Monday, April 30, 2012

Just a Label

[Note: I will use a certain term below which is offensive to many blacks. Of course, I don't mean  to inflame any negative emotions or to taunt anyone but I merely use this term to illustrate an odd situation that  happened to me playing basketball one day. I mention it because I would like to lessen the severity of the objectionable term and hope that this may contribute to that end. If the reader wishes to avoid seeing this term, which is a mutation of the Spanish and French terms for black, negra, then they are urged to discontinue reading now. I have italicized this term in the same way that foreign language terms are italicized under normal editorial guidelines.]

One day in Baltimore I was involved in a game with nine other black guys; in other words, I was the only white guy on either team. And on this particular day, it so happened that I was having a fantastic game. It's something that at some point happens to just about everyone who has a hobby or other game they enjoy wherein practically everything happens exactly as it is supposed to. Almost everyone experiences this: golfers and bowlers and probably bridge players, too and it's nothing more than dumb luck. I am by no means a better player than the nine other guys in that particular game in Baltimore that day, but it just happened that every one of my shots hit the mark--even the most awkward and off-balance of them.

In any pickup basketball game, players on one team assign themselves to defend a single player on the other team and of course, one guy chose (or was assigned) to cover me. But because I was having such a good game, he was getting a bit embarrassed. Then, after one particular basket I made, his teammate called a timeout and suggested they switch defensive assignments and that the guy who had been covering me should yield to his friend who thought he could do a better job stopping me.

A small dispute broke out and I admit I was flattered that they were arguing who was going to be my defensive assignment but not as flattered as I was about to be . . .

The fellow who had been covering me became insulted at the suggestion that he couldn't handle me and his pride prevented him from a defensive switch  with his teammate. His teammate argued back, insisting that a better defender was needed to cover me and that they ought to switch assignments.

"No, man. I got him."

"No, switch with me, man. Let me cover him."

"I said I got him; stay with yours."

The game broke down and we stopped play. This sometimes happens when two players get into an argument. Nobody wanted to get involved and we all welcomed the opportunity to catch our breath, I suppose. At least I did.

The disagreement continued, however.

"Man! you better switch with me. Somebody's gotta stop this guy" (referring to me).

"Just relax, man! Stay with yours!"

"Man, come over here. That nigga's gonna score every time!"

At this last comment nobody seemed to notice what happened. I certainly didn't make a fuss about it. Afterall, it's just a label. He could have said, "That dude," or "That man," or "That player" or "That guy," or even "That M.F." He really didn't mean anything except to use the term as a pronoun to refer to me, that other player who was mugging his teammate.

Would I have been upset if he called me a motherfucker? Perhaps to my face, but in the third-person? It turns out that it's really meaningless.

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