Friday, October 2, 2009

Fight at KU runs deeper than hip-hop

No reason to dwell on a fight last week, because it serves nobody's interest to relive what the black football and black basketball players at the University of Kansas did in acting like street toughs. Their fistfight doesn’t augur well for these men or for the college they represent; after all, thuggish misconduct never finds a welcome mat at an institution of higher learning.

What this fighting means in a larger context isn’t simple to discern.

Yet that fact didn’t stop Jason Whitlock, a Kansas City sports columnist, from playing pop psychologist. As he's prone to do, Whitlock positioned himself as the final voice, as the social critic who can dissect the minds and judge the behavior of blacks.

His analysis proved as maddening as the events he commented on. For no journalist, regardless of what his intellectual pedigree, can say with certainty what prompted the fight. Whitlock surely couldn’t build a strong reason for it when he’s so removed from the black men there he’s trying to deconstruct.

This is a long-winded way of telling a columnist that he can sometimes serve his audience best by keeping such shallow-minded thoughts to himself. For the root of the problems at KU, as well as at many large universities that trade in big-time athletics, isn’t as easy to get to as saying the hip-hop culture -- or a fractured family life -- led to the fistfight, as a friend who graduated two years ago from Kansas pointed out.

“Basically, from what I can tell, there were two causes: one, girls,” he told me. “And the other is the fact that both teams want to be considered the top dog on campus and view the other team as a threat.

“It's all ridiculous.”

As ridiculous as this fight was, I know it can be all-too typical of college life whenever black athletes are disconnected from the rest of the student body. They often break into clueless clans, tending to treat the campus green as if it were as freewheeling a place as a street in Compton, Calif.

Isolation doesn’t expose these black men to the full collegiate experience, which doesn’t come wrapped inside black culture. The college they picked is a white world, and these men can’t expect Lawrence, Kan., to appreciate their world if they chose to disrespect its world.

They can never pick the street life over academe. When they do, they close themselves off from what campuses like Lawrence or Ames or Lincoln or Eugene or Austin or State College or Ann Arbor or Fayetteville or Gainesville or Madison or Baton Rouge offer, and they do so at the risk of not acquiring the accouterments of educated men.

For in the world of the educated, flailing fists have no currency. Fistfights aren't what higher education teaches black men. For them, attending college should be about pushing aside boyhood and accepting the burdens of manhood. These aren’t lessons a person learns from rap music; these are lessons learned through exposure to what the broader world has.

Black athletes don’t have to jettison their urban upbringing to learn these lessons, but they need to understand that their past isn’t what will necessarily earn them success in that broader world. Their refusal to evolve can lead to behavior that repulses people, especially those people who seek not to disparage but to assimilate this hip-hop culture.

The broader world can neither accept nor grasp that misconduct, and it is people in that broader world who need to understand these black men as much as these black men need to understand that broader world.

“My buddies and I have, of course, discussed this,” my friend the KU grad told me. “It is embarrassing and no good. I think it probably happens other places, but our guys were stupid enough to get in fights with each other right out in the middle of campus -- twice.”

Stupidity doesn’t look handsome in educated men, and it never will. Nor will fistfights in the middle of campus. The explanation for what went wrong in Lawrence, however, runs deeper than the superficial blaming of hip-hop and its messages.

A columnist like Whitlock, who pretends he has the pulse on all things black, should damn well realize that too.

(Photo of the University of Kansas campus by allaboutuni2307)


Mike Norris said...

I may have taken this the wrong way, but it seems to me you are lumping all black athletes into one category.

I think that is not a good move whether discussing race, gender, sex, etc.

It seems to me you are exhibiting the same practice you are condeming Mr. Whitlock for in his column.

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