BKN @ ATL: White
1/12/18 Atlanta: I’d never been to Atlanta before, and I’d certainly never been staying at an Airbnb on the outskirts of Atlanta before. As I was driving down mostly empty side streets I said out loud to myself, “where the fuck am I going right now.” I approached a fork in the road at a light where I was to bear right, before I got to the light an older black guy hobbled across the street. I slowed down to let him pass, then continued on my way past a fast food triangle of Checkers, Popeyes, and Church’s Chicken.
As I made my way down the road I became hyper aware of my whiteness, I’d only seen black folks in cars and on the streets around me since the old man hobbled in front of my car. It also dawned on me quickly that I was in the fairly deep south, and I wasn’t sure what all that meant.
Back home in New York I’d be considered a bleeding heart “libtard” by racist old white dudes, and an intolerant straight white privileged male by libtards. And that was fine by me, I didn’t want to be considered a friend by either extreme. I would say I most certainly leaned left, but I really couldn’t get behind the word police and ultra P.C. movement, people who made it their civil duty to be infuriated with mankind. I really didn’t like that kind of shit, but I legit hated the extreme right, particularly the overt racism. I hated the part of me that still held those kinds of skepticisms. It had to be some form of racism, why else would I had been apprehensive to go get some groceries at the Big Shop n Save on the outskirts of Atlanta.
It wasn’t that I felt I would be in any danger if I entered the Big Shop n Save, obviously I knew nobody was going to shank me because I was the only white guy getting some produce. I think being that far south was what really made me apprehensive. I’d been in plenty of bodegas in predominantly black and Hispanic neighborhoods back home, where few white faces were getting coffee or beef patties. But it was New York, so my libtard side could romanticize it and act like there was no racial tension; those were my fellow City-men! But I didn’t know what the fuck the dynamic was down in Atlanta, I imagined it wasn’t good. I hadn’t heard dazzling things about southern racial relations. I couldn’t help but think about the book version of “Friday Night Lights,” how there was a clear line that separated which part of town was the white part and which was black, and the only time it was crossed was when the black kids went to go win high school football games for the white people. I understood that book took place ddeeeeeeppp in Texas. Atlanta was still a major city, I’m sure it wasn’t like that, but what the fuck did I know. This part of Atlanta did not look very city like, maybe I was the first white person to come to this part of town in 50 years.
Kenny “The Jet” Smith once said on a TNT broadcast that the first time he ever hugged a white person was in his early teens during a basketball game. Larry Bird fell in love with basketball partly because he was a bit of a loner, and felt accepted by the older black guys who let him play with them, because he was good and that was all that mattered in basketball. If could you could play, then you played.
I think I was in the 3rd grade and my CYO basketball team had a big playoff game, and the opposing team had this really tall black kid who played for them. The CYO was very white washed, and this was the first black kid I’d ever played against. It was either an older family member, or a coach, or somebody, telling me this horrific account of the 5th grade team from my parish that played a predominantly black team. The black team was brutal and played dirty and intentionally hurt everyone on their team, but our white team still came away triumphant!! Now, looking back on it, there was absolutely no way that was what transpired. There was no way a bunch of 5th graders were just beating the shit out of another group of 5th graders in a refereed game, with parents on both sides, and it was just allowed to happen and somehow the whites magically persevered. But I was like 8 years old when I heard that, and it scared the shit out of me. I didn’t want to get into a brawl. I just wanted to take jumpshots and play horrendous defense, y’know, white guy shit. So the day of my playoff game I hinted to my mom about my nervousness of playing against the black kid on the other team. She gently put it that people were just people, he was just a kid who wanted to play basketball like me. She said, “sure, he’ll probably be a lot better than you, but what can ya do, you play shit defense and your handle is weak as fuck, you little bitch.” She didn’t say that last part, but it was insinuated.
The game I was attending in Atlanta was another dud on paper, and I had another ticket mishap that I can’t get into, it hurt my soul too much to think about. This was the second dud-on-paper game I was attending in a row, with a very sparse crowd and teams with records well under .500. The Hawks were like a team compiled of people I didn’t realize were still in the NBA, and the Nets were a team compiled of people I was never aware were NBA players. A large fella with a fro named Jared Allen got badly dunked on by a rookie named Jon Collins, you go figure out which guy plays for which team. It was actually a great game, and the 127 people in attendance were really getting into it, far too many of those 127 were children. I didn’t appreciate that, it was my belief that those things should be kept in a cage at home, but what can ya do. To make up for the lack of human noise the crowd of 127 could make, the Atlanta Hawks organization thought it best that the DJ-fake-organ-man just alternate between fake organ, clapping sounds, and generic hip-hop beats every 3 seconds for THE DURATION OF THE ENTIRE GAME. I now know which torture technique would get me to spill secrets fairly quickly. It was certainly unnecessary down the stretch of the game, the 127 were getting loud, but the maddening loop of noises drowned them out, and their heros fell short. The Hawks lost in the last minute when a human professional basketball player on the Nets named Spencer Dinwiddie took a loose ball the opposite way for an impressive And-1, as 3 Hawks were surrounding him at the hoop. I blamed the DJ, let the 127 live. He had one shining moment when he played Cardi B during a timeout break, and this cutsie little like 11 year old white girl was casually singing all the words, and I thought to myself that this was an amazing time to be alive.
Much like the Hawks, we lost our 3rd grade CYO playoff game in the last minute, it was crushing and I still wasn’t over it nearly 20 years later. There was some bookkeeping tomfoolery going on with the other team that allowed one of their better players to stay in the game after he was charged with his 5th foul, but I won’t get too much into that. The silver lining was that I hit an elbow jumper right in the tall black kid’s face, and wouldn’t you know it, he didn’t punch me in my face. The world started to make sense to me. As everyone was leaving after the controversial win, the tall black kid put on a Knicks jacket before exiting, and I felt a certain kinship with him in that moment. We both just wanted to play for the Knicks when we grew up. And even though I buried that 15 footer in his grill, my mom reminded me, “he had a waaayyyyy better chance of playing for the Knicks, because you just stand around on offense and wait for the ball to find you. You gotta work a little, you lazy fuck.”
I arrived at the Airbnb, and was greeted by the extremely friendly and sweet middle aged black woman who was hosting me. And of course the other people she was renting a room out to was a white girl with purple hair and her boyfriend. So not only was I not the first white person in this area in 50 years, the presence of me with my big silly tattoos and her with her purple hair signified that the area was in the beginning stages of being gentrified. As I f I couldn’t feel any more white guilt and utter shame. My Lyft driver had these brolic ass rings on every single finger, he was pretty funny. As the trip started he was talking shit about the route his GPS was taking us, so me and him talked shit about technology and how GPS’s thought they were better than us, then he went his own route and the traffic was ridiculous and he just sighed and said, “guess the GPS knew.”. The guy who whipped up my cheesesteak at a hole in the wall sandwich and wings spot was also a basketball fan. We bullshitted about the night’s matchup with the Nets and Hawks and how horrible of a game it was going to be, obviously we were both very wrong. We then both agreed that we were at the point where we were apprehensive to play because we didn’t want to turn our ankles anymore. The kids in their early teens who came into the hole in wall to get some food were fuckin annoying, because teenagers are inherently annoying, with their youth and music I didn’t understand. People were people. My conversation with my Lyft driver on the way back somehow got on the topic of natural disasters, and he scared the shit out of me when he described the sound of an earthquake in L.A. as a gigantic lion that was right in your face. The conversation then drifted towards the “changes” going on in Atlanta, i.e. lanky white boys with silly tattoos first, artisan soap shops next. But the dude didn’t even seem annoyed with my presence when we were talking about these changes, he blamed the powers that be, developers and other major gentrifying forces. He was punching up, where a lot of people from my hometown who elected a maniac into the office of president did the complete opposite. Any thought of a shift, or danger to their current way of life, and they blamed the people with less than them.
Years later, maybe by the time we were in the 8th grade, my CYO coach put us in a PAL league on the North Shore of Staten island, where we were guaranteed to be the only white kids in the general vicinity. When we stepped in the gym all the black kids were grinning and shaking their heads, they probably thought they were on one of the hidden camera shows that were very popular at the time. We won every game in that league by at least 15 points. We’d been playing together for years at that point, most PAL teams were just kinda thrown together. Basketball is all about cohesion, when you’re on the court with a consistent team-even at that young an age-there is almost telepathy happening on the court. By the end of the games the black kids went from laughing at us to giving us pounds. Because we could play, and that was all that mattered.