Last night in London Ontario Canada a disgusting thing happened. Wayne Simmonds a hockey player who happens to be a black man was the subject of a racist attack. Simultaneously across the web condemnation of the incident spread as fast as Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and all the bloggers and news sites could put together words. Almost inevitably the sympathy and out rage slipped over into condescending pity. Intentional or not, this is the type reaction that can be worse than the attack itself, particularly in a case like this where there was no physical danger to Simmonds.
Like Wayne Simmonds, Kevin Weeks, Chris & Anthony Stewart, Evander Kane and several others I’m a black man who has come to love hockey. Like each of them I’ve faced racism in numerous forms. For a well meaning person to say of another adult:
is quite vulgar. There is no way in hell this is the first time Simmonds has had to deal with racism in one form or another in public or private. It’s also not the second or the fifth or fourteenth. Quite honestly no one with poise it takes to become a professional athlete much less get drafted in the top two rounds of any league should be expected to have any less poise. For a minority who has had to live with this sort of nonsense their who life to be expected to go to pieces over something non-threatening is in the kindest possible words inherently absurd, painfully ignorant and worse in no way surprising.
I’m not surprised because unless you’re confronted with a reality frequently and intrusively, it might as well not exist. I can no more imagine living in a war zone like the Israel/Palestine area than I can being white or fine boned and small. I know that no matter what I accomplish, no matter who I associate with the first thing anyone will notice about me when they see me is the color of my skin. Wayne Simmonds knows this, its a reality that comes with a set of baggage that makes incidents like this more disgusting than hurtful, more pitiful than painful. The type of attack, and the egregious pity spring from the same well. The assumption that this non threat was going to shatter the world of an adult is absolutely inane. World shattering, or at least world altering is reserved for things that will cause death or damage, dealing with this sort of human produced filth is for any reasonably well balanced adult about as traumatizing as a bad case of the flu.
Wayne himself said:
“When you’re a black man playing in a predominantly white man’s sport, you’ve got to come to expect things like that,” Simmonds said. “Over the past 23 years of my life, I’ve come to expect some things like that. But I’m older and more mature now, I kind of just left things roll off [my back]. I try not to think about stuff like that.”
While I’m highly disgusted at the banana thrower, and note it was big enough news that even a national radio show like JT The Brick who normally skips hockey all together was commenting on the issue, the focus needs to be on finding the asshat who threw the banana not on anything else. Hockey is still too much of a niche sport in a lot of places to let this type of incident become as common in North America as it has been at various times in soccer in Europe. It should be noted I am not calling Eric T. a racist. I don’t believe he is, I also don’t actually care. But, ignorance is damning, and ignorance is what is shown in his choice of words. Fortunately mild cases of ignorance are curable with a bit of effort.