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Friday, February 27, 2009

Across The Great Divide- Part 1

Posted by Eboy





Written by Eboy

*****This is the first part of what I hope will stretch into a 3 to 4 part series of posts. It’s turning into a larger undertaking than I first envisioned. I hope this will stir some intelligent discussion between our hugely diverse group of readers. Thanks.****

I’ve had this piece in mind for the better part of two years now. I was going to make this an introductory joint to my old singular blog....but never got around to working on the intricacies of how flammable the content of this piece might turn into. So I decided, on a whim, to put it down for SKO. It’s a topic many of us can relate to, I’m sure, both black, white, whatever. Race issues always seem to be the ones that get everyone in their defensive stances. I hope this reads right to the SKO audience. It will come in a few parts as my memory is dissected and gives me some time to get things right....so there’s no misgivings with anyone that reads it.

Part of the reason I felt like it was time to get this out there revolved around the last two years....seeing the goodness of so many of the SLAM family of commenters in written form from their own fantastic minds and compassion for certain issues that arise that I figured now, that our little commenting family has grown to have families of our own (SKO, Hibachi, B.Long, etc.) this would be a good as time as any to get it out there. While this is in no means meant to be disparaging in any way to any group(s) of people, I’ll expect backlash in some form for putting it down.

Try not to forget though.....I got all your backs in this discussion.....’cause I’ve been through all of this firsthand and I know the misconception thing can be really game changing in ball and in life. Every now and again I turn my back on my cantankerous alter ego Eboy and try to be the grounded man I am in real life. This is one of those times. This is written by Cliff T.

How many of you can remember the first time you played a game of basketball? An actual, semi-organized one that required more than you and three of your buddies shooting at some semi-rusted goal in some tucked away playground, far away from scrutiny? I’m sure most of you remember it clear as day. So do I..

The first time I shook the dew off my wings and hit a competitive game was when I was 11.....on a scalding hot New Jersey Saturday afternoon in a park in my hometown of Jersey City. A blacktopped court.....basically smoldering, was full that early afternoon in 1981. Full meaning, on that one whole court, there were about 30 kids (ranging from my age to 17-18) all waiting for a run. I had played with buddies, fu*ked around on my own for a while, but never felt sure enough to try and embarrass myself in that type of environment. I was on the cusp of really putting in the effort to try and get good at the game and I figured “what’s the worst that could happen?” After waiting for about a half an hour to get on with the 3rd group of cats waiting...it was time. I was sh*t scared. The other 4 kids I was running with were older than me and there looked like there may have been one kid on the winning squad that could have been my age. Did I forget to mention, I was the only white kid at the court. Yup.....it was me, about 8 Puerto Rican kids and the rest of the players were black. Yes....it was the inner city for your boy back in the day. And needless to say....I was the worst player there. Not to say I didn’t try my damndest....but it didn’t matter. These cats could dribble, shoot, trap and steal...basically whatever they wanted...and I was taking a beating the few times I touched the ball. The thing that stuck with me more than the stolen passes, the blocked shot (I only put it up once) and the strips were the insults that came with them. “Whiteboy’s sorry” “Steal that sh*t from whiteboy” “You better not let whiteboy do something”. I never felt so transparent. Literally. Growing up around these kids never seemed to be as disheartening as it did that afternoon. The Puerto Rican kids were right in on it too. I know gringo was spoken a few times. My squad lost....I did nothing of note and said to myself “I ain’t doing that again”. I couldn’t understand the ignorance of these cats. I didn’t live in a bubble. I had relatives, friends, etc. that spoke with slurs as an everyday occurrence, but here? In my newfound love of basketball? Why? What was the problem here? I just said to myself, “work harder....be better....don’t let that sh*t get you”.

That kind of held true for about a year or so. It took me a while to get my game to raise a level, and playing with some of my older cousins a few miles away that actually had some swag about them. So by the time I got back in the business of trying to see if I improved at all....that whole year went by in a flash and I was tepid at making the same mistakes again. But I had a little bit more belief in my ability to do something positive instead of embarrassing the white race, so I went back. Again. To the scene of the faux-murder. I was still the only white kid in the mix....not much changed in the neighborhood from ‘81 to ‘82 and while this day was not quite as sweltering.....the sweat I was producing was similar to being in a jacuzzi on full steam. I felt the eyes on me from the time I came through the chainlink. I knew this was potentially an abortion waiting to be executed.....but I had to try. Somehow I got lucky and was going to be teamed up with a couple of big dudes, older than me.....and ready to go out an win a game. I was along for the ride. I didn’t touch the ball....once.....and barely made a ripple on the defensive end....but it was the experience of playing ball and winning.....probably about 5 games in a row....that made me go from liking the game to falling in love with it.

I noticed that while being on the winning side of things, the insults that were in full display a year ago all but seemed to have disappeared. I couldn’t understand why.....until much later in my life.....but playing with dudes that were a) respected b) talented and c) looked like they had their beat down game right....seemed to temper the storm. After my squad finally lost a game....I decided to ride out and enjoy the day for what it was, a good experience on a basketball court without the derisevness that accompanied my previous outing. As I left...a couple of the kids I played with said “hey, good run”. I just looked over and nodded, too afraid to risk my day of acceptance by saying some dumb shit. I was confident enough to know that I could play with kids in my age group now and not be the laughing stock of the court....so things were looking up.

My basketball addiction was full-blown after that. I was now looking for runs all over my area of Hudson County, NJ. That area of Jersey, just on the other side of the Hudson River from NYC was a tough area to live and a tougher area to play ball in. Lots of great players in all styles and substances. I took my game to the various courts in that area for the next few years.....trying to get my game to the point where I could have some form of a high school career. It was during this time that I saw the ignorance of my own people in full effect. Earlier in this piece I referenced some of my cousins who played ball a few miles away. I spent a bunch of time playing ball where they played at. It was there were their ignorance reared its ugly head. I saw it firsthand on a day when we were playing with their neighborhood group.....mostly white kids...a few Korean kids...and 1 or 2 Spanish ones. Everyone was getting along....playing....no differences....until two black kids rode up on their bikes.....looking to get in to the game we were running. As if on cue....on of my cousins buddies said “these niggers ain’t getting in” and to my complete disgust.....my oldest cousin said “yeah, fuck those niggers”. Now, after what I had gone through a couple of years earlier....I was sick. My cousin....older than me....someone who I admired to a point.....was showing his complete failing as a human being at this point. They spoke low enough that the kids couldn’t hear them....but with the exception of one other kid....the rest of them seemed eager to follow suit. I didn’t want to sound like a bitch at the time....so I kept my mouth quiet (plus I was only about 14 and I really didn’t have the swag to back sh*t up at that point) and times were much, much different then. The whole politically correct thing we see today as commonplace was about as common as a Jordan Rookie card showing up in your mail today. Needless to say.....the tone of that day was ruined, at least for me. I wound up leaving after the game I was in.....headed back home....riding my bike to my house....still shook. It wasn’t the words as much as the steady agreement of the entire group. I mean, hearing the N-word was an everyday thing in that area. I never spoke it.......well, because it never was something I had to use in my life to prove my stupidity or some false bravado. Plus....in Jersey....Italians at that time were in some way still looked upon as their own racial stereotype insult group that was hurtful in it’s own way so using some other derogatory term for someone else was pure bullsh*t. But somehow being called a “stupid guinea” or a “dumb wop” didn’t carry the same type of sting.

If I only knew then what I know today. All I could think to myself was “how come this type of sh*t exists?.” My mom and dad didn’t have this type of hatred/stupidity towards all the different races/religions that were around us in our very mixed neighborhoods. If it “starts at home” I never had that stigma attached to my direct family. It wasn’t like that, and I wasn’t molded in the image that apparently people of my own bloodline had been polluted with. Years later I would think to myself.....or in conversation with friends that were liked minded....”when will the mistakes and the hate of those that fu*ked things up so badly in the past go away so that people in my generation can get past it and we can try and be unified as a people”. Nice idea, right? You know what? Today.....going on two generations later......it’s still not that way.

I still had run into my “whiteboy” hate in other parts of the county during my game development.....but being a bit better basketball wise than I was in my original introduction to that hate/resentment/ignorance that I faced....seemed to work in my favor. If I wasn’t “the sorry whiteboy” I didn’t seem to be bothered as much. I still got it in some heated spots....but it wasn’t AS commonplace. But I always knew that I wasn’t fully accepted in the runs I frequented, just as I saw that the same guys that had that grudge toward me weren’t accepted on the flip. It was just a huge disappointment. And by the time I hit high school....I began to grasp the differences and embrace my insulters instead of putting my head down and walking away in a cloud of shame, anger or self-pity. It was time to get ME right so they would take me for who I was instead of who I represented. Unfortunately, with greater self confidence came more heated confrontations. Those are stories for part two.

29 comments:

B. Long said...

Great post, E. I'm excited to see the next part. Replace the Puerto Rican's with Mexican's and I've got some eerily similar stories.

Eboy said...

Thanks, B.

Anonymous said...

I am about three paragraphs into this post, and all I have to say is, this is the best shit I have read in a while. I really love it.

Shit. Am getting teary eyed right now. It brings back my first time ever playing, and how true your statement is. How ignorance is every where, even in the sanctuary of the blacktop. How kids can be so cruel.

Keep up the great work.

(By the way, Am Dominican. Just to let all you other cats know.)

Eboy said...

Well, Mr. Anonymous Domican....I'm glad you were enjoying it. :) And welcome....if you haven't been by before.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the welcome. I've been on this site before. But never had the cojones to post anything.

But yeah, Just finished reading the entire post. I can't wait for the next installments.

Just one question tho, whens the next update on your own Jordan piece?

Eboy said...

From back in day...on my old blog? Man......I hadn't even thought about finishing that. I might just have to close that out at some point.

Hursty said...

Nice Eboy. Very good.

Bielasiak33 said...

good stuff E.

I'm from Indiana (and I'm white) so you know how we do our hoops there. I'm from a pretty big college town though so it's not all white people and I've definitely seen the same sh*t go down. These days, I just roll up my shorts and go to work on the D (I sort of suck on the O) when people start saying dumb stuff.

Moose said...

Great work, Mr. Terhune.

Tariq al Hayder said...

You disappoint me, Eboy. I need you to be a racist, otherwise the world just doesn't make sense.

Eboy said...

Sorry.

Tariq al Hayder said...

It's OK. I still love you intensely.

the baconator said...

Damn dude, this is some great stuff right here. I gotta say though, don't take what you had for granted. I live in an extremely small, extremely white town where racism is pretty commonplace among the poor and rural families. What's worse, there's no local courts or playgrounds to ball in, just high school and the driveway. Anyways, I'm looking forward to the next piece

TADOne said...

Ok, i've finally taken the time to read this and....bravo. Good stuff. I can relate. And yes, this stuff still happens to this day. Regardless, it is all action/reaction. If you don't respond negative, it normally goes to the wayside.

I'll be awaiting part 2.

ASPOV said...

I just got through it too, TAD, and I really enjoyed this Cliff. What's funny and ironic is I went through similar shit as a girl on the courts in my day. Growing up in D.C. in what I guess was "the hood" (and I say "I guess" because in my youth D.C. was 95% black and segregated, so most of the hoods were black. Although there was also a class mix, that got destroyed with integration--go figure. (That could make a great post too, huh?) Anyway, back to my parallel experience: I played ball with the fellas starting around 10 or 11 years old. It was cool for about a year or so, until I began to "develop". After that i was "that dyke" because why would a girl want to play ball with the guys, or I'd be driving for a lay up and get the nipples pinched or my ass squeezed (TMI guys?) and it just stopped being fun. I loved the game but I got sequestered to watching on the sidelines so my sexuality wouldn't be questioned or my body wouldn't be violated. Kids are stupid.

TADOne said...

With as much sh*t as we Miss Cheryl, that is hardly TMI. Damn, we were some harsh ass kids back in the day, huh?

Eboy said...

Cheryl, that would make a great post. And any info from the ASPOV is welcomed around here. There's never enough, imo. And yeah, kids are stupid....but I don't reference children any longer in my upcoming parts. Adults are stupid as f*ck too.

Hursty said...

Part 2 please. :D

Moose said...

+1 Hursty.

B. Long said...

New stuff on WBBL!

Teddy-the-Bear said...

This was a really good story to read, E. I never even come to this site, but decided to check it out. Glad I did man.

Hursty said...

SKO is trippin!
Pick your game up fellas!
:)

Anonymous said...

Greatest thing ever written on SKO, by a longshot. Keep writing like this and I would read this blog everyday.

-Jukai

BET said...

as a 16 year old black hip hop adict in the south, where rednecks fly confederate flags and teach their kids 'the south shall rise again' i have waaaay too many stories to fill this place up with. Good stuff Eboy

RV said...

Just browsed through, but good shit, Eboy... growing up in an area that's predominantly hispanic i cant say i ran into too many of these situations..but i did go to a high school for two years outside of my area where there were many different races and i played ball there. There's nothing like runnin in practice, swatting this kid's shot from the side, only for him to turn around in disgust when he realized it was me, and says, "can't believe i got blocked by a damn mexican"......crazy shit coming from a teammate, especially since the kid was biracial(blk/white).....but at least ballin' itself gets you some respect, white or blacks guys have stopped by at our local court, looking to run things since we're all mexicans, only to realize it's not as easy as it seems, by the end of the day we're all friends. Sometimes it's more of basketball thing than a racial thing, which i guess is still bad, but better than if it was the other way around.

first time visiter said...

dangg. im from newfoundland, canada.. never seen a black person before i vacationed in toronto. not to say none live here, but very few. ive never had racial problems but i play ball at a local university's rec centre and the asians (5 foot to 6'5"//17-40 yrs old) that come to the university all play ball, and are all looked down upon. MOSTLY because they suck 95% of the time, but also because they are clique-ish and seem to come into the court thinking they own the place. i hate it when my friends say the chinks are here,asian invasion, and other derogatory shit like that

Eboy said...

I guess I should crank up part II. Thanks for all the words guys (and first time visitors :)

Big Man said...

Interesting post Eboy, or Cliff.
I find it interesting that your first experience with bigotry came so late in life. I think you said 11 or 12.
I got my first taste much earlier, in pre-school to be exact. And it wasn't just in social settings, but in classroom setting from adults.
Ball is beautiful, and sometimes it can unify, but most of the time it just highlights the differences. We're talking about competition, and whenever you mix people and competition, ugliness is going to rear its head.

Eboy said...

Big Man (Allen) I appreciate the words.......it didn't really hit me cause I think my parents may have tried to keep me out of the line of fire so to speak....and it wasn't until that time when i ventured out on my own did I see what I hadn't yet been subjected to.