John Amaechi is a British psychologist and a former NBA basketball player. At the age of 17, when he first picked up a basketball, Amaechi was not considered athletic enough to have any chance of success in domestic sports, much less overseas. Six years later he became a starting center in the NBA for the Cleveland Cavaliers. Over his eight-year career in basketball, he also played for the Orlando Magic and the Utah Jazz.
Since retiring from sports, Amaechi pursued a Ph.D. in psychology, recently co-authoring a paper on the subject of self-esteem, goal setting, and personality. He is a fifteen year veteran of the American Psychological Association (APA) and a member of the British Psychological Society (BPS), its division of occupational psychology, and the BPS Psychometric Testing Group.
In 2007, he released his bestselling memoir “Man in the Middle,” chronicling his life and work and revealing to the world that he was gay, making him the only openly gay man ever to have played in the NBA.
Amaechi also has his own charity, the ABC Foundation, with a center in Manchester that sees 2,000 young people per week go through its doors. He has teamed with researchers at the Pennsylvania State University and the San Diego University for Integrative Studies to create a program that promotes social emotional training in young people who are coached in life as much as in sports.
Question: Are black identity and gay identity in conflict?
John Amaechi: I think it’s too easy to just say that there is a direct and necessary conflict between black identity and gay identity. I think it’s more nuanced than that simply because I think black is a color and then people layer on top of it all kinds of socio-cultural elements. I think there is unnecessary conflict right now between the vehemently religious and the LGBT community. The extremes of religion I think and the LGBT community have an issue and because a lot of black families in America are more religious, I think that is where the conflict comes into play.
But I also think that we just don’t... you can’t identify... you can’t label identity in the kind of ways that we do. If I took my understanding of what it was to be gay from popular culture in America—and in Britain basically—then I just wouldn’t fit because there are no gay people that look like this. I would have to change everything. I would have to change the drink that I choose to drink. I’d have to change the clothes that I wear. Everything.
And the same with being black. We need to get past the point where being black and a male means that I am likely to mug you for your wallet, likely to have a minus 15 on my IQ, likely to not go to college and likely to wear my pants below my arse. I mean there is more nuance to what it is to be black. I think if we got to that point perhaps we would see the conflicts between black, what it is to be black and what it is to be gay within individuals as well as in communities dissipate.
Question: Is gay culture becoming too homogenous?
John Amaechi: I think we are falling foul of our own stereotypes within the LGBT community. The idea that you can tell what gay is by looking at it is really pervasive. I haven’t often, but I have occasionally experienced the fact that I walk up to the door of a gay bar and be knocked back because people look at me and say well you can’t possibly be gay, you know: "Kiss him." I was like "I don’t know him. I’m not going to." But I think if we really want to advance our cause in terms of taking our place as a valued part of the spectrum of diversity then we need to look within the LGBT community and say within us there is this similar spectrum. There are parts of us that are very, very different and that can be found across the country and across the world and we need to embrace each bit of that and that includes ending things like people writing straight acting on their profiles as if to be camp is awful. We need to accept that some people are camp and some people are butch. Some people are pretty and some people are average, but we all fit.
Recorded October 7, 2010
Interviewed by Max Miller