People will only be people someday

On MJ and politics.

But perhaps Michael Jordan was different. He was representative of a different generation of young blacks in America, for whom many doors once closed, not only educationally but commercially and socially, were now opened, and he as much as anyone had in his way helped open some of them. To the degree that he was capable of making a statement about the black condition, it was not so much with his words but with his deeds, the way he played in big games under unrelenting pressure, the way he comported himself on and off court in front of the most intrusive media scrutiny in modern history, and finally how shrewd a businessman he had become. It was, in his case, as if some things did not need to be spoken because they had been done.

Jordan has been raised in a family where there were powerful internal codes, but they were middle-class codes, about how to comport yourself, how to do well and become a success in school and business, not about manifesting any political or social grievance. If anything, the teachings in the Jordan family had been quite the reverse. He and his siblings were taught about the greater possibilities that awaited them if they worked hard, rather than about the historic prejudices that had damaged people in the past; he was taught that it was important and natural to have friends on both sides of the racial line and that was what he had always done. When this reporter once mentioned to Deloris Jordan, his mother, about how remarkable Michael’s climb was for a young black athlete in becoming the best-known and best-paid commercial spokesman in the world, her immediate reaction was to say that there was too much being made of the black-white thing and that was one of the things wrong with the country. Everyone ought to remember, she said, that people were just people.

From Playing for Keeps, still an outstanding book.

It’s… Complicated. To me, thinking that things are somehow static –people are just people- highlights a profound lack of awareness about dynamics. Human societies are rivers, they flow. They change. They move the past, the present and the future at the same time, like a boulder at the bottom of a creek.

Race relationships in a sports and NBA world that needed black bodies so bad were, of course, manageable. But outside sports and rare corporate unicorns like MJ, it was bad. It’s always been bad. The 80s were catastrophic for black America. The 90s were better, relative to the awful previous decade and the previous one (the 70s hadn’t been so great for black folks either).

On my side, in Europe within my white world it was fine. Inside a bubble pretty similar to Jordan’s family values. But I could sense from a few bullies at school or Rodney King on TV, that something was lingering, hard. That race relationships were not that great. There was tension, always some, even in the most relaxed situations. I didn’t forget. I didn’t want to put some rose-colored glasses to avoid it. I didn’t seek for outrage either. It was just there, following me. I kind of hoped that it would die down even though I knew it would not.

Fast forward today. Shit is realer than ever. I don’t know how many black bodies died for no reason, on my laptop in the past five years but it’s a lot. Kap, who simply kneeled. Ferguson activists dying left and right in super weird circumstances. My own field, with a staggering less than 2% of black folks in a 40 year old business. My black friends, older, telling me about the shit they’re going through. They don’t complain. They tell me about it at some point because they need to. Dealing with this while displaying a “people are just people” is some heavy burden that other people don’t know. Even Michael Jordan, probably completely sick of the dissonance in his soul, spoke up three years ago.

People will only be just people the day we square up and fix that absurd, relentless and highly destructive wealth inequality that shouldn’t exist in such prosperous times we’re living in.

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