Black History: Examining the Blind Sides of Race

Photo courtesy of Evan Burris
Making History: Eisenhower Coach Mike Burris poses with his granddaughter. The school named him head coach for the Ike football team, making him the first black coach for a Lawton city high school.

Jacob Jardel
Sports Editor
@JJardel_Writing

Eisenhower High School in Lawton just made history on Feb. 1 with the hiring of Mike Burris as the school’s head football coach.
The hiring was important, since Burris brings to the team a consistency they’ve lacked over the last few years. While Ike has had three different head coaches in four years, Burris has held his assistant coach mantel since arriving in Lawton in 1994.
More importantly, though, he is the first black head coach at any of the three current Lawton high schools.
To put everything into context, black individuals have been coaching at the college and professional levels of football since the late 1970s when Willie Jeffries took the helm at Wichita State in 1979. Four years later, Art Shell called plays for the Los Angeles Raiders, becoming the first black head coach in the NFL’s modern era.
That was over thirty years ago.
So to see that our city is getting its first black high school football coach ever shows how much progress we have – and have yet to – make.
One commenter on the story regarding Burris’ hiring voiced their disapproval at the use of the Burris’ race as a main focal point of the story. That person stated that race should not be a factor because his qualifications got him the job.
Indeed, his stability and consistency amid an otherwise inconsistent coaching carousel helped cement his status as head coach. He likely would have seen an exit if it weren’t for those merits.
However, the fact that no high school in Lawton has ever had a black coach is more than a big deal.
The person who made the comment continued on to question whether announcements put priority on an individual’s race if any non-white person gets a position. It is a very valid point, since there have been non-white assistants before.
That being said, in cases like this one, people do mention race first – but not for divisive or arbitrary reasons.
The thing about being the first person outside of a majority to do something is that it causes us as a society to look back and wonder why this person was the first. Was it because of merit? Was it the regulation of the time?
Or maybe it’s something we wish didn’t happen – and that we like to think doesn’t happen to this day.
A recent article from ESPN’s Mina Kimes looked into the dearth of black head coaches in the NFL. She cited research from a four-university group that found white position coaches were twice as likely to earn a promotion than their black counterparts – regardless of other factors. According to her, when it comes down to it, discrimination is the main reason for this effect.
Discrimination may not be as active a process today, but it’s still present in these hiring decisions. It’s still preventing true diversity in a lot of facets. What makes matters worse is that this discrimination is at a point where it’s “the way we’ve always done it” in some ways.
The truth of the matter is that we as a nation have been kind of bad with the whole Melting Pot thing in the grand scheme of things. Since the birth of the nation, the United States has waltzed among accommodation, assimilation and gentrification.
Ask the immigrants at Ellis Island. Ask the Natives whose land we used to manifest the American destiny. Ask anyone whose skin color was darker than a summer tan.
If you weren’t some form of WASP, you pretty much got stung at some point.
But white people aren’t the problem, as previous columns have mentioned. The big problem is homogenized assimilation.
Many individuals claim to be colorblind when it comes to situations involving race, choosing not to see color when it comes to certain aspects of life. Some even take pride in the fact that race doesn’t play a big part in their outlook on life.
But when you think about it, you’re just reducing your vision even more than if you saw color.
There is a phrase used in the lexicon of John Green and the slogans of the Uncultured Progress: “There is no them. There are only facets of us.” This quotation encapsulates a lot of the sentiment most of us want to echo when it comes to race relations.
But when you break it down, the phrase means more than a baseline “We are all the same.”
It doesn’t stop at “There is only us.” It goes further. It emphasizes that there are different parts of us that make the holistic human society run. It’s not homogenized. It embraces the differences, utilizes the strengths and integrates the different nuances into one American culture.
But you won’t get that if you’re colorblind.
We want to believe we’re an assortment of different races, ethnicities and backgrounds all put together to make one America – a Melting Pot, if you will. But you don’t want to melt it too much so that we can’t tell the ingredients apart anymore.
We also need to realize that different doesn’t mean better, worse or anything in between. It just means we’re highlighting a disparate facet of the collective us – even if it causes us to highlight some of our shortcomings as well.
“Bias – especially systemic bias, the sort of bias that many refuse to acknowledge until it materializes in the form of hard data – won’t be solved with a new rule or committee,” she said. “But such efforts at least keep the issue in focus.”
Whether it’s the Mike Burris hiring or the hiring of any other black coach in the NFL, the coaching situations act as somewhat of an allegory for where we were, are and have yet to go. So when a new coach gets hired, we laud them for their merits.
When we mention that they happen to be black, we’re just trying show color the way it’s meant to be seen.

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