Excerpt from James McBride’s The Color of Water: A Black Man’s Tribute to his White Mother

When I was fourteen my mother took up two new hobbies:1 riding a bicycle and playing piano. The piano I didn’t mind, but the bicycle drove me crazy. It was a huge old clunker2, blue with white trim, with big fat tires, huge fenders, and a battery-powered horn built into the middle of the frame with a button you pushed to make it blow3. The contraption would be a collector’s item now, probably worth about five thousand dollars, but back then it was something my stepfather found on the street in Brooklyn and hauled home a few months before he died.

I don’t know whether it was his decision to pull out or not, but I think not. He was seventy-two when he died, trim, strong, easygoing, seemingly infallible, and though he was my stepfather, I always thought of him as Daddy. He was a quiet, soft-spoken4man who wore old-timey clothes, fedoras, button-down wool coats, suspenders, and dressed neatly at all times, regardless of how dirty his work made him. He did everything slowly and carefully, but beneath his tractor-like slowness and outward gentleness was a crossbreed of quiet Indian and country black man, surefooted, hard, bold, and quick. He took no guff and gave none. He married my mother, a white Jewish woman, when she had eight mixed-race black children, me being the youngest at less than a year old. They added four more children to make it an even twelve and he cared for all of us as if we were his own. “I got enough for a baseball team,” he joked.5 One day he was there, the next—6stroke, and he was gone.

I virtually dropped out of high school after he died, failing every class. I spent the year going to movies on Forty-second Street in Times Square with my friends. “James is going through his revolution,” my siblings snickered. Still, my sisters were concerned,7 older brothers angry. I ignored them. Me and my hanging-out boys were into the movies. Superfly, Shaft, and reefer, which we smoked in as much quantity as possible.8 I snatched purses. I shoplifted.9I even robbed a petty drug dealer once. And then in the afternoons, coming home after a day of cutting school, smoking reefer, waving razors, and riding the subway,10 I would see my mother pedaling her blue bicycle.

Shooting an Elephant by George Orwell

But 11 at that moment I glanced around at the crowd that had followed me. It 2 was an immense crowd, two thousand at the least and growing every minute. It blocked the road for a long distance on either side. I looked at the sea of yellow faces above the garish clothes-faces all happy and excited over this bit of fun, all certain that the elephant was going to be shot. They were watching me as they would watch a conjurer about to perform a trick. They did not like me, but with the magical rifle in my hands I was momentarily worth watching. And suddenly I realized that I should have to shoot the elephant after all. The people expected it of me and I had got to do it; 3 I could feel their two thousand wills pressing me forward, irresistibly. And it was at this moment, as I stood there with the rifle in my hands, that I first grasped the hollowness, the futility of the white man’s dominion in the East. Here was I, 4 the white man 5 with his gun, standing in front of the unarmed native crowd — 6 seemingly the leading actor of the piece; but in reality I was only an absurd puppet pushed to and fro by the will of those yellow faces behind. I perceived in this moment that when the white man turns tyrant it is his own freedom that he destroys. He becomes a sort of hollow, posing dummy, the conventionalized figure of a sahib. For it is the condition of his rule that he shall spend his life in trying to impress the ‘natives’, and so in every crisis he has got to do what the ‘natives’ expect of him. 7 He wears a mask, and his face grows to fit it. 8 I had got to shoot the elephant. I had committed myself to doing it when I sent for the rifle. A sahib has got to act like a sahib; he has got to appear resolute, to know his own mind and do definite things. To come all that way, rifle in hand, with two thousand people marching at my heels, and then to trail feebly away, having done nothing — no, that was impossible. The crowd would laugh at me. And my whole life, every white man’s life in the East, was one long struggle not to be laughed at.

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It’s Stephen Curry’s Game Now

 

If you have somehow missed watching the Golden State Warriors this season, 9 you might have a quaint notion of how basketball is played. You might believe, for instance, that 3-point shots are difficult. Or that players should generally avoid hoisting jumpers 35 feet from the basket. Or that, in the N.B.A., a team cannot clinch a playoff berth in February, with six weeks left in the season. 2 None of that is true anymore, thanks to one player: Stephen Curry, a butterfly with a jump shot who is reshaping people’s understanding of the game 3. Jargon usually found on airport bookstore display racks has come to the hardwood, thanks to Curry. He is an outlier. He has caused a tipping point in basketball. The biggest disrupter in sports is on display in — where else? — the Bay Area. 4 In recent days, Curry has broken the league record for 3-pointers in a season — which he did for the first time three seasons ago — 5 and the Warriors (53-5) still have 24 games left to play, starting Tuesday night at home against the Atlanta Hawks. He has made 288 3-pointers this season, eclipsing the 286 he made last season. The Warriors could lose the rest of their games and still make the playoffs. They will not lose them all, of course, because they tend to beat nearly all of their opponents, and usually by large margins. The Warriors experienced a rare close call Saturday night when the Oklahoma City Thunder took them to overtime. Curry won the game with a looping shot from a few feet inside the half court line — once considered remarkable, now considered well within his comfort zone 6. As everyone, from players to coaches to fans, tries to make sense of Curry’s breakout performances, some context is desperately needed. To whom 7 can we compare this shooting master? Basketball has had other captivating stars like Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan and LeBron James, who all streaked to lasting fame. But the Curry phenomenon 8 is different because of his size — he is a sinewy 6 feet 3 inches, 190 pounds — and because of the way in which he dominates games by scoring far from the basket, somehow stretching the court 9 beyond its conceivable limits.