Losing Themselves in Deceptive Assumptions

By Cameron King

13521981_1012098732206193_1754789256547404404_n“Tell me about your knee.” After looking me up and down, he asks, “Do you play football?”

“No. I don’t. I’m not sure how I hurt it.” My knees had been killing me for months and I was finally seeing an orthopedist.

“You don’t play football? You look like a football player. You know, because you’re . . . big.” Caught off guard, like most people when I tell them I don’t play football, he responded, “Do you play any other sports?”

“Yes. Basketball and track.”

“Forward?”

“No. I play center.”

“And track?”

“I jump, throw shot put and run sprints.”

“Are you planning on going to college? I don’t mean to intrude, but—”

“Yes. I plan on going to college,” I respond quickly. I start to feel annoyed with his lack of attention to my knee.

“Well, with this injury, you will have to start rethinking what you’re going to do. You may want to consider something other than sports. Like history or medicine.”

I pause for a moment.

He continues, “I don’t mean to discourage you, but you may not make it to the professional level on those knees.”

I say, “I’m not planning to go to college for sports. I want to study computer science or electrical engineering.”

This time he doesn’t even attempt to hide his shock. “Oh, you do? You know you need to have good grades for that, right?”

Careful not to reveal my mounting frustration, I smile, breaking the silence, “I know that it’s difficult, but I think I can do it . . . so, my knee?”

My mother, a Caribbean immigrant, has stressed the value of an education for as long as I remember. Going to college for sports was never my intention, but people’s expectations of me are incessant. I’m constantly asked:

“Where’s your scouting video?”

“Are you looking into D1 schools?”

“Have you contacted coaches yet?”

I am a 6 foot 3 inch, 240-pound African-American male. People see me and assume that college sports are my key to a bright future. Sports are fun, but my passion lies in computer science and technology. While I do participate in sports, I spend more time making video games, apps, websites, robots, and 3D printed objects. But even at hackathons, I’m often written off because of my appearance: “You don’t really look like a programmer . . .”

Basketball has never been my calling. In eighth grade, the coach pressured me to play on the school team. I joined and during the first game, I started but to much disappointment, I scored on the wrong basket. I felt the need to redeem myself. In high school, I joined JV, became co-captain and then moved up to varsity. Yes, my basketball skills dramatically improved, however, I only played in the first place because I was told that I was an “Oreo” for not. An Oreo, as in not truly Black on the inside–as if to say being Black is to only be able to play basketball well.

Because African Americans make up a minority of those in the tech industry, I understand that it may be hard to believe that the varsity center also coded the school newspaper’s website, or that he led a 3-day computer science workshop for fellow students. I know that someone like me, in terms of race and appearance, may not look like the founder of a tech startup, but that doesn’t change the fact that I am the co-founder of MYOSK, and we intend to launch sales of gesture-controlled electric skateboards next year.

While I want to play at the club level, I dream not of being the next NBA player, but rather, of being the CEO of my own company. You may look at me and assume I’m just another athlete. I can’t change that. I am used to people discounting my interests based on their perceptions of me, but I’ll never let their assumptions circumscribe my ambitions.

Cameron King, a graduate of Little Red School House and Elisabeth Irwin High School, is a freshman at Duke.