OAKLAND -- Racism in America is surging these days and no one is immune to the crimes it breeds, much less the routine social injustice. Its evil hands have touched, in the past five days, public transit in Oregon, a museum in our nation’s capital and the relatively insular world of sports.
Not just sports, but one of its biggest stars.
LeBron James, conceivably the biggest name in American sport, and surely among the wealthiest, is the latest victim of the relatively recent wave of antipathy rooted in race or ethnicity or religion.
He is black, after all, so he is a target.
On Wednesday morning, one day before of Game 1 of the NBA Finals against the Warriors, the Cavaliers' superstar and his family were victimized by a gang of crooks vandalizing James’ $20 million home in the Brentwood section of greater Los Angeles.
More than mere vandalism, this is hatred on full display, as those responsible reportedly spray-painted the N-word on the front gate.
The offensive graffiti has been covered, the case is under investigation by local authorities and James is left trying to focus on . . . a basketball game.
“As I sit here on the eve of one of the greatest sporting events that we have in sports, race and what's going on comes again and on my behalf and my family's behalf,” James said on Media Day at Oracle Arena, some 350 miles away from LA. “But I look at it as this. I mean, if this -- if this is to shed a light and continue to keep the conversation going on my behalf, then I'm okay with it. My family is safe. At the end of the day, they're safe, and that's the most important.
“But it just goes to show that racism will always be a part of the world, a part of America. And, you know, hate in America, especially for African Americans, is living every day. And even though that it's concealed most of the time, even though people hide their faces and will say things about you and when they see you they smile in your face, it's a life every single day.”
The bigotry on display these days is stunning in its visibility. It’s as if someone in an extremely powerful position is granting licenses to hate, and thousands of nut jobs are lining up to get theirs. That it can land, quite literally, at the doorstep of such a famous individual never associated with a crime or anything remotely controversial is testament to the depth of its reach.
If it’s not a wayward cop emptying his weapon on an unarmed black boy, it’s a wayward soul stabbing courageous men who wouldn’t stand for his hatred. If it’s not an ignorant woman in a local store hurling insults at someone for being Hispanic or wearing a Hijab, it’s a sportswriter expressing his discomfort with a Japanese man winning the Indianapolis 500.
Hatred these days does not snooze, and the minute you think there is a protective shield -- wealth, social status, military background -- you are reminded otherwise.
It’s as if we are deliberately erasing gains to go zooming back to the 1950s, to the pre-Civil Rights Era, when it was open season on those who did not fall under the umbrella afforded by white male privilege.
Indeed, James found himself recalling the tragedy of Emmitt Till, a 14-year-old black boy murdered in Mississippi, allegedly for whistling at a white woman, a tale long since debunked. Till’s mother decided an open casket was appropriate to expose America to her son’s beaten and mutilated body and face.
“It's kind of one of the first things I thought of, and the reason that she had an open casket is because she wanted to show the world what her son went through as far as a hate crime and being black in America,” James said. “So it's like it doesn't -- no matter how much money you have, no matter how famous you are, no matter how many people admire you, being black in America is -- it's tough.
“And we got a long way to go for us as a society and for us as African Americans, until we feel equal in America.”
The murder of Till, in 1955, was one of several flashpoints that sparked a political movement toward racial equality in the United States.
More than 60 years later, the flashpoints are back and they are exploding all over the country. They lead to conversation, and more conversation and, occasionally, a concession.
More often than not, though, they do not instigate significant and meaningful change.
“But time heals all,” James said. “And at the end of the day, like I said, if this incident that happened to me and my family today can keep the conversation going and can shed light on us trying to figure out a way to keep progressing and not regressing, then I'm not against it happening to us again. I mean it's as long as my family is safe.”