If white privilege is real, why do white guys keep getting dunked on?
Sure, white guys in America are doing pretty well. Just ask 80 percent of Congress, 91 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs or the two-thirds of Hollywood that gets paid more than the other third. But “privilege?” This idea that somehow our paths to success are easier than everyone else’s? If privilege truly does exist for white men in America, why are we always the ones getting dunked on?
In the NBA, nearly 70 percent of interracial posterizations involve a dunker of color, or DoC, over a defender of European descent. Do a little digging and you uncover even more troubling statistics, like in 1997 when white men were nearly 50 times more likely to get dunked on than to dunk on someone else, or how how a full 20 percent of all dunks in the early 2000s were over Shawn Bradley alone.
As a white man, I should not be made to feel uncomfortable while I’m trying to defend the paint for fear of ending up in someone else’s highlight reel. I should not be called for the and-1 foul for simply not being able to get out of the way quickly enough. And if I’m actually able to get a hand on the ball, refs shouldn’t automatically call goaltending just because of the color of my skin and the fact the ball was touching the rim. White men are more than just props to dunk over, and it’s about time the rest of the world started treating us like it.
But it’s not just about getting dunked on. It’s about the lack of white men in prominent dunking roles at all. Of the 31 NBA Slam Dunk Champions, only one is white. In fact, only eight white men have even been invited to participate. The NBA says it’s just a coincidence that the league’s best dunkers typically aren’t white, but this ignores a much deeper issue.
The truth is, we live in a society that discourages white males from an early age from dunking. As soon as we start playing organized basketball, we’re taught that our role is in the backcourt, distributing the ball and making our free throws. We’re indoctrinated by pop culture propaganda like White Men Can’t Jump and Steve Nash’s entire career. We’re praised for our “hustle” and “good sportsmanship,” but rarely for our raw athletic talent. We are resigned to playing for universities like Duke and Gonzaga while our peers get to play for big schools like Kentucky and UCLA. Then if we’re lucky enough to have an NBA career at all, our only consolation prize is an automatic head coaching job offer after we retire.
But what can I do, you may ask yourself. For starters, accept that it’s not a problem that’s just going to go away overnight. The systemic bias against white basketball players, particularly ones who are shorter, less coordinated and can’t jump as high, is pervasive in all levels of the sport. There is no magic wand to cure these inequalities, and it will take all of us working together to see these injustices overcome.
Secondly, you can help create a more vertical-positive environment for our white male youth. That’s the goal of my upcoming project, White Men Can Jump, a traveling motivational series and basketball camp designed exclusively for white elementary school students. We’re visiting towns all across the country creating safe court-spaces and sharing the inspirational message of what a white man in America can accomplish if he works hard and believes in himself.
And the next time you’re running a 3-on-2 fast break and a white defender steps between you and the basket, maybe go for a layup? It’s a small gesture that still counts for two points, but can mean the difference between us finishing the game strong or faking a hamstring injury and never going back to that YMCA again. It means the world to white guys like me. And it’s what checking your privilege is all about.