By Julianne Malveaux
Who is surprised that Lance Armstrong was doping? Who thinks he was the only one? Who is surprised that he used the Oprah Winfrey show as his platform to “come clean”? We are a nation of cheaters and Armstrong is one in a long line of our nation’s cheaters.
Indeed the very foundation of our country is the result of cheating. The Pilgrims cheated the Native Americans that befriended them out of their land. Later, the United States Army continued that cheating by slaughtering Native people, kicking them off their land, and consigning them to reservations. As a result of this thievery and chicanery Native American people have the shortest life expectancy of any ethnicity in these United States.
Enslaved people were cheated with the fruit of their labor, not to mention their lives and liberty, by our nation’s “peculiar institution.” After slavery was abolished, the cheating continued. The sharecropper system was nothing but an official method of cheating. Land owned by African Americans was stolen. Those African Americans who managed to amass wealth had to pretend they had less because economic envy sparked the wholesale appropriation of land and communities. Examples include the destruction of Black Wall Street in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and the 1898 destruction of property (and life) in Wilmington, N.C. Some historians estimate that there were more 200 of these kinds of incidents.
We cheated Mexico by appropriating half their land in a murky “trade” through the Louisiana Purchase. Now we have the nerve to talk about “illegal immigration” because people are returning to land that was once stolen from them. And daily, employers cheat undocumented people because without legal documents, they have no bargaining power against unscrupulous employers.
Cheating? George W. Bush and his minions cheated Al Gore of the presidency in 2000, and the Supreme Court aided and abetted him in this cheating. Imagine the course of history had we a kinder, gentler president who might not read a children’s book upside down in the moments before September 11?
Let’s not even talk about the theft implicit in the banking bailout. These banks were lent money to aid in economic recovery by lending money, but instead of lending, they’ve tightened up credit requirements, making it more difficult for some people to borrow. And figuring out ways to cheat on one’s taxes may be one of the great American pastimes.
There are more ways to cheat that putting your sticky fingers on things that don’t belong to you. African American men are cheated of their dignity and freedom of mobility, whenever empty taxis speed by them. African American women are cheated of the ability to see themselves reflected in the public space when advertisers treat us as stereotypes. And racism cheats us of the ability to have equality of opportunity.
I’m not at all condoning Lance Armstrong’s doping, and I fully agree with the decisions to pull his titles and banish him from biking. Yet there is much irony in the way people are handling this. The Today Show had cheater Pete Rose commenting on Lance Armstrong’s cheating. That’s like asking the fox to comment when his brother breaks into the henhouse, or like asking George W. Bush to comment on an election. And not to play the “race” game, but don’t you think all hell would break loose if this were an African American athlete?
We send young people mixed messages when we both say “play fair” and “winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.” We live in a win at any cost, winner take all, society. Lance Armstrong wanted to win so he doped up, and some of those around him probably did the same. No excuses. But in a winner take all culture, what do we expect?
Now Armstrong has humbled himself by admitting he was wrong after adamantly denied he was doping. Why now… to clean up his name, to get back in the game, to keep raising money for his cancer-fighting organization? Like the foundation of our nation’s culture, though, Armstrong is both a liar and a cheat.
It is a shame that Lance Armstrong chose to cheat during his biking career. If we had to recite a litany of cheaters, we’d have to start with the Pilgrims, the Founding Fathers that condoned slavery, and move on from there.
Julianne Malveaux is a Washington, D.C.-based economist and writer. She is President Emerita of Bennett College for Women in Greensboro, N.C.