Fair Play and the American Dream
I don’t like losing any more than the next person, but if you beat me fair and square, I’ll shake your hand and offer you my sincere congratulations. It’s called good sportsmanship, and it’s lesson #1 for every kid who goes out for little league or Pop Warner football. We learn early on to play by the rules, and, win-or-lose, walk away on good terms. In life and on the playing field, I like knowing that we can play our best game and that the ref is always there to make sure the play is fair.
My son played Pop Warner football, which was my only firsthand experience with kids’ football. I myself didn’t have the opportunity to play as a kid, and so when my son begged me to let him play, I was an easy mark. I was fortunate to have a flexible work schedule, allowing me to attend practices and every game. Apparently, coaches see guys like me as good candidates to recruit as volunteers.
My wife and I just bought a house, the latest of several that we’ve owned over the years. It’s a beautiful old Victorian, built in the late 1800s, with tall, round columns surrounding a big front porch. We often find ourselves enjoying the comfort and protection it offers, even during the hardest summer rainstorm. It’s a wonderful old place, and I plan to leave it to my kids one day.
You see, I know the rules, and I play by the rules. I pay attention to my credit, I save a few bucks here and there, and I know that, when I’m ready, I can apply for a mortgage and buy a home. I know that if I’m the most qualified person for the job, there’s a good chance I’ll get it, and if I work hard and produce results for my employer, I’ll be rewarded with promotions and pay raises. I know that, if I’m self-employed, my customers will buy from me because of the quality of my products, the sincerity of my services, and my fair pricing.
Interestingly, none of these rules would have applied in my father’s generation if I’d been a black man. It wasn’t until 1968, the year I was born, that, under The Fair Housing Act, banks were no longer allowed to blatantly discriminate when evaluating mortgage applications. Of course, I’m not naive enough to think that everything was perfect from that point on. Banks still discriminate; they’re just not as overt about it.
When Coach Bogle ran his practices, he taught the kids the rules—one set of rules that applied to everyone. It didn’t matter what side of the tracks you lived on, who your parents were, or how much talent you had; everyone was held to the same standards. That made winning feel good and losing feel fair.
These days, you’ll hear some people saying, “all lives matter,” as a counter to “Black Lives Matter.” Just today, a woman stopped in front of my house and, with complete conviction, asked me if I would appeal to my neighbors to take down their “Black Lives Matter” sign because it offended her.
This neighbor is in her seventies, and so I explained, knowing full-well the futility of my efforts, that in her youth, if she’d been a black person, she would not have been “allowed” to live on York Street. Federal law would not have protected her right to obtain a mortgage under the same set of rules that apply to white people. Even if she’d somehow saved the funds to purchase the house outright, some local regulation could easily have kept her out of the neighborhood.
I get great peace out of knowing that my kids will have a financial leg up in life because of my efforts, with the help of the tax code, government regulations, and my ability to buy a home to leave to them. However, I also know that I enjoy this peace because I am a white man.
“Black Lives Matter” is not a special exemption that elevates one segment of Americans above the rest; it’s the most basic “Pop Warner” example of fairness—of enforcing one set of rules for everyone—where everyone gets a chance to play. Black Lives Matter isn’t about making one group better off; it’s about ending the disenfranchisement that Black Americans have suffered under for the past 400 years. At its core, Black Lives Matter is about providing a level playing field, where each of us has the same opportunity to achieve the American dream.