a large (about 425 students per class) suburban school that is predominantly white. Despite the fact that our opponents had more than twice the number of players on their team, I didn’t see a single kid who didn’t appear to be white. They beat us by a score of, I think, 16 to three. I really wasn’t keeping track of that, I was just watching to make sure my kid didn’t get hit in the head and no one notice it.

After the game when my son got in the car, the first thing he told me about the game was that some of the opposing players had taunted his black teammates with racial slurs. One boy, in particular, they targeted with insults because he is very tall and muscular for a junior. I had heard some of the other team’s parents complaining that this boy played too roughly and that the referees needed to “do something” about him. I didn’t notice him playing all that aggressively, but he has a tremendous reach because of his size and he wasn’t letting anyone intimidate him into not using that size. It’s lacrosse, after all, a fairly rough sport. But when my son told me what had gone on during the game, I understood why the boy was so determined not to let anyone intimidate him.

This kid is really nice kid. He’s also a super smart kid who is going to have his pick of Ivy League level schools. But despite his qualifications of character and athleticism, he was made a target by some jealous kids because of his race. And then parents from that team singled him out for his play even though it wasn’t anything the refs were willing to even call.

I asked my son if the refs had heard these slurs. He said no, he didn’t think so. It’s not the first time I’ve seen something like this. My oldest played hockey with a kid of Pakistani descent who sometimes had racial slurs hurled at him. There are strict league rules about it. In one instance, my son, who was never a fighter, had stepped between his teammate and the kid targeting him. The refs then got involved and, I believe, threw the kid out of the game and suspended him. I trusted the system to take care of it.

I think most of us, in general about everything, trust the system to take care of problems of racial, gender, disability, and other forms of discrimination. But what has come to light in the news in recent years and sparked the Black Lives Matter campaign is the fact that our trust is often misplaced. Too often the system does not address the problem, and, in fact, is part of the problem. I thought about this yesterday and I became increasingly concerned that the boys on that field from my son’s school would see another instance where the adults they trust would trust a system that ultimately might fail to do its job.

I talked to one of my son’s coaches today. They were aware of the issue at the time, this coach had himself heard at least one slur. They had yelled to the refs that it was going on, but the refs said they hadn’t heard it. So, after the game, they lodged formal complaints with the other school’s athletic director and the league. They talked with our boys. I don’t know what the league will do, but I am hoping they will have an investigation and take action. The athletic director of the other school apologized on behalf of his students and has promised to take action. I worry that not much will come of all this, or at least not enough. Because the discrimination against our players was demeaning and wrong. It was demeaning and wrong for our targeted players in particular, and it was demeaning and wrong to every boy on our team. It was offensive to every boy on our team. But it matters that the process is there. It matters that the system is being used by my son’s coaches and that they will do their best to hold the kids who used these racial slurs accountable. It matters that my son and his teammates know that there are adults trying to fulfill a promise of a world in which we judge people by their characters rather than by their race or gender or sexual orientation or any other criteria used to marginalize human beings. It matters that every kid from every race on my son’s team knows that the system is going to be used to protect them and their classmates, teammates, and friends from discrimination, for every type of discrimination suffered, but especially for racial discrimination because it is so prevalent. And, most of all, it matters that we all start paying attention to whether the system is held accountable to work as it’s supposed to do.

Tell Me What You Think