Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Black Lives Matter

I normally only discuss squash, but I thought it was important to discuss George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter protests that have currently swept the globe. I understand that my audience is here for my squash perspective and that is almost always what I stick to, but I also thought that if I failed to discuss this some of you may interpret my dismissal as compliance. I'm fortunate that I grew up in Canada, one of the most (if not the most) multi-cultural countries in the world. I also grew up playing squash and there have always been a lack of black squash players which I'm going to hypothesize on and provide some of my personal experiences in this regard.

I know this issue has been going on for a long time, but if you don't witness it in your daily lives you tend not to be as understanding or as concerned about it. In the US there's been so many terrible crimes when it comes to police brutality or mass shootings that you begin to feel a bit numb to it all. As a Canadian you are just thankful that you live where you do, but it's still difficult to explain why there are such drastic differences between our countries. I suppose I am negligent because I didn't say or do anything about these issues until this point. I in fact only heard the slogan, 'Black Lives Matter' last week. I've always thought of myself as a good person which I thought was enough and all that I could do. But now I understand that silence equals compliance and it certainly isn't enough. When Colin Kaepernick was kneeling for the anthems I didn't have a problem with it, but I also never spoke about it and supported him. I would just say to myself 'what can I do?" or 'how am I going to make an impact?' I don't have a very large following for Serious Squash and I have always just stuck to what I know best, and that's squash. But things are different in our society today and I believe we can and must do more.

When I was young I had friends of every ethnicity and I never thought or experienced any racism. Canada is very progressive and supportive of individual differences regardless of gender, race or sexual orientation. At the schools I've attended and worked at they've all been strongly open about supporting these differences. This doesn't mean that bullying never happened and kids were never teased. So clearly Canada wasn't and still isn't perfect, but it's far better than a lot of other countries. Unfortunately for those that live in the United States things are not so good. I've travelled throughout the states for various vacations and squash tournaments and it's easy to tell that you're not in Canada. I remember driving to the US Open as a child and going through streets where every house had bars on their windows and graffiti was all over the houses. I've heard stories about New Haven being not safe once you're off of Yale's campus. I have to say I don't know if things have gotten better there in recent years, but this is common knowledge for many of those in the squash community.

I really can't think of any examples of racism in squash. There are however a notable absence of black squash players. I wonder what percentage of people that play other sports, such as tennis are black? Does the fact that there aren't many black squash players mean that there is a problem with racism in our sport or does this have more to do with socioeconomic issues that have plagued squash for decades? Many squash clubs across North America are expensive and I could never afford to join most of them. If I can't afford to join one of those clubs, I certainly wouldn't feel comfortable being a coach at one of them.

I grew up playing at both the Pickering and Ajax Community Centres where the memberships were inexpensive and there were no fancy country club rules. We didn't have to wear all white clothing and we didn't have an outdoor fancy pool with a gourmet restaurant. There were no initiation fees at my clubs and access was something most lower to middle class families could afford. I again don't know the stats, but I would guess the diversity of recreation complexes is probably a lot greater than the private clubs.

Over the past 15 years or so a lot of urban squash companies in Canada and the US have done a great job giving access to kids who normally wouldn't have that opportunity. This is the positive side about what has been happened in squash, but what about the country clubs with a predominantly white membership? Do people of colour feel comfortable joining a club like this? Now don't get me wrong I'm not suggesting that every expensive squash or golf club has racism intertwined in them. This is just a portion of squash where you notice an absence of people of colour. Should some of these clubs initiate marketing policies to attract more members of colour?

I lived in British Columbia for 8 years and I know that it is very multicultural. In fact I read a stat that about half of the residents don't speak English as their first language. I think we can all imagine what Trump would say about that. Personally, as a coach you just want keen and coachable students and I have always treated my students equally. Even though BC is extremely diverse I can only recall ever seeing a handful of black squash players. There were quite a few Asian squash players,  but perhaps it's something as simple as racquet sports are more common in Asian cultures and there are a lot of Asian people living in BC?

When I moved to Turks and Caicos I was for the first time a minority. The natives of the country are black and it was common to go somewhere and be the only white person. It was simply different, but I didn't mind it. This was as close I could get to experiencing how it would feel to be the only black member of a squash club. Out of the 30 or so people that played squash while I was there, there was only 1 black boy who played squash. The kids all got along great and there were no issues with racism whatsoever. There's a lot of expats in Turks and Caicos so it's not surprising that they would be the majority of the people playing squash, but in a country with so many black people it's odd that more of the native black community didn't participate.

A lot of the native children in Turks and Caicos played basketball. At my gym they would play all of the time while I would rarely see a white child shoot hoops. The club also had a big hockey league and it was again predominantly white children that participated. I don't know if these differences were based on socioeconomic factors or if it was simply what the children enjoyed playing. Even though the children were largely divided in what sports they played I didn't notice a single instance of racism. There will always be differences in sports regarding what percentage of various ethnicities participate in. I have a hunch that some of this also has to do with role models. I imagine as a young black child you want to be like the successful athletes you can relate to and admire, but if there are so few in a sport like squash than perhaps they don't think twice about it.

I started off writing about this thinking I was going to make a short statement and move on to a squash topic, but as I got going I felt that this deserved to be it's own article and topic. Squash has some amazing people involved in the sport all over the world and I hope we can make our sport more appealing to everyone, regardless of race, gender or sexual orientation. When I was young there were a lot of male only clubs, but most have changed their policies, so perhaps there will be a movement happening sometime soon about promoting equality in squash and specifically in regards to race.

I don't know how else I can help make difference besides how I treat people, but I hope by simply bringing up this topic in the squash community it will do some good. I know a few black squash pros have recently made posts about their experiences and unfortunately they had to overcome some forms of racism over their careers. I'd like to think that squash brings out the best in us, so I'm hopeful we can all be better and do more and not be afraid to have our voices heard. I truly believe education and discussions are big factors in this so even if you are normally reserved and don't share your opinions with others I hope you decide to so this time. It's only if we all unite together we can create change. Black Lives Matter.

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