Understanding Racism through the eyes of Clarence Thomas

I initially read this New Yorker profile on Clarence Thomas last year, but it’s been stuck in my mind ever since. So much so I had to read it again this week – I cannot remember reading an article twice in this way before, where I thought about it so much that I had to revisit it much later. What do you do about racism? And what is racism? If you listen to the New York Times podcast, Nice White Parents, it helped me think about what is it we really want when we ask for diversity or equality.

At Yale, Thomas developed an understanding of racism that he would never shake. Whites—Southern and Northern, liberal and conservative, rural and urban—are racists. Racism, Thomas would tell students at Mercer University, in 1993, “has complex and, to a certain degree, undiscoverable roots.” Not knowing its beginnings, we can’t know its end. The most that can be hoped for is that whites be honest about it. Honesty is demonstrated through crude statements of personal animus or intellectual suggestions of racial inequality. Dishonesty is demonstrated through denial of one’s racism and sympathetic extensions of help. Dishonesty lulls black people into a false sense of security, assuring them that they are safe when they are not. One of Thomas’s favorite songs is the 1971 hit “Smiling Faces Sometimes,” by the Undisputed Truth. Its classic lyric—“Smiling faces, smiling faces tell lies”—resonates with his experience of Northern white liberals. Among the virtues of the Reagan Administration, he has said, was the fact that no one there was “smiling in your face.”

Racism isn’t so much about “I don’t like a certain race”. After all, Donald Trump is quite sure of his lack of racist temperament. I think it’s more of what Clarence Thomas (and Harvard’s Project Implicit) is referring to – a refusal to believe in one’s own capability for bias (racism) at scale, leading to systemic racism.

When it comes to the issues surfaced in Nice White Parents, I too want to live in a diverse community with my children going to great schools. But do I just want to be around other “safe” upper middle class people, who just happen to be mostly white?

Or another way to think about it, “Black People are not Dark-Skinned White People.

[Warriors] And with the second pick…

As the Warriors on Wednesday, if I could trade down slightly, I’d go for Obi Toppin, last year’s college player of the year, and another asset (veteran cog).

From The Athletic:

The best pick-and-roll big in the draft. An absolute monster athlete in terms of explosiveness. Great speed for his size, and it’s really tough for defenders to stay attached to him in exchanges. Can beat taggers to the spot on the back side. A powerful leaper who is an elite dunker and finisher at the rim, having made 76.7 percent of all shots at the rim in non-post-ups, according to Synergy. Also, Toppin is terrific out in transition, creating numerous opportunities every game with his speed and finishing. He’s not just a pick-and-dive guy, though. He’s very fluid and can really shoot it off the catch, particularly out of pick-and-pops. Made his catch-and-shoot attempts at a 58.1 effective field goal percentage, and he has touch and a clean release on the ball that should translate into continued improvement. The questions come on defense, where Toppin is particularly bad in space right now and might be a bit stuck between the 4 and the 5 positions at the NBA level.

Here’s what I see:

  • Amare Stoudemire. Stephen Curry = Steve Nash. Detonate.
  • Offensively, he not only has the skills, but he dominated the college level. Pick and roll, passing, finishing, shooting – I have not heard any negative aspects of his offensive game. Does not need to handle the ball to impact the game – key for the Warriors.
  • Ready to contribute in the NBA to a good team – the Warriors need explosive, skilled athletic ability.

Concerns:

  • Yes, he’s a lot older. He should be college sophomore age but he’s closer to grad student age.
  • Not a good defender. May not have ideal size, length, agility. What I pay attention to is effort, however. Stephen Curry is probably a league average defender. But he puts effort in to maximize his abilities. I have not seen anything to suggest Toppin is an unwilling defender.

Why Toppin and not…anyone else? Yes, there are plenty of raw, high talent, younger candidates out there – let’s talk about Wiseman, Edwards, Ball. Not just raw in terms of potential, but actual achievement at their former levels. I don’t believe any of them can contribute to a playoff team next year because they can be all be abused defensively. As much reports tout Wiseman’s defensive potential, he’s not considered a NBA-ready defender right now. Yes, Toppin is 2-3 years older than the current tier 1 prospects in this draft, but do we really think the others will be better than he is now by year 3? My guess, only one of the three reaches that mark and I have no idea which one.

Looking back historically, Toppin reminds me of Derrick Williams, 2011’s #2 pick. Another explosive, perhaps undersized, big who also shot well from 3 (56%) in college. I still don’t know why Williams did not pan out. Will Toppin’s shot from the college 3 work in the NBA? Will his release time (see SprawlBall) allow him to get that shot off consistently?

As for the Warriors actual interest in Toppin? From NBC Sports:

“The interview call went very well. They have a great organization over there at Golden State. I believe they like me a lot,” Toppin told reporters Wednesday over Zoom.

But Toppin hasn’t spoken with the Warriors since his interview and hasn’t worked out for Golden State. That has to be a bit concerning.

I think this is the perfect smokescreen for pulling off a trade.

What does it take to finish Old La Honda in 20 minutes?

The simple answer: An FTP above 4.0 watts/kg. Old La Honda in Woodside is one of the Bay Area’s benchmark climbs: long enough to make you hurt but short enough where it’s not truly an endurance climb. Nonetheless, it sees like the climb that everyone competes on to have a reference point against everyone else.

To finish this 3 mile / 8% average gradient climb in 20 minutes puts you firmly in the top 10% of all entrants. As of June 2020, almost 27,000 people have completed it and tracked it on Strava.

My best time: 21:06, ranked in the top 10.3% of all cyclists, riding a Canyon Ultimate CF SLX with Ultegra DI2, Disc Brakes. Canyon’s lightest Ultimate frame. I brought along one full water bottle, a rear light, and a bike computer – my minimum, no-accidents-please setup. Low tire pressure at 60/65 front/rear PSI using GP5000 tubeless tires on Roval CL 32 wheels. My guess is the bike + accessories was around 19 pounds.

I probably weighed 142 lbs (I’m 5’6), having eaten no breakfast. Average power during the climb 261 watts, about 4.04 W/KG. My estimated FTP going in was around 3.87 W/KG at 250W.

To be able to shave off that final minute for a 20 minute time, I think that I would need another 10 or so watts, which would take me to 4W/KG.