Are David Aldridge and Mike Wilbon right? Is the NBA All-Star Game the Black Thanksgiving?
When speaking on the topic of race, it’s always important to give your background. I wouldn’t want to mislead anyone into thinking I know more or less than I do. So, let’s clear the deck.
I’m white and I come from a white family. I have a few black friends and work with few black people, so to say that I have a strong handle on black culture or the black experience would be a lie.
What I do have, however, is a strong sense of tradition, what it means to the people involved and how it can be perceived to the people on the outside looking in.
I understand the historical significance of Thanksgiving and the good that it symbolized along with some of the evil that followed it (in relation to the relationship between the Americans and the Native Americans), and I also understand, at least in a historical context, the struggle of black people in this county.
It’s from that in which I write my thoughts on the “Black Thanksgiving.”
To be blunt, I do agree with Wilbon that it’s the black Thanksgiving. I must say this with the understanding that I’m not trying to cheapen the viewpoint of African-Americans. I certainly do not believe that their Thanksgiving consists of LeBron James, Derrick Rose and Kobe Bryant. I don’t measure these as the things that the black culture embraces, but let’s face it:Thanksgiving was not about black people.
For years, black people were not a true and equal part of the Turkey Day experience. They were not a part of the “Americans” surviving and thriving in this country, because they simply were not allowed to. They were less than citizens for centuries, second class citizens for years more. Some would argue that with all the progress that has been made, black people are still not treated equally. Whether true or not, it does not diminish what the All-Star weekend means to them.
Since the day they were allowed to be free, they have struggled to get an equal footing in any area of life. While the list is long of African-Americans who have flourished in this country, there is a longer list of those who have not gotten ahead due to their economic background, skin color or other mitigating factors.
Even in the area of sports there has been a strong division of color, or a lack of presence of color. Baseball is these days having a problem attracting black athletes. Soccer, tennis and golf have but only a few. Hockey is still a white Canadian experience. The National Football League is perhaps the most racially balanced of all the major sports.
But then there is the National Basketball Association.
This is the only sport, the only true professional field, where blacks are not just the norm, but the standard, the bar, the template for all other employees in that field. Black coaches populate the NBA more than any other professional or collegiate sport in the world.
When the pilgrims celebrated the first Thanksgiving it was a symbol that they have not only survived the first winter, but it was the promise they could be more, could mean more and could do more. There was no one at that Thanksgiving thinking, “I’m thankful I’m here and don’t aspire to be more.”
Blacks who embrace the sport aren’t thinking to themselves, “I hope this is the only area where we set the bar.” Black culture wants more and is achieving more. They are not content with just thriving in basketball, but they are proud that they are thriving there.
The NBA symbolizes that you don’t just have to exist in a field, you can thrive in it. All-Star Weekend is more than just a game. It’s the celebration of their culture and the extraordinary success of many black Americans. That’s something to be thankful for.