As a child, I remember feeling a burning sense of injustice, although I didn’t have the words for that then. But I had the feeling. Do you know the feeling? When someone or many ones whom you love are being treated unjustly by a system that you know is not meant to help them? That is the feeling I’m talking about. The feeling–and circumstances I wish I could change as quickly as a snap of a crayon in my 6-year old hands.
Basketball was practically a religion in my family. We would often load up into the family station wagon and trek to gym after gym for my three older brothers. Practices always took place on our Indian reservation. Games always took place off the reservation, as the other (white) teams would not step foot onto our reservation. So we never had home court advantage.
Usually, games were played in the city of Yakima; ironically the town is named after our Indigenous Tribe, the Yakama Nation. I felt such pride and love for my brothers, as they and their friends dedicated themselves to their craft: playing ball, shooting hoops. My dad coached my brothers’ teams. He would always dress up for games, wearing his finest jeans ironed neatly with a pleat down the front of each leg, a western-style dress jacket, and a bolo tie, usually beaded with colorful beads; our people are famous for beautiful beadwork. And he always wore cowboy boots, with their fine stitching and those loud heels that he would bang against the wooden bleachers periodically during the games. Sometimes his frustration was with the boys who would fail to block out, or they might run a play incorrectly. And many a time it would be in frustration with the bad calls made by referees.
I didn’t have the language then, but I see now, as a trained sociologist, how I witnessed racialized and class-based inequities; structural inequalities that were mapped onto our lives. We inherited a long legacy of injustice, having to do with the more wealthier city’s name (Yakima); our homeland that was stolen by the U.S. Government in the Treaty making process from the mid-1800s, and how even in my late-20th Century childhood, I saw, and felt, and cursed the slanted, unequal, and damaging processes all of that history set into motion. How I yearned to wave my hand and make the playing field level. How I still yearn to do so.