It’s Time for Us All to Do Our Part
I rarely get political, or step on myself trying to make a point, but this time I am going to make an exception. This past weekend was one of the most exceptional in my life, with Juneteenth being celebrated the same weekend as Father’s Day. To say the events of the last few weeks have changed the trajectory of our country would be an understatement, so today Blue Chip Thoroughbreds, and all we stand for, makes a statement.
As a white male in the predominantly white sport of horse racing, I rarely see racism. Maybe it is because most of the owners in our sport are Caucasian, or maybe it is because some of the most beloved members of our sport — back stretch workers and jockeys — are minorities. The intersections we cross in horse racing have all kinds of color in them. Regardless, often times, most of the time, we are insulated from the events like what happened to George Floyd in Minneapolis.
But make no mistake about it. That is no excuse to stay quiet or to close our eyes to such a travesty.
The horrific events that surrounded the death of Mr. Floyd are so disheartening, so discouraging, that it leaves you speechless. How can this happen in modern society? How can we still let this happen today? How do we talk about our children about this?
The answers to those questions are deep in every one of our hearts. They are deep in every one of our “white” hearts.
I want to share my personal experience with you, then I am going to challenge you. Actually, I am going to challenge all of us.
I grew up right on the edge of the inner city in Portland, Oregon. It wasn’t uncommon for me, and my brothers, to be in the park late at night playing basketball with all of our African American friends. Later on in life, I became the head baseball coach at Thomas Jefferson High School, a predominantly African American school in the heart of Portland.
Everyday I went to work I was comfortable working in the African American community. The 10 years I spent coaching between Benson High School and Jefferson were some of the best I have ever spent in my lifetime. Everyday I went to work I was surrounded by joy, laughter, and the amazing minds of young people who were almost all African American. So, in a sense, you could say I am about as non-racist as you will find. I did this all in the backdrop of a high school that was named after a guy who owned more than 700 slaves. How is it I didn’t know that back then? How is it I didn’t care?
So I ask you this question. Am I really non-racist?
That is the question every single one of you who read this letter should ask yourself. Is it enough that I grew up, as a young adult, embracing the African American community? Is it enough that I, or you, say to everyone “I have lots of African American friends, so I know I am not racist”.
The answer to that question is an emphatic NO. It is not now, or ever, enough.
What we have seen over the past few weeks, and really the past couple years, is a divide so great that it requires systematic change. We live in a United States that encourages violence, that tolerates hatred and bigotry, and that has said it is alright to stand up and declare we hate a certain type of person. Well, I suspect that we are all about to experience the greatest revolution of our lifetime. Good or bad, we have nobody to blame but ourselves.
I am asking the thoroughbred community to make a difference, to embrace that change. I am asking you, if you are white and wonder to yourself where you fit in all of this, not to think too much. Just act. Just do what is right. Embrace your neighbor, or your grocery store clerk, or your local gas station attendant who you have walked by for 10 years, but didn’t know their name. Walk in the barn and learn the name of your assistant trainer, or your groom, or your hot walker. Maybe recruit a new African American owner or partner. Embrace them and all they embody. Be better.
In closing, look this up. In 1986, I was an assistant coach for a predominantly black football team — Benson High School — who traveled to Roseburg High School in Southern Oregon for a state championship quarterfinal game. While we were there, our players were called every horrible name in the book. The officials made derogatory statements to our coaches about the color of our players skin. When we left the stadium to take our buses home, hundreds of people, all white, stood on both sides of our buses and threw rocks and anything else they could find at us. It was so bad we had to have Oregon State Troopers escort us home — four hours away.
That was 1986. We weren’t in Mississippi, we were in Oregon. I saw what racism looked like first hand, and it looked exactly like me. Nothing has changed in the past 34 years, just like not much has changed since 1956 or 1966. But, after the events in Minneapolis and now throughout the country, I suspect it isn’t going to take long for all of us to change our perspective and there is nothing we can do, or should want to do, to stop it.
So, as a white racehorse owner, I ask all of you, everyone of you, to step up. Whatever that means for each of you. I ask my colleagues and friends to embrace not just the African American community, but the Hispanic community as well. Learn and listen. Lets all of us, ALL OF US, be better versions of ourselves so that, if a situation like what happened in Minneapolis ever presents itself again, we are strong enough to stop it in :02 seconds, not 8:48 minutes.
We are in a unique position as thoroughbred people to effect change unlike many other businesses. A lot of the people who work in our business are minorities; a lot of those people are loved and have worked at the tracks, or the farms, or the sale consignors for years. Lets lead by example. Lets all of us in thoroughbred racing show the world what compassion, and understanding, and tolerance, and being the best is all about.
I challenge each of you to heed the call. Be Better.
Steve McPherson, President, Blue Chip Thoroughbreds