Reviewed in the United States on November 11, 2019
As in, taking one. That is the reason I decided to read this book. I had to overcome some assumptions (prejudice, if you will), since Howard Bryant is a senior writer for ESPN. I used to be a big sports fan – when I was 9-years old! The sheer wonder of being given a $3.00 box seat; the players were giants – right there before one. Irregularities in the ball field were frequent, and thus it was a ground-rule double if the ball got stuck in the ivy on the outfield wall; an inside-the-park homerun was possible if the ball hit the protective screening around the light standards at the right angle. The amazement of watching Roberto Clemente field the ball at the right field wall and throw a perfect strike to home plate, nailing the runner as he slides in. Of course, he was well-paid for his efforts - $50,000 a year. He felt he needed to share that fortune with those with far less means; he died in a plane crash, in 1972, trying to delivery relief supplies to the victims of a massive earthquake in Nicaragua.
I’ve watched virtually no professional sports, in person, or on TV, for the past half century. Mainly it commenced from the impulse that I’d rather spend the time playing a sport, in my own clumsy, klutzy way, than sit and watch others, far better than I. That impulse grew to encompass Juvenal’s “bread and circuses” observation, of long ago, a point that Bryant obliquely makes. As a first approximation, Colin Kaepernick seems to be a moral descendent of Clemente. He made a simple gesture that Bryant says was treated as more insulting than the equally simple gesture of two raised fists at the ’68 Olympics.
Two years ago the Vine Program offered me Anthony Graves’ “Infinite Hope.” Graves is a black man who spent 16 years in prison – 12 of them on death row – for a crime he did not commit, due to crooked cops, a crooked prosecutor who knew he was innocent, and a crooked judiciary. At the conclusion to my 6-star review of Graves’ book, I said that we should all be taking “a knee.”
“Full Dissidence” is a collection of ten essays, most related to the sports world, some not. All have that essential “Cri de Coeur” element, a justifiable anger at injustices. Bryant writes well, very well, with incisive formulations of contemporary societal issues, though I felt that at times he posited a dichotomy that was simply too stark, too, well, like the cover, just black and white, where more nuance would be appropriate. Still, as Bryant describes in his postscript, in 2002 he is treated as the “potted plant,” Ellison’s “Invisible Man.” He is trying to rent an apartment in his hometown of Boston, after a 17-year absence. His Dutch wife is with him. The real estate agent is attempting to make remote and distant connections to the wife, though she has never been to “Denmark,” [no “sic” here]. Bryant himself is simply ignored, as are the connections the two of them might have to their mutual hometown.
My informal index that provides a measure of a good book are the number of passages that I have marked in the margins. Virtually every page is marked. Bryant uses James Baldwin and W.E.B du Bois as key touchstones, two writers that have always resonated with me. I’ve only read one book by Rebecca Solnit (“Wanderlust”). Bryant has pushed me to read more. Bryant provided insights into stories I would never have known, such as the essay on “Why Tonya?” Who is the person(s) who decided to use the poverty and the father-who-abandoned to rehabilitate Tonya Harding, but those same factors are derided in discussing cause and effect in a black ghetto? I’d only wished that Bryant could have provided some more insight into the editor’s mind who decides to “green-light” such projects, and leave so much else on the cutting room floor. Bryant transcends color issues and is scathing about the whining of powerful men now that a few are being held accountable by the “Me Too” movement for their boorish abusive misuse of their positions.
And just a small sample of the passages I’ve marked:
(as a counterpoint to thinking that all that is wrong with America has only occurred since 2016): “The warnings of American culture and the consequences of becoming less literate, less compassionate, more wasteful, more materialistic, and more influenced by corporations have existed since Orwell.”
(in quoting Dutch historian Rutger Bregman, at Davos, where 1500 private jets had flown in, on the “celebrity con”) “But no one raises the issue of tax avoidance, of the rich not paying their fair share…we have to be talking about taxes, taxes, taxes. The rest is (BS), in my opinion.”
“Maybe instead of giving [by a celebrity] a teacher a car, we should pay her enough to buy one.”
Where Bryant and I diverge is on the issue of “identity politics.” I see nothing wrong in Tiger Woods saying: “I’m not black. I’m Cablinasian,” an invented word to indicate that “Holy Grail” of “diversity,” at least in ancestors. Likewise with Madison Keys refusing to accept an ethnic identity. Phrases like “…though whites are willing to ignore the data on global warming…” on p. 173, grate; and such phrases occur several times in the book. 100% of whites deny global warming? 90%? Or 5%? My recently elected Congresswoman is half Dutch, as evidenced by her last name, which could “bing” with Bryant, and his Dutch wife. Her father was a 30-year veteran of the American Armed Services. But one would never know that from looking at her website. She has taken the identity of the other half of her heritage. As her Republican opponent said in the last election battle: we were raised in the same “culture”: US military bases! And she was certainly denounced for stating the obvious. And I am like Elizabeth Warren – a “little bit” Indian. What does that make me, my “culture,” and my “heritage”?
I’ll close with a thought experiment. Redoing the ways we slice and dice humanity. Bryant and I are on the same team – the oppressive majority of heterosexual males. In many places in the book, “heterosexual” could replace “white,” from the point of view of the LGTBQ community (as it is now identified). “We” set the rules, write the laws, make the jokes, shame, et al., in terms of the essential way “they” chose to have emotional and physical bonds with their fellow human beings. I do not subscribe to that description of the newly proposed “we.” Does Bryant?
The divergence cost the book the full 6-stars. Still, it is a very important, essential, and timely 5-star, plus, read.