Soccer season is approaching, and I am always a left a bit slack jawed by the things I see in youth sports. The behavior of parents is nothing short of crazy sometimes. There is a lot of emotional investment by parents in the success of their kids in sports. So much so that some parents will intentionally keep their kids playing at lower levels than they belong, so their kid is not only on a winning team, but is the star that makes the wins possible. Soccer in my community is a diverse sport. You see many Latin American and other international first and second generation kids playing. No one thinks much about it on the surface, but there is a trend that I have noticed over the years. There is still a lot racists out there.
My boys have played on teams that have a large number of Mexican and other Latin American kids on them. My daughter is black, and also plays on a team with some Hispanic kids on it. My other daughter now plays on a team with Hispanic kids. They have been coached by Hispanic and Nigerian coaches over the years. My view of this is from the other side most of the time. I see the racists, because kids I care about are their targets.
I remember the first few times I would run into parents I knew at the soccer fields or the indoor facilities and they would say something along the lines of, “I hate playing the Mexican teams, they play dirty.” I would cringe at the words, but didn’t think much about it. Then I was talking to a dad on my daughters team. He pointed out that the parents on the other team would get mad every time the Hispanic girl did something. We started joking that they would do the same when my daughter did something. She delivered a perfectly legal hip check to win the ball, and the other parents almost lost their mind as one of their precious little girls was knocked to the ground. We observed this for a while, and joked that if his daughter did something they wouldn’t be bothered. Shortly there after his daughter plowed through another girl with a stiff armed push. She knocked the other girl down hard, and it was clearly a foul that the referee didn’t call. The other parents didn’t respond at all to the obvious foul, even when the other girl took a while to get up. That is when I started watching all the games with a different set of glasses. I noticed that this was a trend. The darker the skin, the more likely the parents were to believe that the child was doing something on the field that they shouldn’t be.
The problem is that we have closeted discussion about racism. People don’t want to believe that they are influenced by the appearance of other people. They don’t talk about it, so they don’t realize that they respond badly to someone different than they are. The argument generally is they have friends and co-workers from other races, and aren’t bothered by them. Most people in the USA are prepared to discard their preconceived ideas once they have a personal relationship of some sort with someone, but that doesn’t discount the fact that they have them. If I were to mention to any one of these parents the idea that they are responding to skin color and not actions that happened on the field, they would be outraged. This is taboo. Only bad people are racist. I have been faced with racism through my daughter. My own, and others. The truth is we all judge people from what we see. It is a much healthier thing to recognize this, and then be able to intellectually manage it, than to pretend that somehow we are immune to this very basic human reaction to people who are different than us. It is natural for us to regard people who are different from us with suspicion. It is seen even now throughout Europe. People who are all essentially white and similar in so many ways, see the differences in each other and judge each other based on ideas held internally about those people. These ideas don’t matter much once you know each other’s names, but to ignore that you have them is silly.
Perhaps it is the history of slavery in our country that has made the idea that any hint of racism makes you a bad person. I don’t believe that this is how it should be. Racism is natural. We should not succombe to our natural racist reaction to people who are different than us, but to acknowledge that you respond to someone based upon what you see, at least initially, is not a bad thing. Our modern world gives us the luxury to go against our base instincts, but these reactions are natural defense mechanisms. The more different than your mother, father, sisters, brothers, cousins, etc. that someone looks, the more likely they are a threat to you in all parts of the world that are not first world nations. This is the way that people have had to defend themselves over the course of human history. Skin color and other dramatic physical characteristics are easy marks of someone being different from your family. To see the difference and recognize the reaction, and then to alter your natural reaction is a sign of first world social mores and a developed intellect.
Watch what you see out there. I think you will be surprised by the amount of racism there is out there, and how much you respond to race in your own life. I don’t say this as a negative judgement on people. I think it is natural. It is something that if you recognize in your own life, I think you will begin to accel in relationships with people not only of other races, but of your own, because you are paying better attention to the individuals around you.