Op-Ed: Admitting Privilege is Hard, But There is Something Even Harder

Why we must hold Kyle Korver accountable.

Utah Jazz player Kyle Korver deserves our applause and admiration. In his Players’ Tribune piece he admitted to something. He is a member of a privileged class. Privilege is defined as a special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group.

As a member of this privileged class he recognizes there is something he doesn’t have to deal with, that impacts the majority of his teammates and more than 75% of his colleagues in the NBA: racism. Racism is defined as prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one's own race is superior.

Korver made it clear he is aware of his privilege when he expressed his feelings on the situation of his teammate, Thabo Sefolosha, that occured when they were members of the Atlanta Hawks. Sefolosha had his leg broken in a case of excessive force and brutality at the hands of the NYPD in an obvious racial profiling incident. At the time of the incident, Korver admitted to first thinking, “Well, if I’d been in Thabo’s shoes, out at a club late at night, the police wouldn’t have arrested me. Not unless I was doing something wrong.”

Korver also reflected on Oklahoma City Thunder MVP Russell Westbrook’s interaction with a couple of fans at the Jazz home arena in Salt Lake City during a game last month. He wrote, “This wasn’t only about Russ and some heckler. It was about more than that. It was about what it means just to exist right now — as a person of color in a mostly white space. It was about racism in America.”

Again, Korver deserves praise for recognizing and admitting his privilege, as well as calling a spade a spade, and using the word racism. Too often, many white people will go through mental gymnastics to avoid using the word, because it’s such an ugly and vile concept. But, that is what racism is, ugly and vile. Korver went to a place Utah Jazz owner Gail Miller wouldn’t go, following the Westbrook incident. In a statement Miller read to Jazz fans following the incident, she said:

This should never happen. We are not a racist community. We believe in treating people with courtesy and respect as human beings. From time to time, individual fans exhibit poor behavior and forget their manners and disrespect players on other teams. When that happens, I want you to jump up and shout ‘stop.’ We have a code of conduct in this arena. It will be strictly enforced.

Whether Miller believes the greater Salt Lake community is racist or not, is kind of beside the point. Something happened and is happening between NBA players and some fans. This isn’t an isolated situation, it’s a reflection of the larger issue in the macro society, and a prominent white player on her team says something needs to be done. Korver writes,

“How can I — as a white man, part of this systemic problem — become part of the solution when it comes to racism in my workplace? In my community? In this country?”

He knows he doesn’t have all the answers, but believes the following:

“I know that, as a white man, I have to hold my fellow white men accountable.”

This is where the rubber meets the road. Admitting privilege is hard, calling out racism as a white person is hard, holding other white people accountable for their racism is harder. How does Korver plan to do this? Standing up and applauding after a racist fan is banned from the arena for life, while the right thing to do, is the bare minimum and easy. What are his plans for actually holding his fellow white men accountable?

Racism is a foul scourge woven into the fabric of this country that manifests itself in many obvious, and not so obvious (to some), ways. How will Korver work to root this out? He laid down the challenge of holding his fellow white men accountable, so we (the collective) must hold him accountable to his words. Will he call out his fellow white athletes across sports to stand with him in solidarity for their teammates and colleagues of color?

Many of my colleagues in media often romanticize about the healing power of sports and the great responsibility athletes have to use their platforms for good. Kyle Korver has made a step in the right direction. Who else will Korver solicit for support? What other prominent white athletes will step up?

Since Korver’s piece published he has received a lot of “atta-boys”, retweets, and likes on various social media platforms. Now what? Holding people accountable is hard. Will he campaign against policies that continue to marginalize people of color, even if that means impacting some of his own privilege? When working to eradicate the scourge that is racism, will he recognize that we don’t have the luxury to do it in a manner that makes white people comfortable? Does he know what it truly means to hold people accountable in this way?

Korver said it is incumbent on him to listen and educate himself on racism in America. That is true. It is also on him to act. If he means what he says, and we must take him at his word, the information he seeks is out there. If he doesn’t know, he’ll quickly come to know what the injustices his teammates, colleagues and people of color talk about daily. He’ll come to know, if he doesn’t already, the inherent advantages the privileged classes are afforded at the expense of others. But, what will he do?

Yes, that’s a lot on Korver’s shoulders, but he wrote the words. This is on him and other members of the privileged class. It is not the job of the oppressed to educate the oppressor, though people of color will continue to do so. What will you do once you’re educated Kyle Korver? Actions speak louder than words.

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.

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