August 3, 2022- On July 31, one of the greatest professional basketball players to push forward, even when he was tired and feeling out of shape, took his last breath. Bill Russell did not compromise on a good many things. He spoke off the cuff, a good many times, sometimes alienating long-time personal friends and infuriating those who felt “victimized” by his vitriol.
I have been one to look carefully at the anger expressed by people of colour-even when they object to the term “people of colour”. In 1968, when Martin Luther King was assassinated, the reaction of far too many people in my town was, essentially, “good riddance”. At the high school, the next day, the two African-American students were not, to my knowledge, directly threatened, but a small group of male students stood, within earshot of one of the boys, and said what a great day it was for America. Not that many years later, a half-in-jest, half-in-earnest movement was begun to celebrate the life of James Earl Ray, Dr. King’s convicted assassin. It never went far, of course, and Dr. King’s stature has grown, over the years, while few remember Ray, or the doctor who supposedly put a pillow over the reverend’s face, thereby completing the act.
Maybe because I was something of an outlier, or because my personality is given to inclusion of everyone, active racism has made me sick-whether it came from other Whites, Asians reacting to White hubris or any other group exhibiting a sense of superiority. None of us walks on water; none of us is created by other than the Almighty. I have had to acknowledge, and gradually jettison, the racial blind spots and ingrained attitudes that were imparted by those of my elders, and peers, who did not examine their behaviour’s effect on those around them. While not loving them any less, I could not continue to hold those attitudes, or ignore areas where I needed to grow.
Bill Russell might have glared at me, had we ever met, and I may have had a hard time dealing with that, but in the end, his pain-coming from all the way back to his childhood, youth and young adulthood, became my pain, too. I learned from the anger of my fellow soldiers, the guarded indignation of people on the street, here and there, and the righteous chastisement of a beautiful, articulate woman at a Baha’i event, of all places, that “Bring thyself to account each day” meant what it said: Not to wallow in self-pity, not to flagellate oneself, but to acknowledge flaws and grow out of them.
Rest in Power, Mr. William Felton Russell. You were one of the good ones, and one of the greats.