SBS 301 Cultural Diversity/Prof. Koptiuch         Fall 2007        Personal Memory Ethnographies

Alyssa Mayberry

Racial Discrimination from the Bench

    The basketball court has been a place that feels like home to me for many years.  I have spent endless hours practicing, running, shooting, and sweating on that maple wood floor.  The freshly painted lines have been target points to run faster toward and have served as boundaries for a spectacular game.  The silver bleachers with the purple stripes mapping the way of the steps have housed the most fantastic fans, including friends and family members.  The skylights let sun beams shine through and highlight the team mascot which is painted in vivid colors at half court.  The benches for both teams are lined perfectly together and flush with the sideline of the court.

    Along the side of the court, the smell of popcorn and hotdogs fills the room.  There are a few hundred spectators who are dressed in our team colors of white and purple.  The mascot and cheerleaders enthusiastically stand on the opposite sideline, enticing school spirit upon everyone within listening distance.  There are also fans for our opponent.  The segregation of the bleachers distinguishes their support from ours.  The music playing is fast and upbeat and gets us in the mood to warm up our muscles before the game.  The music still makes my heart thump with excitement, even though I know that the warm up will go to waste.  I will not play anymore in this game than I have the whole season.

    I grew up as one of the guys, due to the fact that my father had three girls in his family and no son to follow in his footsteps.  Since I had athleticism and coordination, I was my father’s “son,” at least to share his sports experiences.  My specialty was basketball for about twelve years.  I played in leagues, clubs, grade school, and high school throughout the 1990’s.  I encountered a lot of different people on my teams over the years including people of different gender, race, ethnicity, and age.  I never really noticed the differences between my team members and me until one season on the Elite club team when I was about thirteen years old.  That season I learned more than just skills to enhance my performance; I also learned that sometimes people are not always fair based on someone’s race.

    Club basketball is an organization that holds tryouts and invites only the best in a particular age group to join their team to travel throughout the United States.  I had been on a team two years prior to my experience, so I already knew and expected the politics of the organization.  However, I did not expect what I would be presented with when I made the team this particular year.  My team was made up of 12 girls who were from all over Arizona including Phoenix, Chandler, Scottsdale, Mesa, Flagstaff, Tucson, and Yuma.  There were girls of all ethnicities from a diverse range of areas, which I had encountered most of my life.  We all got along well and had become friends and teammates.  The only problem was with my coach.

    My name is Gina and I am an African American girl who lives in Chandler, Arizona.  I love basketball and am currently playing on a basketball team for a club called Arizona Elite.  It’s 1998, and I’m thirteen years old, like many of my teammates.  My coach is African American and so are 5 other girls on the team.  There are also three white girls, a Japanese girl, and two Native American girls.  Recently, I overheard the three white girls on my team talking about how unfair they think our coach is treating them because they don’t get to play very much during games.  The statements that I heard shocked me and also made me a little angry.  How can someone talk bad about our coach, who personally I think, is one of the best coaches I’ve had in my basketball career?

    I overheard the girls on my team in the bathroom after practice was over discussing their feelings on not playing enough.  They were saying that the coach was discriminating against them because they were white and that she didn’t care if they were good basketball players or not.  I think that they are being ridiculous.  Our coach only lets the people who deserve it and who have earned it to play in the games.   The white girls haven’t earned playing one bit.  Sure they’ve been to every practice, but they definitely aren’t better than the starting five who get to play most of the game.  We are all African American, but we deserve to play because we’ve earned it.  I’ve been on a team before where my coach was a white female.  I didn’t get to play very much, so I’m glad that the tables have turned.

    I never did ask my coach if she wasn’t playing the other girls as much as us because of their race.  I didn’t want her to get mad at me and stop me from playing as much as I do.  I still like the girls on my team that are white, and we all still get along.  But our friendship on the team comes second to basketball.  I need to play as much as I can so I can get the exposure for college recruits.  I feel badly that they are not having fun on our team, but I also know how it feels to sit on the bench.  I would rather be playing than try to help them out.  Sometimes you have to do what’s best for yourself.

My skill level in basketball was comparable if not equal to most of the people on my team.  I had just as much experience in playing as everyone else, so when I rarely got to play during game time I couldn’t understand why.  I had attended every practice and paid all my fees up front, which were two requirements that could definitely affect playing time.  I worked just as hard as all the other girls so I didn’t understand why the coach was singling me out.  She was in her thirties and was African American.  On our team there was a mix of African American, Japanese, Navajo, and white girls who all excelled in basketball.  Everyone played equal amounts of time except the white girls and one Navajo who didn’t have the lung capacity to run for very long.  I personally only played about 30 seconds to 2 minutes per game, while everyone else played between 15 and 20 minutes.  My parents also saw the difference in treatment, so bringing it to the coach’s attention seemed like the most logical thing to do in case there was a misunderstanding.  The coach denied dividing up playing time based on the whether the girls were black or white and said that I did not get to play because she felt the other people were better skilled.  Anyone who came to practice could see that this wasn’t the case. However, the coach is the one who makes all the decisions about who gets to play.

The discrimination by my coach made me want to quit the team immediately.  I had never felt so hurt because I had worked so hard to make the team and to try to prove my skills to the coach.  My father never let me quit anything that I started so despite the circumstances I finished out the season on the bench, although my playing time did increase to 2 or 3 minutes per game.  I never played basketball for that club again, but was still able to maintain friendships with the other people on my team.  The discrimination I felt gave me first hand experience of what if feels like to be treated poorly and with unfair circumstances.  I was old enough to understand what was going on, but didn’t have enough information to explain it.  The experience definitely opened my eyes to what other people of different ethnicities go through on a daily basis.

I never sat back during that season, and didn’t until now, to look at the situation from my coach’s perspective.  Although I never asked her outright, there could have been many factors outside of the basketball gym that might have affected her actions toward me as a player.  The season took place in 1998, when I was 13 years old.  Even though it had been some 30 years since the Civil Rights movement, African Americans were still being discriminated against in many aspects of life.

    During 1945-1950’s there was a lot of discriminatory practices occurring in housing and homeownerships opportunities.  African Americans were denied low interest rate loans and they experienced many foreclosures.  They were treated unfairly by being segregated in every aspect of life.  My coach’s grandparents lived during this time period, which might have changed her opinion about white people.  In 1964, the Civil Rights Act banned discrimination in public facilities and in employment.  Subsequently in 1967, the Loving verses Virginia case made interracial marriage legal.  These advancements were a success for African Americans, however, in 1968, Martin Luther King was assassinated.  This would have been the time period where my coach’s parents would have lived, and the experiences could have been shared with her.  This would affect anyone’s opinions toward white individuals. 

In 1972, the Equal Opportunity Act made employment opportunities equal for anyone.  White people retaliated against the opportunities given to non-white people.  This led to brutality by white people against African Americans.  In 1992 Rodney King was beaten by white police officers and racial profiling had once again become a problem.  This was the year right before my basketball season started and it could have changed the way my basketball coach felt about white people.  Because I am white, she might have ignored me without really meaning to. The history of violence from white individuals against the African American race has continued for many years and could have been a main factor of why my coach identified more with the other African American people on my team.

The feelings of being ignored and degraded by my basketball coach when I was younger have always stayed with me throughout the years.  I had never before felt that I was ever treated unfairly by anyone and I still have never experienced anything like it since that one incident.  I think the magnitude of not being acknowledged as a person or for my talents by my coach for five months really made a lasting impression in my mind.  I didn’t understand how anyone could treat someone so unfairly without even knowing them as a person or getting to see their skills as a basketball player.  She had made me feel as if I was nothing and worthless.  I felt I was judged just by being a white person because my coach was an African American female.

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