Dear coach: Racism abounds; sport should unite

Dear Coach:
I don't know how long you have lived here but I am surprised you are just finding out the ignorance and racism of most of the citizens of Carroll County. I moved here in 1970 and found an active KKK organization holding cross burnings. I had not experienced racism like that since serving in the USAF in Mississippi, when a southern boy explained to me that he "just hates 'em." Apparently you have not been in many bars in the county. Try any of them and just mention Obama and take your chances. I, too, thought that education might be the answer (for the white folks) and that eventually Carroll County would be enlightened by the educated people moving into the area. I was obviously wrong. I think it's worse today than in 1970. The whites are better-educated but they are still bigots. ... The good news is no one has hung a "colored boy" in Carroll, yet.
Dennis S.
Dear Coach:
It didn't take long for me to read between your lines. YOU are the bigot who has to walk away from well-meaning people who use the wrong word in your presence. I have never heard that "colored" is a bad word. I ask how do you distinguish one person from a group, unless you name the thing that sets them apart from the others? That would include a bright orange shirt, pink sneakers, or perhaps hair or skin color. When did it become a sin to notice skin color? If I say "she has a beautiful brown complexion," is that racist too in your mind? I am really glad you had to sit somewhere else after such a hurtful, unkind racial remark form this couple who had been so active in the development of sports for all young people. They deserved a much better seat mate than one who is sitting in judgment of them. You seem to make an awfully big case off of something that happened a year ago, and was not of any great importance then or now. She used language that many polite people of a past generation used, and it was not racist nor was it intended to be. It amazes me that whites can be accused of racism whenever they speak, but the same words are meaningless when coming from another black person ... and I am still a "cracker" to many of those people. Isn't it just possible that we can see flaws in all people without judging them or being judged ourselves? Isn't it just possible that race is used way too often, when there is no such intention? It doesn't give me much comfort that folks who think as you do, keep the flames of racism burning, even when it isn't there. Really, don't you have anything more "sporting" to write about? Maybe the pretext is all yours, even if you do consider yourself the coach with character.
Pat L.
"I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul."
Those are the closing lines of William Ernest Henley's poem, Invictus, which Nelson Mandela recited night after night while imprisoned on Robben Island.
Pat L., your email led me to the man in the mirror, to put myself to his test. You made me reread what I wrote to see if there was any way a rational reader could plausibly reason or infer, or impute any racial intent (whatsoever) from my writing or upon me; and, to see if I saw racism in the eyes of that man in the mirror.
You're right about one thing - I consider myself a man of high character; holding myself to a high standard of integrity in my words and my actions. And/but - and to put it in black and white for the avoidance of doubt - I am not racist.
Two rhetorically-styled questions stood out in your note. Namely your statement-styled questions about "how do you distinguish one person from a group, unless you name the thing that sets them apart from the others(?)" and "isn't it just possible that we can see flaws in all people without judging them or being judged ourselves?"
The former seems to hit squarely on point insofar as the young boy certainly could have been described in a number of different ways without reference to color; describing him, for example, by the position he was playing, his unique skill set, or the fact that he was the only left-handed kid in the gym.
The latter, too, seems to shed light on your own thinking insofar as it could be interpreted or inferred that it is YOUR belief that being black is somehow, in some way, a flaw in and of itself.
I'm left shaking my head. And, I'm going to proverbially walk to the other side of the gym now; again signaling my disagreement and disappointment. However for your edification and that of those who may feign ignorance of their own ignorance - and to put it in black and white for the avoidance of doubt - referring to anyone as "colored" is derogatory, negative, bad, dated, played-out, and wrong.
I do have something more "sporting" to write about, though still very topically relevant. Nelson Mandela died last week.
Epitomizing Dubois' ideal of the "Talented Tenth" (touched-on in last week's column), Mandela was one of a few who Dubois may have called the World-Changing One.
A few short years removed from serving a brutal, mostly solitary, 27-year prison term on Robben Island, and only hours after being elected South Africa's first black President, Mandela famously went to a soccer match - because soccer had galvanized the political prisoners of apartheid held on Robben Island. A year later, when South Africa hosted the Rugby World Cup, Mandela donned the jersey of the national rugby team, the Springboks and in doing so, galvanized a once-fissured nation.
The motto of South Africa's Springbok National Rugby Team is "One Team, One Country." Sports are meant to galvanize, to unite, and to put positive ideals on display; not to further fissure or to further baseless hatreds.
Many nations boycotted sporting events during and because of South Africa's apartheid government; signaling a show of solidarity toward those wrongfully oppressed and imprisoned. Mandela appreciated, understood and leveraged the role of sports and their potential to be unifying. We all should too.
Mandela said that, "sports have the power to change the world." That, "a winner is a dreamer who never gives up ... one cannot be prepared for something while secretly believing it will not happen." And, as may be poignant to assuaging the sentiments exchanged back-and-forth above, Mandela said that "as I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn't leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I'd still be in prison."