I take pride in being able to see the unseen and articulate the unspoken.
It’s one of those gift-and-curse type things that developed over the years as a brown kid who was raised in a traditional-ish house in the South. I say “-ish” just because my parents’ attempts at instilling Muslim values steadily eroded as we got older and more entrenched in the western world. Instead of being doctors, engineers and lawyers, we ended up as a chef, a music producer, and a journalist.
The first girl I ever had a crush on was white, and my first girlfriend was black. My circle of friends, laughing around a table covered in empty beer bottles on a patio at 2 a.m., would have been perfect for a brochure on diversity. We understood and acknowledged our variances in skin color but never made it change how we treated each other.
Through all that, I’ve developed a perspective I’m really proud of and, even with all its foresight and all its egotistical sagacity, I could have never predicted the weekend we just trudged through, one where the most polarizing president in modern history took aim at two of the most popular sports leagues in the world.
At a rally in Alabama Friday, Donald Trump said NFL owners should fire any “son of a bitch” who exercises their constitutional right to peacefully protest the national anthem. He then doubled down in a series of tweets the next morning while also uninviting the Golden State Warriors from their post-championship visit to the White House. The reason: Steph Curry said he didn’t want to go because Trump failed to condemn the white supremacy groups that fueled the violence in Charlottesville last month.
The response that followed his tweet storm was staggering. Some of the most powerful athletes on the planet took to social media and voiced their dissent at an unprecedented level. On Sunday, players and owners from almost every NFL team came together as they took a knee, locked arms, or even skipped the national anthem altogether.
It was, without question, the largest collective protest the sports world has ever seen, and it’s taken the conversation regarding racial inequality to a new height.
But my spiel is not about the president or free speech or the racial divide. It’s about communication. It’s about how candid and productive discourse that was once a pillar of the American experience has devolved into a battle between tribes, where the privileged stay silent and the disenfranchised are lumped into an endless trigger-mob.
And because it’s planted such deep roots in the sports world, we have to find a way to restore some semblance of goodwill if we want sports to go back to being the escape they once were.
So if you’re one of those bitter “stick to sports” people, you’re not going to like the rest of this column.
The political spectrum has become dominated by its extremes, and this has led to rampant confirmation bias. People would rather resign to their bubbles where they reinforce the same ideas because they’re afraid to challenge their beliefs or develop a new understanding. The fear of public retribution and social isolation is crippling, and allows those with privilege to avoid the conversation entirely.
The discussion that does happen has also been transformed into a game, with superficial winners and losers. Political parties have become teams and points are scored by trashing the opposition through this strange debate pretzel that’s developed into an Internet staple, where buzz words signal which counterpoint to dial up next. If you dial up all the right points, guess what? You record an empty victory celebrated by no one except your fleeting ego.
Maybe the most challenging phenomenon to overcome is the negative effect of identity politics. For better or worse, we are the most diverse country on the planet, but the segmenting of groups in the name of earning political clout that may result in votes has divided us along the very lines meant to unite us. We have forgotten the unique circumstances that form individuals and lazily assume someone’s ideologies just because they fit into a certain demographic. And trust me, every single one of us is guilty for the biases created by this.
So, now the ever-difficult question of what to do. There’s no good answer for this, but I have a few suggestions.
The first is to start opening yourself up to uncomfortable conversations about systemic inequality and the privilege that might have kept you silent or indifferent to its prevalence for so long. It’s time to start speaking your mind and sharing your beliefs with those around you, in group texts, at dinner parties, maybe even in a respectful way at work. If there’s someone you know who’s been struggling with understanding why all these things are happening, share an insight, an anecdote, or something you read that might have enlightened you in some way.
We have to have honest dialogue about things we might have never said out loud or wrestled with before. That’s the only way you can contextualize the challenges that come with being a minority in America. And right now, we need allies.
Moderates and reasonable, decent Americans have to be interested in having a voice to counter the extremists dominating political discourse. At this point, silence is an endorsement, acceptance that there is no way up and we are doomed to the cliff we are sprinting toward.
Trust me – I want to go back to talking about lighter subjects. I don’t like thinking about this stuff, it stresses me out and I hate the see-saw of cynicism and optimism I am stuck on. I want politics to stay in the news section and athletes to stick to sports.
Unfortunately, this is where we are, and it’s on all of us to get involved now. A democracy is only as good as the body it represents, and we have to come together to heal these wounds if we want any chance at survival.