This is not a column about Ryan Lochte
This is a column about you and the world as you see it
Much of this life is a Rorschach test.
Olympic swimmer Ryan Lochte is just another inkblot.
For some, the 12-time Olympic medalist and his teammates epitomize the height of white privilege, while for others this whole mess is just a couple of kids getting a bit too drunk and bit too rambunctious one night in Rio de Janeiro.
Inkblots. Just as Olympic gymnast Gabby Douglas not placing her hand over her heart during the national anthem was either disrespectful or innocuous. Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton’s Super Bowl news conference featured a sore loser or a man with a broken heart. Tennis star Serena Williams — passionate or obnoxious.
On the last night of the Republican National Convention, as I watched balloons and confetti surround Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and his family, I wondered what would the country’s response have been if a black man with five kids from three different women sought the presidency. How would the nation respond if a twice-divorced woman with five kids tried to do the same?
How we interpret them is the difference between politicians describing a single mass shooter as a lone wolf or a terrorist. It’s how the media can somehow differentiate between a riot and celebratory fans flipping police cars and destroying property after a big win.
It’s why some describe Lochte, a 32-year-old man with his hair dyed gray, as a kid, and what he and his drunken cohorts did in Rio as no big deal. And yet we instinctively know that if Olympic men’s basketball player Carmelo Anthony, who is also 32, had trashed a gas station bathroom and then lied about what happened, no one would call him a kid and it would be a very big deal.
That is why this column, this story, isn’t about Lochte.
It’s about you — us — and the subtle ways our subconscious bias massages all our psychosociological kinks out so we can move through life with as little discomfort as possible. So if you’re the kind of person who is not bothered by the way New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady occasionally behaves on the sideline but think Newton is a thug for dancing in the end zone, then perhaps your id has had enough rub downs.
Though I do get it. It’s hard work weeding out phobias and -isms. It’s much easier to accuse people of playing the race card than it is to look at the influence race still has on a community’s socioeconomic status. Less exhausting to dismiss feminists as the “P.C. police” than to consider what is wrong with a Chicago Tribune tweet that reads: “Wife of a Bears’ lineman wins a bronze medal today in Rio Olympics”. (Her name is Corey Cogdell and she’s a three-time Olympian, by the way.)
This isn’t to suggest that each time some LGBT rights organization demands an apology for a perceived slight that it’s worthy of headlines or every word spoken by a Black Lives Matter organizer should be held up as gospel. No one bats a thousand. But when you pull back from individual cases, some of life’s inkblots begin to blur into a disturbingly clear picture.
For example, the Department of Justice found that black juveniles are 40 percent more likely to be tried as adults than their white counterparts. An analysis conducted by the United States Sentencing Commission found that prison sentences for black men were 20 percent longer than those of their white counterparts for similar crimes. The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology published a study that found police officers tend to overestimate the ages of young black boys by 4.59 years, meaning a 13-year old could be viewed as an adult. That same study found police viewed black boys 10 years and older as less innocent than their white counterparts.
How could this play out?
Timothy Loehmann, the officer who shot and killed Tamir Rice in 2014, said he thought the 12-year-old boy “appeared to be over 18 years old”.
The Lochte story ultimately isn’t even about him.
It’s about inkblots.
If you think what Lochte did was not that big of a deal, ask yourself if you would you feel the same way if the Olympian in question was Anthony? To answer that question truthfully takes courage. To dissect why you came to whatever conclusion takes work. The kind of work too many of us would rather not do.