Pick Me Up: Build a Community with Street Basketball

pick me up bball picPick Me Up

Shooting bricks builds communities

“Hey, man, your peripheral better be fucked up!”

In a pickup basketball game on a New York City playground, a player ignores his teammates. He hoists a bad shot. On the next possession, he turns the ball over.

“Mother fucking Michael Jordan. Yeah, go ahead and shoot, Jordan-ass wannabe.”

Laughter erupts from the spectators. The player tries ball-hogging again. The spectators boo. To teach him a lesson, his teammates stop passing him the ball.

Pick-up basketball is often derided as “street” and “schoolyard” and as encouraging selfish play. It is maligned as an immature version of the textbook games organized by civic associations, high schools, and universities.

But on that New York City playground, both the players and the spectators tried to teach an ill-mannered player how to be a good sport.

Francisco Vieyra, writing for Qualitative Sociology, spent over a year in the Big Apple playing and talking with players and spectators on several dozen basketball courts.

He found that, far from being a hot-headed haven of selfishness and immaturity, pickup basketball is a welcoming and well-organized place. It provides informal mentoring on how to improve your game, how to get a job, and how you can deal with life’s everyday troubles.

Shoot bricks all you like: pick-up bball is a foundation of urban communities.

Welcome

Anyone can be a spectator and everyone – no matter who they are or what clothes they wear – can play.

“I often found white-collar workers wearing the athletic shoes they tucked away in their briefcases, blue-collar workers still in their overalls and boots, and underemployed or unemployed men and children in their shorts and sneakers on the same court,” Vieyra writes.

There are social rules for every aspect of the basketball experience: for fair choice in who will play next and for pre-game practice shoot-arounds. Everyone is expected to help clear the court of ice or other seasonal debris.

Players organize “contests,” which can be 3-on-3 or 5-on-5 matches that, to get as many different folks onto the court as possible in a reasonable amount of time, are between fifteen minutes and a half an hour. While some of the rules differed from game to game – such as how fouls will be called and the point allotment for baskets – the players negotiate and agree on these rules before tipoff.

Talk about It

Some guys were hanging around the court, waiting for their turn to play. One of these guys started talking about how he recently lost his job. One guy pointed to a short fellow who worked at an employment agency and suggested that he talk to him. Another guy chimed in that, just a few months ago, he got a construction job that way. The first guy took the suggestion for help and, later on, got a job as a janitor.

In the pickup basketball world, one can find friends, news, gossip, advice.

They also share stories about racism in America.

“In one memorable conversation,” Vieyra writes, “a player told us how earlier in the day he overheard his white boss make racist remarks about Blacks to several white co-workers. Rustling a few papers to establish his presence in the room resulted in his boss quickly turning around, awkwardly stammering that it was ‘just a joke,’ and leaving the room without waiting for a response.”

The others listened and some told their similar stories of racism at work. A discussion ensued “over the merits of filing a grievance, quitting on principle, or begrudgingly tolerating such abuses because of the difficulty of finding a new job as a Black man.”

If You Build It

Communities are sustained by special events. In good weather, the community turns the basketball courts into tournaments and summer leagues that, over time, can develop a long standing and well-known local history, like the Entertainers’ Basketball Classic at the Holcombe Rucker Basketball Court, and that can draw over a thousand spectators. Out-of-town tourists come there for “a big part of Black history.”

Most of these special contests are smaller affairs of the local community. They exhibit the kind of “flashy” play that is highlighted on YouTube, but this is because they are, first and foremost, festive. Vendors sell ice cream, artists hawk their wares, and players’ family and friends cheer.

“Yeah, this makes my mom proud,” a player said. “She comes to every tournament. Every one. Doesn’t matter where it’s at. And afterwards, that’s all she’ll talk about.”

Pickup basketball is not a utopia: insults, bad manners, and undesirable conduct happens. Generally, bad manners are done in-game and spectators and players try to cool heated disagreements. Rarely is it personal and once the game is over, the conflict ends. Fights are rare.

Pickup basketball can be a deep and meaningful experience that is woven into the fabric of players’ everyday life. Within it, they become a part of the larger community.

“Pickup basketball does not escape New York City’s greater structural realities,” Vieyra writes. “It can, however, serve as a reprieve from these issues.”

Notes

This is written by Joshua K. Dubrow and is based on “Pickup Basketball in the Production of Black Community” by Francisco Vieyra in Qualitative Sociology in 2016 (39:101–123).

Please feel free to use this summary in the classroom! To help, here is a free teaching guide: Pick Me Up summary with Teaching Guide

 

In Political Obamacare Fight, the Poor Are Casualties

The New York Times’ article:  Millions of Poor Are Left Uncovered by Health Law

By SABRINA TAVERNISE and ROBERT GEBELOFF

A sweeping national effort to extend health coverage to millions of Americans will leave out two-thirds of the poor blacks and single mothers and more than half of the low-wage workers who do not have insurance, the very kinds of people that the program was intended to help, according to an analysis of census data by The New York Times.

Because they live in states largely controlled by Republicans that have declined to participate in a vast expansion of Medicaid, the medical insurance program for the poor, they are among the eight million Americans who are impoverished, uninsured and ineligible for help. The federal government will pay for the expansion through 2016 and no less than 90 percent of costs in later years.

Continue reading “In Political Obamacare Fight, the Poor Are Casualties”

Pew Research on the 2012 U.S. Elections

For excellent analysis of all the most critical issues to the 2012 U.S. elections in America, see “Campaign 2012” of the Pew Research Center.

Highlights:

  • Are Americans better off today?  Well, they’re not worse off.  And partisanship has much to do with their view:  “Republicans consistently rate their personal finances more positively than do Democrats or independents, largely reflecting Republicans’ higher average income levels. But the gap has narrowed since the start of the recession in December 2007, as Republicans have come to view their financial situations less positively.”
  • In a word:  Obama  has gone from “inexperienced” and “change” in 2008 to “good/good man” and “trying/tried/tries” in 2012.  Romney?  “honest,” “businessman,” “rich.”
  • Tax hikes on those making $250,000 a year?  44% say it would help economy, 22% say hurt, and 24% say no difference.

There’s much more on the website, including the latest voter polls.

U.S. Department of Education: Big Racial Disparities in Schools

Black Students Face More Discipline, Data Suggests

By TAMAR LEWIN

Black students, especially boys, face much harsher discipline in public schools than other students, according to new data from the Department of Education.

Although black students made up only 18 percent of those enrolled in the schools sampled, they accounted for 35 percent of those suspended once, 46 percent of those suspended more than once and 39 percent of all expulsions, according to the Civil Rights Data Collection’s 2009-10 statistics from 72,000 schools in 7,000 districts, serving about 85 percent of the nation’s students. The data covered students from kindergarten age through high school.

One in five black boys and more than one in 10 black girls received an out-of-school suspension. Over all, black students were three and a half times as likely to be suspended or expelled than their white peers.

And in districts that reported expulsions under zero-tolerance policies, Hispanic and black students represent 45 percent of the student body, but 56 percent of those expelled under such policies.

“Education is the civil rights of our generation,” said Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, in a telephone briefing with reporters on Monday. “The undeniable truth is that the everyday education experience for too many students of color violates the principle of equity at the heart of the American promise.”

Continue reading “U.S. Department of Education: Big Racial Disparities in Schools”

Racial Discrimination in the U.S.: Evidence from the 2000 HUD Study

Racial discrimination is difficult to establish.  Clearly, there is such discrimination.  But how do we know if the discrimination is due to race, or some other factor?  The key is to isolate the racial factors from all other possibilities.  This can best be done through experiments.  The U.S. government periodically commissions the Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to conduct studies of rental and housing discrimination.  This is a summary of the 2000 study, describing their methods and what they found.

Methods:
In a paired test, two individuals— one minority and the other white— pose as otherwise identical homeseekers, and visit real estate or rental agents to inquire about the availability of advertised housing units. This methodology provides direct evidence of differences in the treatment minorities and whites experience when they search for housing.

Results :

Rental Sales

— Whites were consistently favored over blacks in 21.6 percent of tests.
— Whites were more likely to receive information about available housing units, and had more opportunities to inspect available units. 
— Hispanic renters nationwide also face significant levels of discrimination.  In contrast with Hispanics, Non-Hispanic whites were consistently favored in 25.7 percent of tests.

Patterns of Change

Discrimination against African American renters declined between 1989 and 2000, but was not eliminated. Discrimination against Hispanic renters appears to have remained essentially unchanged since 1989.

Home Sales

 White homebuyers were consistently favored over blacks in 17.0 percent of tests.
 White homebuyers were more likely to be able to inspect available homes and to be shown homes in more predominantly white neighborhoods than comparable blacks.
 Hispanic homebuyers also face significant levels of discrimination.  In contrast with Hispanics, Non-Hispanic whites were consistently favored in 19.7 percent of tests. In particular, non-Hispanic whites were more likely to receive information and assistance with financing, and to be shown homes in non-Hispanic neighborhoods than comparable Hispanic homebuyers.

Patterns of Change

Discrimination against African American homebuyers declined quite substantially between 1989 and 2000, but was not eliminated. However, geographic steering rose, suggesting that whites and blacks are increasingly likely to be recommended and shown homes in different neighborhoods.  Discrimination against Hispanic homebuyers declined since 1989.

Notes:

1.  Source:  http://www.huduser.org/publications/hsgfin/hds.html
2.  Its predecessors, the 1977 Housing Market Practices Study (HMPS) and the 1989 Housing Discrimination Study (HDS) found significant levels of racial and ethnic discrimination in both rental and sales markets of urban areas nationwide.