Riley Cooper: Sad, But Not Shocking

By Jesse Taylor of Warriors World / @JesseTaylor74

I don't really know where this article is going yet, but it’s something I need to just write out to get this Riley Cooper issue off my mind. It won’t be about the Warriors, though I’m sure I’ll find a way to weave them into this. As sports fans, I’m sure Cooper’s words have impacted you in some way. It’s caused me to walk back through some of my experiences. Some are sports-related; some aren't.

Like most everyone, I’ve heard the n-word from the mouth of a white person way too many times in my life. I’m tired of confronting people about it. Hearing Philadelphia Eagles receiver Riley Cooper use it at a country music concert was not surprising. It's just another sad case of the racial issues prevalent in our society.

I have cousins and uncles who have used that word (in the late '80s, an uncle of mine who was a huge 76ers fan was once babysitting me and called Boston’s Danny Ainge “a stupid nigger,” which left 12-year-old me confused as hell). I went to school with white people who used it, played basketball and football with people who used it, and have worked with people who used it. I’m glad to have separated myself from acquaintances, and some former friends, who used it. In all these cases, 100 percent of the time, it was not an isolated incident. It was/is part of their vocabularies.

So I have a hard time believing Cooper when he says that’s not who he is. Drunk or not, if you say that shit, it means you say it regularly. Maybe he’s an exception, but my experience says it’s not likely.

I was raised solo by my mom, but once in a while, I would see my grandma on my dad’s side. While I never remember her using the n-word, I clearly remember the time she told me and my sister to stay away from the black ladies in K-Mart because they would kidnap us. I couldn’t have been more than 5 or 6 years old.

She was the only grandparent I ever met, and she was disgusted with my sister and me when we dated non-white people in high school. Thanks for the great life lessons, grandma!

The first time I remember hearing the n-word was in the sixth grade. In between classes, a book dropped from my locker, and I asked the guy whose locker was below mine if he could grab it for me. “I ain’t your nigger!” was his response. I had no idea what that word meant, but I got the gist of his point.

So I get home from school that day, ate dinner and my mom asked me to wash the dishes. “I ain’t your nigger!” was my response. I thought it was funny. She didn’t. She lit into me. Realizing I didn’t know what it meant, she calmed down and gave me the background on the word from an educated, intelligent perspective.

That was a huge moment in my life. I'm not sure many parents take the time to do that properly with their kids. Today, as a father of 8- and 6-year-olds, I’ve already taken advantage of several situations to speak with them about race.

No lie — my mom once had to tell me what a “c*nt” was after I heard that my cousin Kent (not one of the racist ones) hated being called that name. Not knowing what it meant, but wanting to be a pest, I said it to him like 120 times in 30 seconds in front of my mom. Love ya, mom!

Besides my mom, several factors have also had an impact. I believe sports is one. Most of my early heroes were black. Sleepy Floyd, Tim Hardaway and Mitch Richmond. Ronnie Lott and Eric Wright (the O.G. version, not the recent DUI version). I even loved Renaldo Nehemiah. I discovered rap music very early on too. Run DMC, Sugarhill Gang, Whodini and A Tribe Called Quest were some of my favorites.

But that is the same for a lot of racist white people too. I’ve heard white people yell “nigger” at the TV screen in a sports bar before. I know of white guys who only listen to rap music but are racist as hell.

Truly becoming friends, not just acquaintances, with people of different races and cultures only helps to educate and understand. At a very impressionable time in my life, from fourth through eighth grade, my neighbor and best friend was black. That and my mom may have been the biggest impacts for me.

After that locker moment in sixth grade, I began to hear the word more and more. One thing about racist people is they think it’s okay to use the word when no black people are around.

I spent the night at a white friend’s house in eighth grade with two other Hispanic guys. We were walking around town and saw a group of older black kids a few blocks away. One of my Hispanic friends yelled, “Niggers!” and we were soon in a foot race for our asses. We hid in someone’s backyard shed for at least 30 minutes until the black kids finally gave up.

And while we’re sitting in the shed, the white kid starts saying we were lucky to escape because black people have extra calf muscles that make them run faster and jump higher. So now I’m stuck in a shed with racists and my dreams of playing pro sports have just been shattered. I stopped hanging with those kids the next day.

My sophomore year on the JV basketball team, one of the white players came up to me and another white kid and said, “We’ve got to keep these niggers from taking over the team.” By then, I had built up some guts and told the kid not to say racist garbage to me, and if he was any good at hoop he wouldn’t be worrying about the black kids taking over the team.

Fast-forward to 1993-94. I played receiver for a predominantly black junior college football team. We had a country-loving giant of a white offensive lineman who did not fit in with his black teammates. Now, if you’re white and have a lot of black friends or listen to rap music, you know that “nigga” is a very common word. On the football field and around school, you heard it a hundred times every day. “Nigga” was used by my black friends to describe everybody. About our Hispanic/Native American quarterback, it was, “This nigga didn’t pass me the ball.” The white teacher: “This nigga trying to make me do four hours of homework a night.” The white head coach: “This nigga crazy if he think he can run us this much.”

So one day, the white offensive lineman runs back into the huddle after a bad play. With a smile on his face, trying to be funny, he says, “Come on niggas, we need to step it up. Y’all niggas are slackin’.”

Uhh, that did not go over well. “What did you just say?!” …“You better watch that shit” was basically the reaction from several black players in the huddle.

To which the lineman replied …

“What?! You guys say it all the time. Why can’t I?”

Our quarterback was the ultimate leader and bridge builder, and told him to shut the hell up so we could run the next play. Later, he stopped a confrontation in the locker room after practice. But the black players stopped speaking to the lineman, except for football reasons. Serious silent treatment for the rest of the year. My closest friends on the team were black. I’m not stupid. I stayed away from the guy too.

So anyone who thinks Cooper’s black teammates are going to forgive him is incorrect. What he said was even worse than my former white teammate. Yes, several of Cooper’s black teammates have come out in support of him, including his quarterback. They are either being naïve or just playing nice for the cameras.

As Killer Mike might say, Cooper said, “E-R.” Unlike Cooper, I have also witnessed several situations where the term “nigga” was used by a non-black person and has been accepted and in some cases was a learning experience. A lot of my black friends in junior college went with me to the same four-year school. We played intramural hoops together. One of our opponents was an all-Asian team, who, because of rap music, could not speak English very well, but used “nigga” in almost every sentence. Like, literally.

My black teammates got a kick out of this. They had tears of laughter while sitting on the bench, hearing these Asians yelling things like, “Pass the ball, nigga,” and “Yo, nigga, why you shoot that?” in their native accents. However, after the game, they made a point to respectfully talk to the Asian team about the word, saying it’s similar to saying a negative racial slur about Asians. The Asian kids were actually very accepting, embarrassed and apologetic. They had just figured it meant a term for everyone, like “guy” or “dude.”

Each of my closest black friends has separately and at different times asked me if white people say “nigga” while singing along to rap music in the car.

My answer? “Any white person who says ‘no’ to that question is lying.”

Their response? “That’s what I thought. It’s all good. Unless that person’s racist.”

Riley Cooper is racist.

What's sad is my examples are only a small sample. I could have listed many more. Also sad is they all took place in the Bay Area, a region known for its diversity and racial tolerance. And I am someone who distances myself from racism. I can only imagine what it's like in less tolerant regions amongst groups of racist people.

Wait. I don't need to imagine. I saw the Riley Cooper video.

RELATED: Tinsley, Kenny and Ed discuss Riley Cooper and Marcus Vick on #theUCshow podcast.

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