Racism has taken a seat front and center in the 2020 news cycle.
The killing of George Floyd at the hands of law enforcement sparked countless riots and protests across the country. Protests that continue more than a month after his passing.
The protests, coupled with the Black Lives Matter movement, have forced many of us to have the uncomfortable conversation about racism in this country.
Among the many having the conversation is Portland Trail Blazers shooting guard CJ McCollum.
"What's happened in the world now has given us a chance to have those uncomfortable conversations," said McCollum in a recent NBA roundtable, "I'm a black man. I've faced racism. I've gone up against racism, but I still didn't know enough. I still wasn't as educated as I would like to be. I just tried to watch as many movies as I could, as many documentaries as I could, read as many books as I could so that when I have those conversations, I'm not just biased. I'm not talking about my experiences, I'm talking about the experiences of my ancestors, the experiences of everyone."
[Listen to the latest Talkin’ Blazers Podcast with hosts NBA Champion Channing Frye and Emmy Award winner Dan Sheldon].
While, on the surface, we have come so far since the end of segregation and the Civil Rights Act of 1964, it is very apparent that we still have so far to go.
As a way to help educate and bridge the gap, NBA stars Blake Griffin, Harrison Barnes, and Kyle Korver recently paired with McCollum to have a candid conversation about race in America.
The conversation was aired in its entirety on the Excel Sports Management Instagram page (listen to the full interview below).
While each of us has a unique perspective and experience in regards to racism, it was incredibly powerful to hear from these four.
McCollum, in particular, struck a chord, as he shared stories about race and his experience in Portland.
"Fast forward to being drafted to Portland, Oregon, it's a place that is extremely white," said McCollum. "Having gone to the African American museums and we learn more about Oregon's history, you'll find out that it wasn't too long ago where all the blacks were forced to leave... This was a place that wasn't big on racism in terms of slavery, but they believed that this should be an all-white place."
Growing up in Oregon, I've learned a lot, I've seen a lot. There is a city called Lake Oswego, they call it Lake No Negro, in a sense as a running joke because the only black people that live there now either play professionally, work for Nike, work for Intel... it's like a running joke. I never really truly understood it until I researched the history of Oregon. - CJ McCollum on race in America
Not only does Oregon have a sad history with the African American population, but the state also held Japanese Americans in internment camps during World War II.
While race relations may be a stain on Oregon's history, it's an important part none the less. It is something that you look back on, learn about, and hope that your knowledge helps prevent us from ever repeating.
It doesn't change the past, but the knowledge can help heal the wound.
As a black man, McCollum has a perspective that many of the fans who root for him can't understand. McCollum also happens to be engaged to a white woman. It's something that he is thankful for because it has allowed him to better understand a race experience wholly different than his own.
As a person who's marrying a white woman, I have a very good understanding of white race, I have a very good understanding of black race. My job as a guy who plays in the NBA, my job for my neighborhood and where I come from is to try to bridge the gap to allow people to understand my perspective, but also sharing my wife's perspective, her family's perspective. -- CJ McCollum on race in America
McCollum also talked about how perception can create racism even if you don't know it. How people have an idea in their head of how a certain person, a certain race is supposed to act and when someone doesn't conform to that stereotype it throws people off.
"I think there's a lot of preconceived notions as a black man on how we're supposed to behave, how we behave historically, how we act," said McCollum. "When you're a 'proper' black man, it catches people off guard, they're surprised. 'Oh, he's so well-spoken. He's so this, he's so that. He's so educated.' It's almost as if assume that since you're a black man you wouldn't be... it happens far too often."
However, it's not a one-way street, and McCollum admits it. As a young black man, McCollum said that he had many false narratives about the white community. Ideas of how white people should act, think, speak, etc. It wasn't until attending Lehigh University, and predominantly white university, that McCollum learned that his ideas were wrong.
My perception has changed because of my experiences. I even had some biases or racism toward whites based on what I was taught, based on what I seen growing up, based on what you hear in the neighborhood. Then you go to an all-white school and you realize a lot of those things aren't true. There are great black individuals in this world, and there are ones who aren't doing things the way they're supposed to do. The same thing goes for the white race. -- CJ McCollum on race in America
This is why the conversation about race in America is so important.
McCollum himself had his preconceived notions wiped away through experience and learning.
If you just act like an ostrich and bury your head in the sand, you'll never get a chance to listen and learn from someone else's experience.
You may have negative stereotypes in your head about certain populations and not even realize it. But through listening and learning, you, too, can begin to bridge the gap and shift the narrative.
McCollum is an NBA superstar. A person with a platform that millions of people can listen to. McCollum has done his part, he took to the time to speak.
Now it's time for us to listen and learn, and hopefully help create the change needed to make the world a better place.