Controversial racial issues in sports are not a thing of the past. On the heels of Rob Parker’s comments about Robert Griffin III being a “cornball brother,” University of Portland’s Black Student Union (BSU) fielded questions about what it means to grow up black in America today. While one sit-down discussion between African Americans and Caucasian Americans at the University of Portland may not change everything, the BSU encouraged questions and open conversation about being black with students, teachers and community members from all backgrounds at their Shades of Black event last Tuesday February 26 in St. Mary’s.
One of the main discriminations discussed was the stereotype of black students as athletes. Although UP has many black athletes, the assumption that all black students are athletes is vastly inaccurate and students shared their experiences with it.
Men’s basketball guard, juinor Korey Thieleke feels the effects of this sort of stereotyping on a daily basis. Hailing from Oakland, Calif., Thieleke displays a variety of tattoos and a noticeable Oakland accent that results in many professors and students viewing him as only a basketball player and not as a student. They forget that Thieleke still had to get good grades like any other student in order to be accepted at UP. For black athletes like Thieleke, it can be insulting to feel that students and professors view them as a lesser student and disregard their academic abilities.
Kahlil Dumas, a sophomore at the University of Portland who was a member of the BSU panel, has also experienced the effects of racial stereotyping first hand. When he was 10 years old he was approached by a security guard who believed he stole something. This is just one of the outstanding racial stereotyping instances in his life. At UP, Dumas is often assumed to be a basketball player because of the color of his skin, when in fact, Kalil runs sprints for UP’s track team. Regardless of being an athlete or not, students agreed that the assumptions are invalidating.
“Professors would come up to me after class and say, ‘Since you’re on the basketball team do you need me to do anything for you?’” Dumas said.
Thieleke shares in his frustration that the worst feeling is being viewed by others as simply a basketball player instead of a student-athlete. When he first arrived on campus, others immediately characterized him as an athlete and said things like, “You must be a basketball player” rather than “You must go to school here.” Although the distinction may seem insignificant to some who do not feel this sort of stereotyping behavior, the BSU panel disagreed. The assumption of black young adults as athletes may seem flattering, but it is actually discriminatory because it invalidates and disregards their academic abilities. For the countless African American students who are not athletes, it can be disheartening to feel that others believe the only reason they are in college is because of sports. For those black students who are also athletes, the “dumb jock” stereotype is prevalent, and equally hurtful.
At the same time, some students found it to be a double-edged sword. For Dumas the track is a place of refuge, not stereotypes.
“When you run or workout, it is really your performance that’s talked about,” Dumas said. “I’m running in my 40 seconds, I’m able to just focus on one thing.”
Dumas may experience stereotypes, but once he’s competing it’s his abilities that are talked about, not the color of his skin. In the history of race the United States, that is a huge accomplishment.
“At some point you just have to laugh at it,” Dumas said.