The new sport of racism

Soccer is an international game – one that connects hundreds of cultures and strengthens the lives of millions of children worldwide.

Take 50 children of different nationalities, cultures, races, languages and backgrounds and you can find 50 children who understand soccer and can start a game up with just a ball and some crudly carved out goals.

Except in Clarkston, Georgia.

In Clarkston, the mayor has banned soccer from the town park. Because the residents have started complaining about an influx of refugees. Because the park is better used for more “white” games like baseball and football.

I wish I was making this up. But I wouldn’t be so angry about something like this if it wasn’t true. From Warren St. John’s article in the New York Times:
(May have to sign up, but as of now, it’s sign-up free)

Refugees Find Hostility and Hope on Soccer Field

CLARKSTON, Ga., Jan. 20 — Early last summer the mayor of this small town east of Atlanta issued a decree: no more soccer in the town park.

Members of the youngest Fugees team, from left, Jeremiah Ziaty, Grace Balegamire, Qendrim Bushi, Josiah Saydee and Santino Jerke and Coach Luma Mufleh celebrate Josiah’s 13th birthday at the Saydees’ apartment in Clarkston, Ga.

“There will be nothing but baseball and football down there as long as I am mayor,” Lee Swaney, a retired owner of a heating and air-conditioning business, told the local paper. “Those fields weren’t made for soccer.”

In Clarkston, soccer means something different than in most places. As many as half the residents are refugees from war-torn countries around the world. Placed by resettlement agencies in a once mostly white town, they receive 90 days of assistance from the government and then are left to fend for themselves. Soccer is their game.

But to many longtime residents, soccer is a sign of unwanted change, as unfamiliar and threatening as the hijabs worn by the Muslim women in town. It’s not football. It’s not baseball. The fields weren’t made for it. Mayor Swaney even has a name for the sort of folks who play the game: the soccer people.

Most of us will chalk this up as yet another act of not-very-subtle racism in the South, an area that has a reputation of being more redneck than receptive.

Something about it resonated in me today, however. After reading two books that tied in with the immirgrant experience, I’m beginning to understand how frightening it can be to be torn from your home country and placed into a strange land – especially one that makes immigrant-shunning a common practice.

In the United States, we celebrate our ancestory. But we want our immigrants and refugees to stay in our past. We’re quick to tell stories of our ancestors – of the people who fought to get out of the bad situations they were in and brave a New World with next to nothing. We praise the ingenuity. We honor the old customs. We cling tightly to the fact that our family roots are stationed firmly in another country.

That’s all fine in the past. But keep today’s immigrants out, thanks. We live in a culture that tolerates cultural diversity, but prefers to keep it an arms length away. The only good immigrant is a historical immigrant.

The lineage of every white resident of Clarkston can be tied to immigrants. Not one person of non-Native descent can consider themselves free from that fact. A good majority of those immigrants – all the way back to the Revolutionary War – found themselves under tremendous strife in their home countries. Religious persecution. War. The same things that are driving today’s refugees to the United States.

These aren’t illegal immigrants. They’re refugees. They’re legal, and they’ve chosen Georgia as their home. And now they’re being treated as if they’re third class citizens.

The residents of Clarkston are forgetting that the immigrants in their own family tree were also persecuted for being different. They hated it. They fought to gain ground in a culture that didn’t want them.

Instead of righting the wrongs that their own history brings to light, they simply turn their backs.

It doesn’t matter that the local soccer program is helping shape these children’s lives by making them better students and giving them a support system the city itself would never bother considering. What matters is that the Good Ol’ Clarkston residents are too afraid of a different way of life – one that includes putting aside their irrational biases and blatent racism and living in harmony with their brothers and sisters.

I’d be willing to guess the Christians among them support this claim. And it’s always amazing how many of those Christians draw a line as to who they treat as they would like to be treated. For a highly religious area of the country, it’s disheartening to see so many go against one of the basic principles of The Bible – love everyone.

The mayor should be ashamed. Every citizen that fought to rid the town of a soccer league should be ashamed. But it won’t happen. There’s no way they’d even consider what they’re doing to be wrong. What’s the point?

After all – these immigrants are around today. They’re insufferable. They’re not historic, and they’ve got a long way to go before they’re held up on a pedestal – an example of the American Dream and the lengths some go to live it.

And what a Dream it’s turning out to be.

This was lovingly handwritten on January 21st, 2007