Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Hall of Fame NBA center and noted thinker among athletes, has delivered a piece on the Ferguson situation developing in Missouri, and his conclusions are both more measured and larger in scope than many other readings of the event, some of which seem entirely untethered to reality, and almost all of which attempt to ascribe motive and action when the evidence — forensic, medical, and otherwise — isn’t available yet to reasonably do so.
Opening the piece, which ran in Time magazine, with a question as to where Ferguson will stand in history as “a tipping point in the struggle against racial injustice,” or “a minor footnote in some future grad student’s thesis on Civil Unrest in the Early Twenty-First Century,” the former Lew Alcindor broaches every angle of the discourse while cautioning all the while not to get caught up in one or two aspects of it and neglect the overreaching point that we should be taking from the events in Missouri.
“This fist-shaking of everyone’s racial agenda distracts America from the larger issue that the targets of police overreaction are based less on skin color and more on an even worse Ebola-level affliction: being poor,” Kareem asserts. “Of course, to many in America, being a person of color is synonymous with being poor, and being poor is synonymous with being a criminal. Ironically, this misperception is true even among the poor.”
With the racial element of Michael Brown’s shooting cast into a reasonable doubt (which is not to suggest that it was, in any way, justified), the discourse should be shifting to why, exactly, everyone is getting all up in arms about arguing with each other rather than coming up with ways to meaningfully effect change. That’s the thrust of Kareem’s point, and it seems to be one that’s quietly ignored by most people who have voiced an opinion on the matter.
Without paying attention to where our news comes from, we cannot hope to avoid divisional biases that shift the spotlight away from the actual issues in place; the racial element of the fallout in Ferguson leads the discussion to be, in Kareem’s words, “about discrimination or about police justification.” Both of which are important to the national conversation, but each providing the poor with something to pay attention to and stand in opposition against each other, putting less emphasis on the fact that they’re getting the short end of the stick from the people who aren’t poor.
The former Los Angeles Laker is issuing a call for unity in the face of something that could, and has, been needlessly divisive. Instead of focusing on why the status quo seems to be so skewed and constructing solutions for the problems at hand, the discourse has been driven into a ditch by those who stand to gain the most from keeping people distracted. It shouldn’t take an athlete to bring this point to the forefront of the Ferguson debacle, but maybe he’ll be a voice of reason that can actually be recognized as such.