David West: Warrior for knowledge of an uncomfortable history

This article by USV adjunct faculty member Tamryn Spruill first appeared as one of her regular features for SB Nation’s Golden State of Mind. As Associate Editor for a leading source of news and information surrounding the NBA champion Golden State Warriors, Tamryn fosters exploration of the intersections of sports with race, gender, LGBTQ, and other issues affecting society and culture. She is also Founder/Editor-in-Chief at Robocup Press, “a home for literary misfits” pushing the boundaries of genre and creative expression.

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How did we get here?

It is a question many people ask, but one that few seem to have the inner fortitude to answer. It takes grit and guts to not only face the brutal truth of this country’s founding but to seek this knowledge out. David West, an off-the-bench forward for the Golden State Warriors, is a self-educated expert on the African diaspora. For decades, he has been asking important questions about the history of people of African descent — those whose ancestry traces back to the continent of Africa. Through research and reading, he has sought answers independently and critically examined his findings. West has not recoiled in fear or cowardice from the questions how and why — the keys that open a Pandora’s box containing details of the vile, violent and exploitative nature of human history. Moreover, he has made a habit of sharing his knowledge — with teammates, fans (on social media), and anyone who will listen to him.

An obsession with history

Until recently, many had been operating under the faulty logic that the United States of America is a “post-racial” or “color-blind” society. It took the heightened racial tensions stemming from the Trump candidacy and presidency to open their eyes to the problems that have been present all along. It took repeated images on television of slain black bodies bleeding out into the street — and alternate images of white police officers acquitted of their murders for simply proclaiming they felt threatened by their victims (many of whom where unarmed) — for the depths into which racial hatred runs through this land to resonate. It took the image of an unarmed motorist — standing with his arms raised high above his head (and, therefore, posing no threat to anyone) — for Warriors Coach Steve Kerr to publicly and vehemently denounce what the United Nations considers systemic, state-sanctioned violence against black people in the United States. The motorist’s name was Terence Crutcher. Vehicle trouble forced him to stop on the side of the road, pending his ability to find assistance. Officers who happened to cross his path while in pursuit of a suspect deemed Crutcher — standing with his hands high above his head — to be dangerous. Despite being in this posture of submission, the police officer killed him. For West, at the age of nine, the name of the victim who spurred him into action was Phillip Pannell — a teen who was “shot in the back and killed by a white police officer” in West’s neighborhood of Teaneck, NJ. When West tries to figure out how he landed on the path of discovering some of the most unspeakable evils in human history, he thinks back to Pannell, whose death forced him to ask: How did this happen? and — considering that the officer was cleared of charges by an all-white jury — In what ways does the criminal justice system perpetuate injustice? From where in human history do these injustices derive? and Why do people think this is okay? Over decades of educating himself on the movements of people from the continent of Africa to various locations of the globe — primarily through colonization — West has acquired many answers to these questions. It has been reported that his teammates invite him to dinner to pick his brain for understanding about why racial tensions have soared in the wake of the Trump presidency, how Trump came to be elected in the first place, police brutality, and other events of the day. Riled by the ignorance of politicians and talking heads who have loose relationships with research-based evidence (facts, otherwise known as the truth), West is prone to share his knowledge widely on social media. According to San Francisco Chronicle’s Connor Letourneau, “[A]fter reports surfaced that President Trump had demanded to know at a White House meeting why the U.S. should accept immigrants from ‘shithole’ countries like Haiti and some nations in Africa, West pulled out his copy of A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies, which details how third-world countries became impoverished through colonization.”

Only through understanding the history of human civilization, in a meticulously nuanced way, can the most callous among us develop compassion for others.

“Reading is fundamental” … to humanity’s survival

Entire nations and communities did not become marginalized and impoverished by birthright. No human, or group of humans, was assigned dominion over the entire planet. These powers were seized through colonization — one nation enriching itself off of the backs of others. The methods that shaped world power dynamics were slavery, theft, rape, and murder — all, of which, are an affront to basic human rights. Birthrights. The 37-year-old NBA veteran knows the truth of the old cliche about history repeating. He demonstrates perfectly how humans (right here, right now) can foster change, and that change starts with knowledge. But knowledge is not solely a product of a five- or six-figure education. Knowledge is not solely acquired by sitting in classrooms, and anyone who uses the cost of education as an excuse for not learning is making excuses. David West is a 6-foot-9, 250-pound exemplar of the merits of self-education. Of the self-taught intellectual, Kerr stated, “David knows what’s happening in the world way beyond who’s winning the Nuggets-Mavs game. He’s informed, well-read. He’s got his opinions, and he’s fearless when it comes to his take on society. I admire him for speaking out.” Libraries are filled with books and the internet is free. For those who do not have personal computers or WiFi, most libraries have computers for public use. Thus, the question becomes whether we dare to ask the vital questions of how and why. Are we tough enough stuff to deal with the goriness of the answers that await behind Pandora’s lid? West is averaging “7 points, 3.4 rebounds, 1.8 assists and 1.1 blocks in 13.3 minutes per game” this season.

A David West reading list

West is known for sitting in the back of a charter flight, feverishly devouring books, while his teammates play cards or, presumably, sleep. Here’s a list of books West has found meaningful and mentioned on his Twitter timeline:

Authors of note

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