Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Sean Taylor, Jews, and Asians

Jheez and I, you might have noticed, write considerably on African-American issues. To be more precise, we like to write about two segments of American culture in which African-Americans are major contributors, namely hip-hop and sports.

Our interest in these issues stems simply from the fact that we both grew up with passion for music and athletics. But—and here I’ll stop speaking on behalf of Jheez, what follows is solely my view—I feel that there are other reasons that tie into our interest with African-American culture.

I feel that our personal backgrounds and cultural identities play a significant role. In other words, I see a correlation between myself as a Jewish male from the Midwest, as well as Jheez being a half Japanese and White male from Hawaii, and our interest with African-American culture. Both because of decisions we have had control over and innate characteristics we haven’t, we find ourselves in a position in society related in many ways to the position of African-Americans.

To name just one example, we simply do not feel completely comfortable with American history and its tradition of discrimination. Jews and Asians were, like African-Americans, persecuted and discriminated against across the country.

But the main reason why I feel a certain relation to African-American issues is the sense of marginalization. Jews, Asians, and African-Americans are community peoples—for the most part, they live surrounded by other Jews, Asians, and African-Americans.

And yet here we find the major difference: of the three we’re talking about, only the African-American community is so harmful to its own members (forgive me for speaking generally, of course not ALL such communities are harmful). The Jewish and Asian communities are famously over-protective—think “Jewish mother,” or “Korean mother”—and yet in African-American culture the overriding sentiment seems to be that the only way to succeed is to get out of the community.

What has made me really think about this is the recent murder of Sean Taylor, who was killed during what appears to be a burglary and might well have been a targeted killing.

Michael Wilbon wrote an exceptional reaction to the killing in the Washington Post today, and he spoke at some length about the struggles for African-Americans as they try to leave their community’s negative impact. He says at some point, every African-American has to decide to either “hang out or get out.” He continues: “The kid who becomes a pharmaceutical rep has the same call to make as the lawyer or delivery guy or accountant or sportswriter of football player: Cut off anybody who might do harm, even those who have been friends from the sandbox.”

Isn’t this the real African-American tragedy? That while Jews and Asians are known to use their communities for connections to jobs, known to remain entrenched among their own kind, African-Americans must LEAVE their community for better chance at success.

Taylor’s death really hit me this week. Maybe it’s just because I’m here in DC, but I suspect that the real issue is that I have such respect for professional athletes. On my recent trip to Stanford, I was reacquainted with the Women’s Swimming Team there and now re-appreciate the sacrifices and commitments and struggles athletes have to endure to get where they are.

Taylor was able to endure. And he rose to an amazing athletic height. Yet he was not able to get away from some harmful habits—charged with a felony in 2006—and it could be that his killing was a retaliation (tinged with envy) for a fight he got into a year ago.

I don’t mean to start rumors or anything. It is a fact that somebody put 15 bullets into his SUV not long after the fight. It’s also a fact that Denver Broncos cornerback Darrent Williams was killed when his car was riddled with bullets after some nightclub altercation.

The fact is, Wilbon is right. The killing is infuriating and saddening, but not surprising. And this violence, this infighting, this social restriction is the part of African-American culture I will never truly understand or be comfortable commenting on.


bsto's newest DCist contribution here.