We are NOT a Sports Team


This letter was inspired by a recent trip with my homies. 

To whom it may concern,

This may come as a surprise to some people. This might be some of the most shocking news that has come across your computer screen since you found out that Dennis Rodman placed himself in charge of international relations with North Korea. Make sure you are sitting down, with your hands by your sides and away from all sharp objects, because I can only imagine the utter shock that will engulf your senses after learning this revelation. Now, with clear minds and full hearts, you are prepared for your new discovery.

All large groups of men of color are not sports teams.

Ten Black men seated at a nice restaurant are not a visiting basketball team.

Eight Latino males taking in the new premiere of “Marvel’s Ant-Man” do not comprise a soccer club on a group outing.

Imagine this scenario: 16 well-dressed Black men (with dinner reservations), show up to a fine-dining establishment with the intent of bonding, eating, and fellowshipping with one-another to reconnect. Sandwiched between the introduction portion and the notification of the daily specials, the server—a pleasant White female seemingly in her mid 20’s—takes it upon herself to relay the question that the two elderly women at the bar were discussing.

“So what are you guys?” she asked.

A dubious question indeed. My first thought was to say “hungry.” And my second thought was this is odd because most people would typically ask a large group patronizing a restaurant, “What’s the occasion?” or “What brings all of you here?”

My reply however, was very general, unassuming. “What do you mean?”

“Well we were wondering if you guys were like a sports team or something,” she stated excitedly.

My next comment could have been contrite and direct, openly displaying my displeasure, with something like “Right because all groups of Black men are basketball or track teams?” In my mind, I was feeling like this:

but I was much more calm and understanding in my response.

“Actually, we are a book club.”

And this is where things got interesting. She laughed, and visibly did not believe me.  It wasn’t like a confused, unsure polite chuckle. It felt as though she did not even believe it was a possibility—that a large group of Black men could ever congregate solely for the purposes of a book club.

My friend clarified for the server by explaining to me, “Man, she ain’t gonna believe that we’re a book club,” and told her our real reason for the group was that we were college friends who get together every year to reconnect.

This angered me more and I asked loudly “Why wouldn’t she believe it?” The server became uncomfortable, deciding that it was best to retreat and go retrieve the bottles of wine and the grilled calamari we ordered. My job was done. I successfully turned a harmless, friendly interaction into a heated debate about race, culture, and stereotypes.

As I sat unsettled, I wrestled with the question of what was worse: the fact that these three White women assumed we were a sports team when only some people in the group actually like and play sports, or that my friend could have possibly been right that the server wouldn’t believe that we were (or could be) a book club?

NBA Legend Larry Bird believes that the best athletes in the world are African-American. While a compliment, being a good athlete has unfortunately become a stereotype for many men of color.

In this modern society, somehow we unconsciously associate basketball or athletic involvement to Black people. Many Black men studying at universities in the States have been asked whether they play on the basketball or football team – no matter if they look like Bo Jackson or Michael Jackson. And for many of my Black male friends who received academic scholarships to attend college, unless they explicitly stated what the scholarship was for, it was immediately assumed that it was a sports scholarship. Just because Larry Bird called basketball “a Black man’s game” doesn’t mean it’s all Black men’s game.

These types of stereotypes do not end once a college degree is attained as Black professionals continuously battle and push-back against generalizations and categorizations.  It almost becomes unfathomable that 16 Black men, casually dressed in button-up shirts, some in ties, jeans, slacks, and loafers, could actually be having a business meeting, trading stocks, discussing political research, or engaging in a myriad of things other than athletic endeavors.

People of color, of all varieties, survive in today’s society drenched in stereotype.  The “model minority” is the moniker for Asians in America, while Latinos fight both ends of the spectrum of working too hard or being too lazy. The “athlete” is just one of the many stereotypes that Black Americans must traverse.  In 2015, as we believe ourselves to be engulfed in “post-racial-ness” we must be aware of these biases and challenge what seems like conventional wisdom rooted in years of stereotyping to remove these labels.

A group of Black male friends hanging out together is no more a basketball team as a group of White men are a hockey team, or as a group of Asian men are a martial arts team.  While some sports arenas are over-represented in terms of racial population, that does not deem it appropriate to categorize all members of that race with that sport.

So next time you see me, my friends, or any group of men of color, before you assume they are gearing up for their next competitive event, you may want to ask what book they are currently reading.