As a ninth grader, Draymond Green failed Biology because he got caught cheating. Then, he went home and lied about it to his mom, Mary Babers-Green. As the story goes, his mom adopted a full-court press style of parenting: she gave away his possessions, enrolled him in summer school, and canceled his trips to elite basketball camps across the country. And, it worked: "It changed my life,” Draymond has said. “I would not be here, I would not be the success I am, if my Mom didn't do that. My life changed right there.”
A similar sequence played out yesterday. Ten years later, his mom blew the whistle on him again.
At the post-game press conference, Draymond told reporters about some pregame advice he had received from his Mom and Grandma: His maternal role models told him that he was crying to the officials too much. He went on to say that, during the game, he heeded their advice and made an effort not to complain as much in Game 4. As a result, he played his best game of the series, and regained his confidence. Oh, and the Warriors won the game.
These stories, and similar ones, have been told about Draymond and his mother for years. His narrative arc has been well publicized: Draymond could not have become the basketball player, or the man, he is today without the strength and wisdom of his mother.
His story has not been told, however, as a cautionary tale for black racial identity.
Can’t you see the “Skin Color Doesn’t Matter" Camp collectively nodding every time that Draymond attributes his success to the strength of his mother? Don’t you see the concurrent narrative that Draymond unintentionally brings to life?
White men in bars across this country hear Draymond thank his mom, and they nod approvingly. “You see,” they think. “Black kids succeed when black parents do their jobs.” Draymond, and the narrative that he unintentionally advances, allow many Americans to ignore the residual effects of segregation (and slavery), as well as the active racial oppression that still takes place.
Take away basketball for a moment and it becomes clearer: Black Son struggles, asks his Mom for help, receives great advice and succeeds. In short, Black Man succeeds because of strong family support. Doesn’t it follow that if more black kids had such great role models, everything would be just as great?
Except that isn’t how it works. Draymond Green is the outlier, not the prototype in the anthology of how to succeed as a black man in this country. Draymond Green went to Saginaw High School, enrolled at Michigan State, and graduated with a college degree four years later. Today, Saginaw High teaches 214 freshman, but only 98 seniors. The dropout rate is staggering. The school wasn't much better when Draymond went there. We can't just consider Draymond in the context of a failing school; the entire economy of Saginaw was reeling from the automotive stagnation of nearby Detroit. Draymond went to a bad school and grew up poor.
Mary Babers-Green is incredible mother, role model, and someone who uses her voice to do good work in this world. She is not, however, the only great mother in Saginaw, Michigan. There are many great mothers, and fathers, and aunts who care about the education of black children. Great parenting is not the silver bullet we wish that it were. The challenges facing Black America are myriad, and they have little to do with poor parenting.
It's great that Draymond has been able to accomplish so many incredible things, and it's even better that he remains humble and appreciative of his mother's love, guidance, and strength. For the conversation to stop there, would miss the point. Even worse, to truncate the conversation before considering the racial context in which Draymond succeeds risks making it more difficult for young black men to achieve the same success as Draymond has.