I have watched the movie “Glory Road” twice in the past week. I watched it with part of my family the first time and thought it was so good that I insisted the rest of my family watch it before it was returned to Blockbuster. In case you are unfamiliar with the film, it is based on the true story of the 1966 NCAA champion basketball team…a team of 5 white players and 7 black players…a racial mix never seen before in NCAA play.
I was two years old in 1966…a lifetime ago, yet only 40 short years. The world that we saw pictured in the film was very different from today. In 1966, only white players were considered “smart” enough to play at the highest levels of collegiate basketball. Obviously, times have changed. In 1966, the black players were spit on and called horrible names as they entered the stadiums, particularly in the South. Obviously, times have changed. At the end of the movie, we watched the bonus features in which they interviewed some of the actual players from that 1966 team. I was moved to tears by one of the gentlemen, probably in his late 50s or early 60s now, get choked up while talking about what they had to endure just to play basketball. Humiliation and degradation because of the color of their skin…just boys who wanted to play basketball.
At the end of the movie, as I was thinking about how our world has changed, I thought of this picture that I took at my youngest daughter’s birthday party. She made friendship bracelets for herself and her three best friends and she wanted me to take a picture of them wearing their bracelets. As you can see, the yellow and orange of the bracelets looked beautiful against all the shades of skin represented…none quite like the other. Our world is different because my children are free to play with the children who make them laugh, the children who have similar interests, the children who live next door, the children who stick with them through thick and thin…regardless of the color of their skin.
That all sounds really wonderful, doesn’t it? Yet, the very night that I watched “Glory Road” the first time, I saw a story on the news about a group of white supremacists who were distributing newspapers throughout one of our local communities…newspapers espousing the same kind of garbage those young men had to endure 40 years ago…the same kind of hatred that I would like to believe we have overcome. Sure, it is better. But, as much as I would like to ignore it, that hatred is still there. While sometimes more subtle, that prejudice still exists.
My husband warned me against writing this post when I told him what I was thinking. He says, and I agree with him, that we “white folks” have no right to write about or comment on racial relations. We can notice, but we cannot understand. We can say what it is that we see, we can say what is wrong, but we can’t say whether or not it is better. We can hurt for the young men in that story in 1966 or for the thousands forgotten in the Superdome in 2005, but we don’t really get it…not really.
Perhaps the message of “Glory Road” is to remind us of what we as a society accepted as OK just 40 short years ago…perceptions that seem unspeakably barbaric today that were simply accepted as truth then…accepted by many without question. I wonder which perceptions and attitudes that we blindly accept today will be questioned 40 years from now?