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Blacks wield cultural clout

MY VIEW • Former Blazer's exploitation theory doesn't fly

The comments made a few months ago by former Portland Trail Blazer Rasheed Wallace, who claimed that young black athletes are exploited by the white establishment in the National Basketball Association, have done more harm than good in promoting good race relationships in this country. Why? Because the claim of exploitation is pure fiction.

With African-American players making up some 80 percent of the NBA, most of them multimillionaires, it is difficult to grasp how they are being exploited. But it is claimed that because few African-Americans own NBA teams, they are not decision makers in the league.

This is less a matter of discrimination than it is a matter of wealth. There are only 29 owners in the NBA, and one of them is black. How many white Americans would love to own an NBA team? Why don't they? They just don't have the money to purchase a team, and neither do most black Americans.

But isn't it time that Rasheed Wallace and the African-American community begin to take pride in the enormous influence of African-Americans on popular culture?

The way young people dress has been influenced by rap artists and other black pop performers over the past several years. Like them, kids go around wearing baggy pants with the crotch almost touching their knees and the bottom of the pants curled up above the tops of their shoes. They wear their baseball caps with the bill jutting out the side or turning down at the back.

They wear earrings and jewelry, and their shorts are long and worn well below their knees. Our NBA players and many more adults have joined them in the wearing of the long shorts and the jewelry.

Not only Americans have taken notice of this dress code: It is commonplace among the youth of most countries across Europe.

And of course there is the matter of music. African-American artists have had an enormous influence on the music we listen to and enjoy Ñ from jazz to rap to our most traditional songs. Have you heard a black artist sing our national anthem before a ballgame or other public function in recent years? It is not what we were accustomed to hearing some years ago. But it is welcomed and greeted with loud applause.

While discrimination does still exist in this country, it is less and less institutionalized. Unfortunately, bigotry still remains an individual problem that each of us needs to continue to work on.

So perhaps it is time that all of us move on to deal with each other as fellow Americans and recognize that all ethnic groups have made significant contributions to the America that we all love and that is the envy of most of the world.

Peter Cullen is retired from First Interstate Bank, where he was a senior vice president. He graduated from National University of Ireland, Cork. He lives in Southwest Portland.