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Commentary: A new dimension of Hoop Dreams

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, July 19, 2010 - The contrast between the vigils held for LeBron James and for Oscar Grant was compelling and brings new meaning to the phrase "hoop dreams."

The phrase was made popular by a documentary following two African-American males who dreamed of making it as professional basketball players. It captured the idea that sports are a way for Black males to "succeed." Music is often another golden avenue, and perhaps we can add politics as the newest way to reach that status of an "exception."

And here's the kicker. In this supposed post-racial era, now more than ever it seems essential to cling to these hoop dreams. Because to be an average Black male that triggers assumptions, fears and misperceptions as opposed to paparazzi could be fatal.

We need to be willing to consider the big question of why it seems commonplace for miscalculations to occur when Black males are involved. Amadou Diallo , to Sean Bell to the post-Katrina shootings , there is no simple answer. Yet to fail to consider the question is to stand in acceptance of the deep-rooted fear of Black men that factored into the overreaction and subsequent killing of Oscar Grant by a transit officer on an Oakland train platform.

I don't solely indict law enforcement. The victimization of Black and Brown people is not a new story. However, that does not mean we should treat it as a non-story. The transgressions within law enforcement are important to consider, because they can have fatal consequences. These incidents do not, however, tell the whole story of law enforcement. In fact, they function as symptoms of the larger problem.

I am not solely indicting the media for poor coverage and failing to pose relevant questions. I've heard the argument that the media should act for the greater good of society and give us in-depth, meaningful coverage -- sort of like a large scale PBS. Others have argued that the profit-driven scheme of mainstream media serves the public palate. People were definitely interested in James' decision, so why not create a production out of it?

My oldest son would love to eat ice cream, chips and pancakes every day. Will it kill him? No. Are these foods he could have sometimes? Yes. However, my job is to give him a balanced diet that feeds his growing mind and body.

As a society, we have gotten so out of hand with our overindulgences that we have an obesity problem throughout the lifespan. A cable show attempts to highlight our mistakes, which we often appear blind to, as it helps families refocus on being healthy.

I'm not attempting to paint a maternalistic (or paternalistic for that matter) picture of big-brother media. But we need a reality check. Our civilization does uphold (and in many cases requires) collective agreement about what is socially appropriate for the individual, and greater, good. So it is not unreasonable to demand that media give us nutrients rather than junk. We have an Amber Alert system as a public announcement that a child has been abducted. It would be helpful to have something to rein us back in when it comes to social justice - perhaps a PSA informing the public about a violation of rights. However, such a shift would require us to admit to and be willing to call out injustice.

And finally, I do not hold individuals fully to blame. One person did not create these circumstances infused with the fear and overarching negative assumptions that led to Grant's death. These dynamics -- which are not immune to socio-economic status, education or geographic location -- are too powerful to remain ambivalent.

However, one person can make sure he or she is contemplating more than what is served up by society and mainstream media. It would behoove us all to plug into a media source that pushes us to see our individual and collective patterns- for better or for worse.

The current state of affairs is dire. It hit me close to home as I contemplated the divergent stories of Grant and James. It's got me wishing my boys become an identifiable exception so that they just might avoid being a Grant, or Bell, or Diallo. That's taking hoop dreams to a whole other level.

Kira Hudson Banks, Ph.D., is assistant professor of psychology at Illinois Wesleyan University in Bloomington. The native of Edwardsville is a regular contributor to the Beacon.

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