As you may or may not be aware, I have have been working on a book about the terrible lessons you didn’t know you were being taught when you watched Beverly Hills, 90210.
I love 90210 and all of it’s cheesiness and getting-of-things-wrong. This book is intended to be a loving homage and a scathing examination of what you may have learned if you were paying close enough attention.
It’s also meant to be funny, or at least mildly humorous.
This post is taken from the first chapter where I examine Race on 90210. This is all about the episode One on One from the first season, where after a month in Beverly Hills, Brandon finally talks to a black person.
I am trying something new with this book. I’ve signed up at inkshares.com to try their crowd-funding/publishing approach. I’ve uploaded a second lesson from the chapter on Race over there (Brandon learns about hispanic people). If you like what’s here, head on over there and follow the project.
You can comment or keep up with the progress silently. I look forward to sharing this book with everyone once it is completed.
Race – Lesson One – Brandon. Basketball. Black People.
Five episodes into the first season of Beverly Hills, 90210, or as I like to think of it, First Junior Year, and our sum total of exposure to black people was this.
In the pilot:
- During the pilot a black kid gave someone a high five.
- There were two black guys walking to school in suits.
- The voice of KWBH radio was a black guy. He might have been called The Flash or DJ Mike. And he just wanted to know whether Brandon had done the wild thing, WILD THANG, with Marianne Moore.
- There were a couple of black kids doing a choreographed dance on the lawn before school started.
- Mr. Clayton, the vice principal was black.
- The bouncer at the club Brenda snuck into was black and mean to Kelly.
- There was one black kid running with Brandon during what looked like gym class, who wanted to know about Brandon’s sexual conquest of Marianne Moore.
And that may seem like a lot. So many, in fact, that there were none in the next episode at all. Or the one after that. Or the one after that.
It wasn’t until One on One that anyone had a meaningful conversation with a black person. And all of those conversations were about race. Or basketball.
Here’s what happened and what I learned.
Basketball was a very big deal in the Walsh home. They had a goal hung on their garage and everything and it was set at about 8 feet off the ground. Jim and Brandon played a spirited game of horse before school.
First, Jim, despite having terrible form and no follow through on his shot at all once won a high school game against Franklin by making an eight foot set shot from the middle of the lane. Second, based on the very proud look he gave Brandon after a made jump shot, Jim was very proud of Brandon’s basketball skills and was certain that Brandon was set to crack the starting five.
But first, he’d have to make the team. Brandon and Steve both tried out for the basketball team. West Beverly, according to Steve, was a perrenial powerhouse, but the team itself was a pretty closed system. The coach had alread set his starting five and was holding the tryouts just to bolster school spirit. Steve was pretty much a lock to make the team based on his performance on the JV team the previous year. It’s also possible Steve felt very confident that he’d make the team because Steve was confident that he would always get whatever he wanted.
After watching a few minutes of black kids dunking, Brandon was less sure about his own prospects, especially since being 5’6″ and slow is not seen as an advantage on the basketball court.
By the end of tryouts Brandon, and the other short white kids hadn’t even been put in the scrimmage yet and he was getting discouraged. But when he finally got his chance, he promptly got two steals from Steve, hit a jump shot, and dropped two assists to James Townsend, some new hotshot transfer student, who was coincidentally (?) black.
Brandon, because of his ability to play defense and pass the ball to the black kid, made the cut. Steve, because he’s not good at basketball, did not.
Or, according to Steve, it didn’t matter because neither one of them was going to make the team. The whole thing was rigged. None of the good basketball players live in district. But black people get into West Beverly to play basketball as part of some entitlement program called the Applied Learning Opportunity Program, and through no other means.
The ALOP brings in black students from outside of Beverly Hills, again, according to Steve, to improve diversity (how else do you think they get .54% African Americans in any ONE high school?) and the record of the basketball team.
He’s pretty pissed about this program because all black people are better than Steve at basketball and their presence prevents him from attaining his rightful place as the greatest basketball player in West Beverly Wildcat history. He tells Brandon that a lot of the ALOP kids don’t even go to class. Steve, you see, abhors the idea of anyone other than him getting preferential treatment. He also hates it when kids get grades they don’t deserve (until later when he cheats on a test, breaks into school to change his grades and steals one of Brandon’s papers).
Brandon doesn’t see it that way at all. He still thinks he has a chance to make the team because what Brandon understands that Steve doesn’t is that while all black people are better at basketball than all white people, it’s only because they are naturally more athletic. However, slow white players are better than all black players at playing defense and passing the ball to open black teammates. Which Brandon happens to excel at.
But what Steve said is starting to get to him a bit. He tries to tell Jim that all the players are recruited, the starting five is set, and the other kids are like pros. Jim knows different.
Jim, the owner of the single worst jump shot in all of christendom, tells Brandon that the real reason he made the first cut wasn’t because Brandon figured out how to succeed in the one area of basketball black people aren’t good at, it’s because Brandon read Bobby Knight’s book understands that “Winning is a state of mind,” ignoring the fact that Bob Knight would have never written that in a book.
Later in the week Steve, still smarting from his being cut decides to take comfort in the fact that he’s the privileged kid of American’s favorite TV mom, Samantha Sanders of The Heartly House. He almost invited Brandon to go with him to the Lakers v. Celtics game at the Forum, using his court side season tickets. Almost, but instead he just went by himself. Steve goes on and on about how great Bird and McHale were.
“Wait a minute, I thought you were a Lakers fan,” inquires Brandon.
“Except when the Celtics come to town.”
“Why? Were you born in Boston?”
“No, I’m a Beverly Hills native.”
“Well, what were you doing rooting for the Celtics?”
“Us Irish guys have got to stick together. You know how it is.”
Brandon is perplexed by Steve’s random racism, but puts it behind him until James shows up in Tech class to ask for an extension on an assignment. Which is odd, because Brandon is in that Tech class and he’s never seen James there before. Maybe there’s something to this ALOP theory Steve has been mumbling about underneath his white hood.
He asks Andrea to look into James’ records in the ALOP for a story in the school newspaper, confidential student records being something widely available to any student who asks for them. Andrea isn’t buying it, what with Steve being a spoiled rich kid and not a terribly credible source, but she looks into it anyway.
It should be mentioned here, and then promptly ignored, that Andrea lives out of district and lies about living with her grandmother to attend WBHS and Brandon has no problem with that.
It turns out James doesn’t have a GPA, never took the reading or math placement exam, and his previous transcripts were never processed.
Brandon is uber-pissed about this. Steve is right! Black kids get to go to West Beverly without the grades to get into the ALOP, never have to go to class, and get extensions on their assignments. He confronts James who, rather than answer the wild accusations of another student who somehow got access to his confidential records in a calm and reasoned manner, accuses Brandon of being a racist. But this isn’t true at all. Brandon only assumes the worst about black people when he gets one example that seems to support the racist rantings of his best friend who has an axe to grind. If it wasn’t true about all black people why did it seem to be true about this one kid? Answer that James!!!
But then Brandon sees something he never, ever expected to see. James in a library. Why would a black kid be in the library?
Well, it turns out that James isn’t part of the ALOP, despite Andrea’s source inside the program claiming that he was. His dad works for the public library, giving James the right to go to West Beverly. Brandon is shocked by this and starts to apologize to James, who cuts him off. Yelling at Brandon, “Yeah, but you’re white! That’s why your first impulse was to think, ‘Hey, he’s gotta be dumb or a rap singer, or in a gang, or smokin’ crack or whatever stereotype fits your fears, but that’s your problem. That’s not my problem!”
James’ problem, it seems, is that even though his dad works for the library he never learned that it is a quiet place where people just don’t start yelling about smoking crack. Brandon thinks about pointing this out, along with the fact that he never thought James could rap, but thinks better of it, after all this black dude seems pretty pissed. Who knows what he’ll do?
The next day he and James find themselves in the gym prior to practice. They take a few minutes to talk quietly in the one building at school where yelling is acceptable. Brandon has handled this whole thing terribly, but not because Steve is a racist, or because Brandon was looking for a reason why he wasn’t going to make the team over players who are bigger, faster, stronger, and better than he is.
No, it’s because he’s never really talked to any black people or had to deal with issues of race. James gets it. There aren’t too many cowboys in Englewood either.
“See, that’s just it.” Brandon replies, suddenly sure that he’s figured this whole racism thing out and can impart some knowledge. “I’m not a cowboy and you’re not a gang banger crackhead. We’re just two guys from the same school battling for the same spot on the same team.”
Did you get that? We’re the SAME!!!
Brandon learned something: We’re all the same.
And all he had to do was violate student confidentiality, accuse an innocent transfer student of breaking the rules, and get in a shouting match at a library.
Brandon even made the JV team, where there’s a larger need for short, slow kids who can pass and play defense. The other black guys on the team seemed to really like him too. Now that he wasn’t racist anymore.
Steve was still a racist though. He tried one last time to help Brandon understand the world before the end of the episode.
“Don’t let those suckers intimidate you, Brandon,” he said. “This is our school, not theirs.”
“Only in your mind, Steve.”
It’s kind of too bad that it takes an entire basketball team of black kids to stop one white kid from being racist, but that seems to be the case.
Brandon put so much work into making the basketball team and becoming friends with those black guys. It’s odd we never saw them again or heard anything about him playing for the team.