I am having lunch with a group of friends. We are friends because our sons are friends. But the boys are not with us today. Just us Moms. Ann* tells us that her son, Tory*, is disgusted with his Pop Warner football team because he is the only Black boy on the team and he feels he will never get to try out for quarterback or running back. He thinks its unfair that the head coach’s son always gets to be quarterback and the assistant coach’s son always gets to be running back. Tory gets relegated to wide receiver and the team does not have a single play where the quarterback throws the ball. I’m not that knowledgeable about football. But I know enough to know that this means Tory does not get to play a whole lot.
He Just Wants to Belong
April 27, 2009 by 4 Comments
Tory is not just distraught because he doesn’t get to play. He is frustrated because he is an outsider. He decided to join the team that all of his private school classmates joined. He is in school with them, but he lives across town. These kids live in the same neighborhood and have known each other from birth practically. They have been playing sports together since birth, too, and their fathers have been coaching them all of that time. They are all thick as thieves.
Ann and Tory live in the predominantly black neighborhood–The Hood. And even though they live in the nice part of The Hood, Tory’s White friends are not trying to come over there. When Tory has play dates he goes back to the White affluent neighborhood where his school is located and his White friends reside.
So in essence, he really is an outsider! DO his teammates exclude him from things? Yes. Do they get together outside of football and school without him? Yes. Do they see him as one of their own? No. But they like him. They think he is a good football player. They do not see him as really being Black like the other folks that live in his neighborhood. But he lives over there, some place their parents have no intention of going, if they can help it. So as far as this group of friends is concerned, Tory’s perception is correct. He is somewhat in…but mostly out.
Even with all of this, Edward, Tory’s father, likes this football program because it is run like clockwork–very organized and very straight-forward. Every body pays on time; the uniforms come in when they are supposed to and the games start and end at the appointed hour.Edward knows that Tory is getting the shaft when it comes to his position as wide receiver and that this is happening because he is an outsider. But Edward thinks that that’s how the world works and the sooner Tory learns how to compete in the real world of privilege and preference, the better off Tory will be.
Tory just wants to belong.
I shared with Ann my son’s football experience. We chose to go to The Hood and play with the brothas. We play in the predominantly Black Pop Warner league. We, in our usual fashion, sign up late. But we are lucky enough to get placed on the team of our choice because in this particular league, being late is a normal part of things. Our coach does not have a child on the team, but he has been coaching this group for so long that he feels he knows the boys well and does not need parental input about team positions.
The first day our son attends practice, which was about 2 weeks into the season, the coach introduces him to the other players. Every one of the boys comes up to my son and warmly greets him. They all do the hand shake/dap/slap-up thing and off they all go to the field.
I almost cry tears of joy to see them take to him and he to them with such ease. I am also happy and relieved that he knows how to do the hand shake/dap/slap-up thing, too! You see, we live in the predominantly White affluent neighborhood. And we made the other choice.
My husband and I are happy with our choice. But like Tory, our son is frustrated, too. He is put on the defensive line, when he, too, thinks he should play running back. Most of these kids go to the same public school and live in the same neighborhood. Their families have known each other for most of their lives. The team is made-up of a hodge-podge of intertwined relationships– step-brothers from different fathers; cousins and “play cousins”. All thick as thieves. After practices and games, we watch the boys pile into each others cars in small groups and drive off, leaving my son, the lone figure in the distance, trudging to the car alone.
A few weeks into the season, my son is watching a pro-game on television with his older brother. The two of them are making all sorts of noise after an exciting play. My younger son shrieks excitedly–“Yo, that was def. That was mad-crazy!! Did you see homeboy go?!?” My older son stops in his tracks.
“Why are you talking like that?” he asks.
“Like what?!?”, Baby Boy answers weakly. With some prodding, he soon explains to his older brother that the boys on his team accuse him of “talking like a White boy.”
My son just wants to belong.
How do we sort that out for our children? How do we sort it out for ourselves? When we make choices that we hope are for their betterment, we know that those choices come with trade offs and sacrifices. Somehow in our attempt to give them everything, they end up not fitting in anywhere. It’s frustrating and we feel we are in a Catch 22.
Everyone I know in this situation–whether their kids are the single Black child in their private school classes or greatly in the minority or they are living in a barely integrated neighborhood–are trying to grapple with the reality of their choices. And whether there are racial disconnects or socioeconomic mis-alignments, it doesn’t really matter. The kids are suffering for the need to belong. Since belonging is at the core of a healthy self image and the development of confidence and self assurance, this is no small matter.
I do not mean to oversimplify a complicated issue. There are many factors that influence the decisions we make, and which football team to join is not the most pressing among them. But these situations do beg the question—how do you find and maintain a community for your child that he or she truly feels belongs to them–is truly theirs.
I’d love to hear your input.