Links to the Present: MLK Day edition

January 20th, 2014 by Nate Smith

Cavs.com brings us video of Cavs players reading Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. The follow-up interviews with current Cavs players on what they think of theĀ  speech are equally moving. The Cavaliers have some impressively well-spoken young men on their roster.

I was supposed to be come up with an article for today, and I was planning on it being about Martin Luther King Jr. and race relations in our post-modern age, but I couldn’t come up with anything that I didn’t feel was patronizing or overly-simplistic. Suffice it to say, that even though the Cavs don’t always play well, it is a pleasure to cover this NBA team. The Cavaliers and the NBA embody the spirit of Dr. King’s dream: men from all different backgrounds and races from around the world working together, striving for excellence, and supporting the communities they work in and the communities they come from. The spirit of the NBA is an example of how sport can help lift us out of unjust ways of thinking, and how we can come to identify with people who might be from incredibly different walks of life than ourselves. From Jackie Robinson, Mohammed Ali, and Jesse Owens, to Oscar Robertson, Elgin Baylor, Bill Russell, Campy Russell, David Stern, Jason Collins, and Hakeem Olajuwan: sports figures have been at the forefront of changing Americans’ opinions and breaking the cycle of racism in this country and around the world. That is one of the biggest reason’s I’m a fan.

Because racism’s evil is predicated not just on what it does to its victims — violence, lack of opportunity, injustice, and oppression — but also what it does to to the perpetrators — blinding them with hate and irrationality, corrupting their minds and their souls, and not letting them see the beauty in other peoples and their cultures. I always refer to Orwell’s “Shooting an Elephant” as an example of how racism and institutional colonialism can trap the oppressor into an inescapable cycle.

Legally I had done the right thing, for a mad elephant has to be killed, like a mad dog, if its owner fails to control it. Among the Europeans opinion was divided. The older men said I was right, the younger men said it was a damn shame to shoot an elephant for killing a coolie, because an elephant was worth more than any damn Coringhee coolie. And afterwards I was very glad that the coolie had been killed; it put me legally in the right and it gave me a sufficient pretext for shooting the elephant. I often wondered whether any of the others grasped that I had done it solely to avoid looking a fool.

Dr. King and so many people that came before and after him have helped to break the institution of racism in this country. And though the struggle seems never to be fully won, to me, that is his greatest contribution. It is a pleasure to live in a country where a group of mostly white bloggers can analyze the on-court actions of a group of mostly African-American young men, and have that analysis be strictly about basketball, and not about skin color. Dr. King’s message to me was that we do not have to echo the unjust opinions and practices of our forefathers, our society, even some family and friends. Freeing ourselves from the chains of racism allows us to be better, more empathetic people. We can see the grace in a pass, a dunk, a well executed give-and-go, or a basketball clinic in sub-Saharan Africa — regardless of the race, creed, or religion of the athlete performing it. For that, we thank you, Dr. King.