I am a basketball fan. I love the game, for the sheer power and finesse. Although I never played, all of my uncles on both sides of my family as well as my father played in high school and college. My sisters are the stars of their high school basketball team now. I have been a fan since the day I was born.
I knew all of the cheers for my high school basketball team as well as other area teams, from “Whose House? Shaker House!” to “I said you traveled, I said you walk too much.”
But for all of the rowdy fans, enraged parents and boisterous benchwarmers, I have never seen anything like I witnessed this weekend at the Yale-Princeton game.
My friends and I moved all the way to the first row and sat in the aisle, thinking this was the place to be for truly enthusiastic fans.
The first thing I noticed was the four Princeton fans sitting near me, two of whom turned out to be the parents of a player on the team. I saw Yale students yelling directly at them. Screaming and cursing like banshees. When my friend asked them to stop, they told her “you didn’t have to sit here! Why don’t you move?”
As the game became more intense, one player, Ahmed El-Nokali, seemed to capture our section’s attention. They booed when he got the ball, shouted at him when he came to our side, and held up posters calling him “One Ugly Mother.”
While all of this could be considered appropriate game behavior, what happened next changed my mind. I heard someone in a fit of rage yell, “You dirty Arab!”
I don’t understand how cheering at a game could involve using racial expletives here at Yale, a bastion of liberal thought and diversity. Unfortunately, the racist language did not stop there.
When Princeton freshman Will Venable came onto the court, I heard a cheer that was even more disturbing. The crowd collectively yelled “token” each time he had possession of the ball. Although Venable might have been the only African-American on the team (even that fact is questionable), calling him a “token” is totally inappropriate.
The term comes from the phrase “token nigger,” usually a person who is the only African-American in a potentially hostile, racist environment. In the past, the term may have been applied to anyone opposed to the civil rights movement or to African-Americans attending predominately white schools.
It is also used to refer to a person who is not worthy of his or her position but received it to appease the African-American community. It is a term packed with racist innuendo. To take it back a few years, “token” is a fighting word.
I wouldn’t expect everyone in the crowd to take this into account when screaming at a game. It might have seemed appropriate to scream at the lone Black person that he was not qualified to be on the team, but just a faceless representative of African-Americans. Some people might not have thought twice about the implications of using this type of language to cheer at a basketball game, not recognizing its racial significance.
My experience at the Yale-Princeton game was definitely altered by this show of immaturity and insensitivity. Although I enjoyed cheering — I always do — I couldn’t help but imagine what Ahmed and Venable were thinking as they ran up and down the court. Perhaps they were thinking that Yalies are a rowdy bunch, but I think it’s more likely that they were thinking they are a prejudiced one.
When we next play Princeton, I hope some people realize the insensitivity of such cheers, and refuse to join in. I can think of much better cheers anyway. Has anyone ever heard of, “Your team is whack?”
Najah Farley is a junior in Calhoun College.