Societal The Word 5 minute read

Ball, Hill & Riley: On Their Team


I want a girl with extensions in her hair
Bamboo earrings, at least two pair
A Fendi bag and a bad attitude
That’s all I need to get me in a good mood
She can walk with a switch and talk with street slang
I love it when a woman ain’t scared to do her thing
Standing at the bus stop sucking on a lollipop
Once she gets pumping its hard to make the hottie stop
She likes to dance to the rap jams
She sweet as brown sugar with the candied yams
Honey coated complexion, using Camay
Lets hear it for the girl, she’s from around the way
L.L. Cool J

Gwen repped 80’s New York: bamboo earrings, dark lip liner, one side of her hair shaved, and fresh-to-death gear.  Her Japanese/Black mother and Puerto Rican father gifted her with a look that was as intriguing and beautifully diverse as the streets of her New York neighborhood.  One summer, she came from Queens to spend some time with me; and immediately her New York accent, long heavily-designed nails, smoking-habit whenever adults weren’t around, and wardrobe had me in a fan-haze.  I wanted to be more like her.  She gave me some of her rings—bought from street vendors, tweezed my eyebrows, and taught me how to put on eyeliner.

She also taught me how to shoplift.

That summer, I lifted make-up and cheap earrings from a couple of drugstores in the area; though I could have afforded to buy everything I stole.  But, I felt so cool, next to my fly-ass cousin; and I felt the rush of adrenaline that comes when you get away with doing something wrong.

That summer had long been buried in my memories until I heard about LiAngelo Ball, Jalen Hill and Cody Riley being arrested for shoplifting in China.  I came upon the memory as I was searching for compassion for these young brothers because my initial reaction was anger.

Are you fucking kidding me?  How stupid could they be?  And in China?  Do they know that China will lock you up forever for a freakin’ misdemeanor? Did they think that three 6’5 Black guys wouldn’t get caught doing ANYTHING in a country where the average person is 5’6?!  I know that Li’Angelo could have bought those damn glasses on his own—doesn’t his brother make millions and his dad own a sports apparel company?  That’s all we Black folks need, our boys stealing, fulfilling every damn thug stereotype that White folks have about us.  Do they think they are Ryan Lochte and his fellow Olympic swimmers or something?  Do they think that folks will excuse their behavior because of their youth (LiAngelo is 19) or naivety (they hadn’t been out the country).  No.  They and all Black boys will be thugs!

I am still greatly disappointed with those young men; but I’ve tried to be aware of my thinking, as I know that I have been raised in and affected by this racist world in which we are living.  This society quickly classifies Black people: thug, fool, loser, poor, ignorant, criminal, and the like. When we fail, the media doesn’t ask “why”; and we aren’t provided with standard excuses and empathy.  We aren’t viewed or represented as what we all are: humans–flawed human beings.

Additionally, those boys won’t be seen as individuals.  Their crimes and following classification as criminals won’t solely be placed on LiAngelo, Jalen and Cody; but on all Black boys.  In response, while White people and the White media immediately find ways to protect, analyze, explain and defend White offenders;  we become as unforgiving and as harsh as the rest of society to Black offenders.  We not only expect more from them; we need more for them because their crimes are personal; they become our crimes.  LiAngelo, Jalen, Cody didn’t just damage their own reputations; they damaged ours and our Black sons’. So, we judge harshly, separate ourselves, walk away and create more division. They are thugs; we are better and smarter.

Haven’t we learned yet that division in the Black community will get us nowhere? Have we not learned that not one of us is seen as different, better, or smarter than our Black brothers and sisters by the larger society? When White people are describing an incident, they say, “the Black guy” not “the Black guy who speaks perfect English and graduated from Stanford.”  We are in this together–even when one or three of us acts foolishly. LiAngelo, Jalen and Cody are human–flawed humans–just as I am–just as you are.  LiAngelo, Jalen, and Cody made a horribly stupid decision; but they are teenagers (and teenage humans tend to make even more mistakes than the average person).

There are very few of us that would want to have to live with – or to have nationally publicized –every decision we made at 18.  Indeed, for many of us we managed to “survive” our late teen decisions as opposed to thriving from them.  For me there is a bit of, “but for the grace, that could have been me.”  So while I don’t excuse these young men’s behavior, I am less quick to condemn them as the national media would encourage me to do. I absolutely believe that they should be punished, harshly, in fact; but because they are young men who made a terrible mistake and need to learn to do better; not because they are thugs who need need be locked-up or pushed out (as you know would be done if they were Black boys not destined to make White men a lot of money).

I’m angry, embarrassed and disappointed with these young men; as I’m sure people have been with me; but, I’m rooting for them. I’m on their team.

My intention is for Black people to love themselves and each other. It sounds somewhat silly, I guess; but oftentimes my people are overwhelmed with negative images, bad news, and stereotyped characters about us. I’d like to flip that script. I’d like to remind us, as often as I can, how incredible we are. Read more


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