In the aftermath of the Donald Sterling debacle that led to the Clippers’ owner being banned from NBA games for life, ailment Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban made comments in an interview that have landed him at the center of racial controversy. If you didn’t happen to hear what Cuban had to say, click here to link to the video from the interview. But rather than indict Cuban for revealing his own prejudices, I want to thank him for his honesty and for helping to move the conversation on race in America forward.
The crux of Cuban’s comments was that he believes we all have prejudices. He then went on to talk about some of his own. Most notably, Cuban said that if it’s late at night and he comes up on a Black kid in a hoodie, he is going to the other side of the street. As you might imagine, that’s the comment that has caused the biggest stir. But Cuban was just being honest. He was brave enough to say publicly what lots of Whites and truthfully, some Blacks would say to their close friends and in the comfort of their homes. In fact, Cuban is more the norm than the exception in being fearful of a young Black man walking down the street wearing a hoodie. Cuban does go on in the interview to say that he would also move to the other side of the street if at night he walked up on a White guy with a shaved head and tatoos. But for the Black kid, all that was needed to strike fear in Cuban’s heart was the hoodie.
Cuban should not be publicly castigated for being honest. I applaud his honesty, for I believe it is Cuban’s brand of honesty that’s needed to move the conversation on race forward in America. And I make that statement as a Black man who wears a hoodie at night four to five days a week. And trust me, from the reactions I get from some people I come across when I am dressed this way, I knew a long time before Mark Cuban’s comments that I make people uncomfortable at night in my hoodie. A White man wearing a hoodie is usually assumed to be on his way to or leaving the gym. A Black man in a hoodie might be assumed to be working out, but it’s more likely that he is assumed to be prowling the streets looking for trouble.
Could I dress differently, maybe in a way that might make Mark Cuban feel more comfortable when he passes me on the street? Sure I could. But I don’t, and I likely won’t. Why? First, because I like my hoodie. Second, because I’m going to dress the way I want to dress when I go the gym. I have no desire to change my gym attire simply to make those whose path I cross feel more comfortable with me. I understand what comes with making the decision to dress that way. I understand that Mark is going to be fearful of me, and I’m okay with that. I understand that I’ll get extra attention when I stop at the grocery store or gas station on my way home; and while I don’t like that, it is what it is, at least for now. But most important for me, I understand that for my own protection, I shouldn’t go for a late night stroll in my hoodie, not even in my neighborhood. And no matter where I am, I need to make sure that I keep my drivers license and a business card showing my affiliation with the University of Kentucky in my pocket.
What I have described is my reality, nightly. Race relations in America isn’t just something I learned about in college and read about in my spare time. I have lived ‘race relations in America’ every day of my life, and regardless of your race and whether you want to admit it or not, you have lived it every day of your life too. But we can’t move forward as a nation with race relations as long as Americans pretend that we live in a post-racial society. The truth that all of us know but many of us are unwilling to acknowledge is that race still matters; in fact, race still matters a lot. Cuban simply acknowledged in the interview that race matters to him when he’s walking up on someone at night. White kid in a hoodie=I’m probably safe. Black kid in a hoodie=let me not take any chances. To his credit, Cuban acknowledged in the interview that such prejudices are not ideal, but that they are real nonetheless.
Until people feel comfortable with acknowledging their prejudices about race without fear of being labeled a racist for the rest of their life, we’ll never be able to get to the place we ought to be in America with race relations. I may be in the minority on this one, but I appreciate what Mark Cuban had to say. He was honest and respectful in his comments, and I hope others will be as brave as he has been and dare to have tough but meaningful conversations on race with their families, friends, colleagues, and neighbors. Those kinds of conversations are necessarily uncomfortable, but there’s no other way to get to the other side of racial prejudice and bigotry.