I used to wrestle when I was in Junior High. The organized kind where you go to meets and sit all day to participate in bracketed competition between kids of your weight bracket. What I loved about it was the intensity of that three minutes. The first time I wrestled, I thought I was going to pass out from exhaustion. I made it through the whole match but lost miserably. I got better over the next two years, won some matches and eventually quit because it conflicted with basketball. But, there is one match I will never forget.
There were certain people that nobody wanted to wrestle. One of those were the Gundy boys. Yeah, that’s right the Oklahoma State football coach was around my age and I don’t remember if I every wrestled him, but I probably would have lost that match. The brothers had wrestled from birth and were extremely gifted. There were a couple of others that were really good, so I secretly wished they wouldn’t be on the bracket when I surveyed my chances of victory.
This day was different! I looked over the bracket and didn’t see any of the superstars and liked my chances of taking home the bracket. After I won, my first and second match, I decided to figure out who was next and then I saw him. He wasn’t all that imposing – but he was black! I do not know why that mattered, but it did. I was in an integrated school a couple of times before this and I remember those years to be positive, but all-of-a-sudden something was happening to me.
I remember pacing in the hallway waiting for the semi-final match with this guy. When, I finally made it to the mat, my adrenaline was sky high. My mind seemed like it was in a fog and I don’t remember very much about the match except that the match ended quickly, I was crowned the winner, and the other kid was crying because I had twisted his arm a little too hard. It was my favorite move—the bar arm—but, I went a little too far. I still don’t know exactly why—I think I was afraid of this kid that except for the skin color was almost exactly like me.
This wrestling match did something do me. It started my journey AWAY from the ignorance of racism. But, it would be many years before I would be able to interact with people of color again in any real way. I don’t know why there were no black kids at my private Christian, Fundamentalist school. Wait, maybe I just answered my own question.
So, when I see four white cops sit on a black man until he basically expires, I understand what initially causes people to overreact. It is ignorance! It is the ignorance that I had as a junior high wrester that made my adrenaline spike and caused me to go too far just because the dude was different than me. Maybe it is a primal thing to help protect us, but I still don’t understand when they keep going.
I do not understand why it escalates. I do not understand why two men have to stop a guy they think is a theif and can’t stop until that guy no longer exists. I do not understand how you can continue to sit on a person that is begging you to stop and not even feel the life draining out of him. I do not understand how police can shoot a person at point blank even after he has been subdued. There is something pre-meditated in that. Please don’t quote me statistics about “more people die from…”
In the long run, it comes from the same source. It come from classifying people as “other.” When we do that, we dehumanize them. Whether it’s political, racial or tribal, when we group other people into the “other” group of people, it becomes easier to imagine that they are a special kind of evil or they are just not worth the same consideration.
We must change this from the root! No more!
My adrenaline rush in the 6th grade is still not okay, but I learned from it. We must stop excusing these things away. As I write this, my dog just growled at the kids walking by that are not of our household. He can’t help himself—but he’s a dog! We can and must do much better than that!
It is time—we really can move forward! We can learn and grow and evolve! I hope you’re with me.