Look here: I’ve been doing TV commentary as a journalist—gabbing about everything from politics and entertainment to race and parenting—since the mid 90s, and I’ve sparred with the best over some controversial topics: Jack Kervorkian, Trayvon Martin, whether Black parents who hit their kids with switches are practicing plantation discipline, the best ways to talk to children about sex. Earlier this week, in an appearance on the Meredith Vieira Show, I added another doozie to the list: Black children and white people sports.
Oh, yeah, you read that correctly. There I was on Meredith’s mom panel, debating about whether it’s safe for kids to play football, when fellow panelist, New York radio deejay Carolina Bermudez, announced that she wants her “half Latino, half white” son (her description, not mine) to play “white sports.”
White sports, yo.
Go ahead, listen for yourselves—right around the 3:30 mark. Carolina’s remark, all weird and inappropriate and a smidge snooty and a lot ignorant, even made Mel B., aka Scary Spice, truly one of the most non-racial Black women on the planet, uncomfortable. And best believe, it encouraged an EPIC side-eye from yours truly. Meredith, who, after playing the amiable referee for years on “The View” may sense a verbal smackdown when she sees one, managed to steer the convo away from the foolery before I could get my boxing gloves on, but trust me, had we had the time, had we had the space, had my garden of f*cks been barren, Carolina’s ignorant statement would have been taken down.
I mean, consider the implications of what she’s saying here: she wants her “half-white” son to tap into his good white folk side and play games that, what… are steeped in white privilege? That embrace a tradition of using economics and straight up racism to bar Black athletes from playing them? That open the door to “white gentlemen” rather than those big, Black bucks that use their brute strength, muscle and size to smash up people like animals?
When pressed, she tried to clean up her words by insisting that she simply wanted her son to play a game “where he can make a difference and he’s not in danger,” but really, the damage was done. Coloring non-contact sports, literally, in whiteness in this particular conversation about the dangers of football (a sport dominated by Black men) opened the floodgates to an historic conversation steeped in cruel stereotypes and racist tropes that “other” Black bodies.
Black athletes/men are dangerous.
Black athletes/men are violent.
Black athletes/men are barbaric.
Black athletes/men are prone to hurt good white folk.
White folk are safe… genteel… cunning… non-violent… intelligent. More physically, mentally, socially and emotionally fit for sports like tennis and golf and crew and, like, Ultimate Frisbee.
Of course, Caroline didn’t say all this. But really, surely, she’s a smart enough woman to know that when you unpack a conversation around “white sports” and Black athletes, you unpack centuries of racist labels/jokes/beliefs that continue to rear their ugly heads. Like when world champion tennis player Serena Williams, with her curvy, muscular, perfect-in-every-way chocolate body, slays on the tennis court but still gets called “manly” and “masculine” and “nigger” by the fans, and dogged by the game announcers, even when she’s winning. Like when Tiger Woods won the Masters Golf Tournament and his opponents “jokingly” asked if he’d be serving fried chicken at his championship dinner. Like when spectators waved bananas and tossed chicken wings on the ice when Joel Ward dared play ice hockey with the Washington Capitals.
If we must talk about the color divide in sports, then, well, let’s go there. Let’s talk about the exclusion of Blacks—and hell, Latinos and Asians and every other person of color, for that matter—from the golf greens, tennis courts, swimming pools, row boats, ski slopes and ice rinks. Let’s talk about why its so cost-prohibitive for mere average people to participate in these sports in meaningful ways. Let’s talk about the racism people of color face when they do try to play. And yeah, let’s talk about how Black folks tend to dominate those sports if they do manage to slip in.
Simply put: the ugliness is real, still. The history sears, still. And Carolina’s proclamation about “white sports” in the context of our conversation felt… gross. Even moreso when, yesterday, she took to Twitter to dismiss her comments as a “joke” that her critics need to “get over.”
Ha ha hell. No one’s laughing, Carolina.
As the mother of athletes who have played participated on organized football, soccer, softball, basketball, tennis, track and swim teams, I’d like to point out that athletes are just that—athletes. They play with heart and passion and prowess and intelligence, and their ability to excel in one sport translates rather easily to others because they’re… well… athletes. Strip away the barriers and all that backwards ass thinking about color dictating who should play what, and it really is that simple.
How about we stop harping on color and what “white sports” are and just let the kids play?
Mom. NY Times bestselling author. Pop culture ninja. Unapologetic lover of shoes, bacon and babies. Nice with the verbs. Founder of the top black parenting website, MyBrownBaby.