The Blind Side

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Racism and Outsiderness Theme Analysis

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Racism and Outsiderness Theme Icon

Throughout The Blind Side, Michael Oher is an outsider. Thanks to the persistence of a father figure, Big Tony, Michael becomes one of the only black students at Briarcrest Christian Academy. He’s also the biggest kid at Briarcrest by far, and he comes from an impoverished inner-city family. At school, he’s extremely shy and lonely, partly because he isn’t sure how to make friends with his wealthy white classmates, and partly because he hasn’t had many stable relationships in his life. Michael’s outsiderness is particularly noteworthy since The Blind Side is set in the state of Tennessee, which has a long history of racism against African-Americans, and which, even in the early 2000s, is a de facto segregated state in some ways. In The Blind Side Lewis examines how Michael responds to his outsider status in white, upper-class Memphis—in particular, the varying degrees of racism that he experiences as a young man.

In some ways, Michael Oher successfully overcomes the challenges of being an outsider. He befriends the Tuohy family, who eventually adopt him as their own son. In becoming a Tuohy, Michael conquers some of his loneliness: for the first time in his life, he has a family that gives him unconditional love and takes care of his needs—something that couldn’t be said of his biological mother, Denise Oher. Because he’s comfortable with his new family, he begins to befriend classmates, teammates, and others. Furthermore, in becoming a Tuohy, Michael escapes the poverty he experienced as a child in the Memphis inner-city. More broadly, he escapes the institutional racism that keeps the inner-city squalid and dangerous. In other ways, Michael uses his outsiderness to his advantage: as the biggest kid at Briarcrest—if not the biggest 16-year-old in the state of Tennessee—he’s a natural football player. Michael becomes a popular Briarcrest athlete, further allowing him to fit in with his peers. In all, Michael adjusts to his new community, partly with the help of the generous Tuohy family, and partly because of his own innate kindness and talent as a football player.

Even after Michael overcomes some of the challenges of outsiderness, however, he continues to experience racism and discrimination. Over the course of the book, the Memphis police arrest him for no discernible reason, racist fans and opposing players call him offensive slurs, and at the heavily white, historically racist University of Mississippi, where he’s a star athlete, he still feels like a stranger. The tragedy of The Blind Side is that Michael Oher is trying to adapt to a culture that was once overtly racist and remains racially prejudiced even in the 21st century (during Michael’s time at the University of Mississippi, for example, there are still fraternities that refuse to admit black students). We’re reminded of Michael’s continued outsider status when, toward the end of the book, he flees from the scene of a fight with a teammate and refuses to answer calls or texts from his family. As the book ends, the Tuohy family is planning a foundation designed to help inner-city children like Michael, who don’t always have the talent or support to finish school and go to college. Even if Michael still feels like an outsider, and continues to face racism and prejudice, his success as a football player has helped him escape some of the worst forms of racism in American society. Furthermore, his unlikely success story draws attention to inner-city conditions and hopefully inspires other people, including the Tuohys, to do more to fight institutional racism and help impoverished, struggling children.

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Racism and Outsiderness ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Racism and Outsiderness appears in each Chapter of The Blind Side. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Racism and Outsiderness Quotes in The Blind Side

Below you will find the important quotes in The Blind Side related to the theme of Racism and Outsiderness.
Chapter 3 Quotes

His name was Michael Oher, but everyone just called him “Big Mike.” Tony liked Big Mike, but he also could see that Big Mike was heading at warp speed toward a bad end. He’d just finished the ninth grade at a public school, but Tony very much doubted he’d be returning for the tenth. He seldom attended classes, and showed no talent or interest in school. “Big Mike was going to drop out,” said Big Tony. “And if he dropped out, he’d be like all his friends who dropped out: dead, in jail, or on the street selling drugs, just waiting to be dead or in jail.”

Related Characters: Tony Henderson / Big Tony (speaker), Michael Oher
Page Number: 47
Explanation and Analysis:

In Chapter Three, we’re introduced to Michael Oher, the protagonist of the book. Michael is a young teenager, living in the impoverished inner-city of Memphis, Tennessee. Although Michael doesn’t spend much time with his biological parents (and, in fact, has never met his biological father), a man named Big Tony takes care of him sometimes, largely out of concern that, without the right influences, Michael will end up involved in selling drugs or other criminal activities to which many people turn as a way of surviving.

The passage is important not only because it paints a bleak picture of life in American inner-cities (where crime and drug selling are often the only realistic way for young people to make a good living for themselves), but because it’s one of the only passages about Big Tony, the man who arranges for Michael Oher to attend Briarcrest Christian Academy, setting in motion the events of the book. The Blind Side—both the book and the Hollywood film adaptation—has been criticized for perpetuating the “white savior complex,” the trope in which heroic white characters (in this case, the Tuohy family) reach out to help a struggling non-white character (here, Michael Oher), when, so the argument goes, there should be more books and films about non-white people taking care of themselves, helping one another, and solving their own problems. The fact that Big Tony, in spite of his importance to Michael Oher’s success in life, plays a minimal role in the book could be interpreted as evidence for the white savior complex in The Blind Side—the book marginalizes the help that inner-city people give each other, and instead focuses on the help that wealthy white people give to black inner-city youths.


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But Mr. Simpson was new to the school, and this great football coach, Hugh Freeze, had phoned Simpson’s boss, the school president, a football fan, and made his pitch: This wasn’t a thing you did for the Briarcrest football team, Freeze had said, this was a thing you did because it was right! Briarcrest was this kid’s last chance! The president in turn had phoned Simpson and told him that if he felt right with it, he could admit the boy.

Related Characters: Michael Oher, Steve Simpson, Hugh Freeze
Page Number: 54
Explanation and Analysis:

In Chapter Three, we start to get a sense for the enormous importance of football in America, particularly in a Southern state like Tennessee. Millions of Americans watch football every week, and consider football an important part of their lives. Football is more than just entertainment on television: it represents a way for communities to celebrate themselves. For example, one could argue that when two high schools play a game of football with one another, they’re each fighting for their school’s honor and reputation.

Because football is so important in Memphis, Tennessee, it influences seemingly unrelated aspects of life, such as the educational system. Ordinarily, Michael Oher would have little to no chance of attending a school like Briarcrest, partly because he’s black and Briarcrest is a de facto white school, and partly because his grades and IQ scores are poor. However, Briarcrest admits Michael in large part because the school president loves football and wants Michael to play for the Briarcrest team.

By the time [Sean] met Big Mike, he had a new unofficial title: Life Guidance counselor to whatever black athlete stumbled into the Briarcrest Christian School. The black kids reminded him, in a funny way, of himself.

Sean knew what it meant to be the poor kid in a private school, because he’d been one himself.

Related Characters: Michael Oher, Sean Tuohy
Page Number: 62
Explanation and Analysis:

Sean Tuohy is the first person in the Tuohy family to take notice of Michael Oher, and in this passage, we begin to get a sense for why. Tuohy notices that Michael Oher is lonely, and has little in common with his Briarcrest peers—most of the students at Briarcrest, an elite private school, are white and come from wealthy families. Tuohy sympathizes with the feeling of being an outsider in a rich community, because he grew up very poor, and was almost always the poorest kid in his school. Even at the University of Mississippi, where Tuohy played basketball, Tuohy felt like an outsider because he could only afford to attend school on a sports scholarship, meaning that playing basketball was essentially a job for him, not a fun activity. In all, Tuohy is sympathetic to young people who are poorer than their peers, and who feel like outsiders. In the city of Memphis, where there is an enormous (and morally disgraceful) gap between the average wealth of white and black people, and where black people are often treated like second-class citizens, this in effect means that Tuohy is especially sympathetic to black people. Sean’s sense of a personal connection with Michael Oher thus leads him to befriend Michael, pay for his lunches, and, eventually, adopt Michael as his own son.

Chapter 4 Quotes

They called him names that neither he nor his coach cared to repeat. Harrington wasn’t shocked by more subtle forms of racism away from the basketball court, but it had been a long time since he’d seen the overt version on it. “I don't think there’s a white coach with a black kid on his team, or a black coach with a white kid, who could have any racism in him,” he said. Big Mike responded badly; Harrington hadn’t seen this side of him. He began to throw elbows. Then he stopped on the court, turned on the fans, and gave them the finger.

Related Characters: Michael Oher, John Harrington
Page Number: 85
Explanation and Analysis:

In this scene, Michael Oher is playing a game of basketball on the Briarcrest team against another high school. During the game, people from the other school call Michael offensive names, including the n-word. In response, Michael becomes much more aggressive on the court, and leads his team to a sweeping victory.

The passage is an important reminder of the racism that black youths like Michael Oher face, both on and off the court—and this won’t be the first time that Michael is belittled for his race. Second, the passage suggests that Michael, in spite of his gentle nature, is capable of becoming more aggressive during sports games. Instead of being humiliated by the audience’s cruelty, Michael adapts to his surroundings and finds a way to use their cruelty to motivate himself to succeed.

Of course, it’s also worth noting how tone-deaf Harrington sounds in his quotation—both in assuming that a black coach’s “racism” against a white player could be equal to a white coach’s racism against a black player, and in thinking that the world of sports is somehow divorced from the racial prejudices of the outside world.

Chapter 6 Quotes

From his place on the sideline Sean watched in amazement. Hugh had called a running play around the right end, away from Michael’s side. Michael’s job was simply to take the kid who had been jabbering at him and wall him off. Just keep him away from the ball carrier. Instead, he’d fired off the line of scrimmage and gotten fit. Once he had his hands inside the Munford player’s shoulder pads, he lifted him off the ground. It was a perfectly legal block, with unusual consequences. He drove the Munford player straight down the field for 15 yards, then took a hard left, toward the Munford sidelines.

Related Characters: Michael Oher, Sean Tuohy, Hugh Freeze
Page Number: 135
Explanation and Analysis:

In Chapter Six, Michael Oher plays in a football game against another high school. One of the opposing players is an annoying, bullying teenager, and during a play, Michael simply carries the bully across the field, pushing him all the way back to the sidelines and even over the opposing team’s bench.

The incident with the bully is indicative of both Michael Oher’s dominance in the sport of football, and his overall temperament. Michael is clearly a gifted athlete—he’s so big and strong that he can face off against a heavy football player and essentially lift him all the way down the field. Michael is a gentle, kindhearted young man, but during football games he’s capable of channeling his anger and frustration into some impressive plays, like the one discussed in the passage.

She’d been taking care of his material needs for a good year and a half, and his emotional ones, to the extent he wanted them taken care of, for almost as long. “I love him as if I birthed him,” she said. About the hundredth time someone asked her how she handled his sexual urges, Leigh Anne snapped. “You just need to mind your own business. You worry about your life and I’ll worry about mine,” she’d said. Word must have gotten around because after that no one asked.

Related Characters: Leigh Anne Tuohy (speaker), Michael Oher
Page Number: 146
Explanation and Analysis:

Leigh Anne plays an increasingly important role in Michael Oher’s life: where before she bought him food and clothing, she now provides him with a home and round-the-clock love and support. However, instead of praising Leigh Anne for her extraordinary generosity, some of Leigh Anne’s friends question the new living situation. They wonder how Leigh Anne can trust Michael Oher around her beautiful teenaged daughter, Collins.

It’s easy to detect a racist side to Leigh Anne’s friends’ question: their confusion seems to reflect the racist trope of the aggressive, hyper-sexual black male. Leigh Anne’s response to her friends’ queries is simply that they should mind their own business instead of meddling in her own. Leigh Anne’s response shows that she respects and trusts Michael, and never believes him to be anything other than a kind, gentle young man.

Chapter 7 Quotes

Leigh Anne Tuohy was trying to do for one boy what economists had been trying to do, with little success, for less developed countries for the last fifty years. Kick him out of one growth path and onto another. Jump-start him. She had already satisfied his most basic needs: food, clothing, shelter, transportation, and health care. He had pouted for three days after she had taken him to get the vaccines he should have had as a child. It was amazing he hadn’t already died some nineteenth-century death from, say, the mumps. (When she tried to get him a flu shot the second year in a row, he said, “You white people are obsessed with that flu shot. You don’t need one every year.”) Now she was moving on to what she interpreted as his cultural deficiencies.

Related Characters: Michael Oher (speaker), Leigh Anne Tuohy
Page Number: 176
Explanation and Analysis:

In this ambiguous passage, we learn about how Leigh Anne tries to educate Michael Oher and help him become a mature adult. Leigh Anne believes that it’s her responsibility to help Michael transcend his impoverished background, both by providing for all his material needs, and by helping him learn how to appreciate the finer things in life. As we learn in the rest of the chapter, Leigh Anne takes Michael to nice restaurants and teaches him how to order food and read a wine list. She also takes him to fancy stores and buys him beautiful suits. Michael Lewis compares Leigh Anne’s actions to those of an economist who tries to help a third world country develop into a thriving industrialized nation: both by giving the nation basic material help (providing food and other necessities) and by giving the nation a strong culture.

The passage is exemplary of much that is admirable about Leigh Anne’s approach: her goal is nothing less than to help Michael Oher grow into a mature, respectable adult. However, when it comes to Michael’s “cultural deficiencies,” it could be argued that Leigh Anne is drawing Michael even further away from the realities of the average American’s life than Michael was when he lived an impoverished life in the inner-city. Similarly, one could argue that Leigh Anne isn’t really helping Michael become an independent adult at all—she’s just spoiling him and perpetuating his dependence on her.

Leigh Anne listened to the doctors discuss how bizarrely lucky Sean Junior had been in his collision with the airbag. Then she went back home and relayed the conversation to Michael, who held out his arm. An ugly burn mark ran right down the fearsome length of it. “I stopped it,” he said.

Related Characters: Michael Oher (speaker), Leigh Anne Tuohy, Sean Tuohy Junior
Page Number: 180
Explanation and Analysis:

In this touching passage, Michael Oher has been in a car accident with Sean Junior, and Sean Junior is covered in blood. It ultimately becomes clear that Sean Junior is fine—although he’s bleeding, he didn’t break any bones or even lose teeth. Indeed, the doctors are surprised that Sean Junior is basically unharmed. Only afterwards does Leigh Anne discover what happened: the reason that Sean Junior wasn’t hurt more seriously is that Michael reached out his hand to protect Sean Junior from the force of the air bag.

Michael Oher is an extraordinarily kind, gentle person, and he feels an instinctive need to protect the people he cares about, even if doing so means hurting himself. Michael’s protective instincts also come in handy during football games: the same instinct that leads him to reach out his hand to protect Sean Junior also helps him to excel at protecting the quarterback during football plays.

Chapter 10 Quotes

A big part of the tutor’s job was to steer the players away from the professors and courses most likely to lead to lack of performance. The majority of the football team wound up majoring in “Criminal Justice.” What Criminal Justice had going for it was that it didn't require any math or language skills. Criminal Justice classes were also almost always filled with other football players.

Page Number: 265
Explanation and Analysis:

After Michael Oher goes off to college at the University of Mississippi, he’s put in a strange position: on paper, he’s a college student, but in reality, he’s at Ole Miss for one reason—to play football. The Ole Miss football program devotes tremendous resources to ensure that its athletes give their undivided attention to the sport. They hire expensive tutors to help the athletes learn the material from their courses as quickly as possible; furthermore, the passage implies, another part of the tutors’ job is to pressure the athletes to major in relatively easy subjects like “Criminal Law.” Ironically enough, the Ole Miss football tutors—whose job, one would think, is to help the athletes learn—are mostly paid to encourage the athletes to learn as little as possible and choose an easy major, so that they can focus on football.

The passage paints a cynical picture of college athletic life. College athletes are treated like princes, especially at a place like Ole Miss, where athletics is a huge moneymaker and a big part of campus life. However, athletes’ elite status can’t disguise the fundamental disrespect with which the Ole Miss administration regards its athletes. Ole Miss doesn’t respect football players as human beings—rather, it treats them as means to the end of raising money and prestige. Outrageously, Ole Miss makes little effort to give its athletes a worthwhile education—and in many ways it does just the opposite. In effect, this means that Ole Miss is cheating its athletic students of the education they deserve—suggesting that, if its athletes don’t get a lucrative professional sports job, they have no way of providing for themselves after college.

The circumstances were that the Ole Miss football team, like the Mississippi State football team, consisted mostly of poor black kids from Mississippi. When the Ole Miss defense gathered in a single room, the only white people were coaches. On the football field the players became honorary white people, but off it they were still black, and unnatural combatants in Mississippi's white internecine war.

Page Number: 280
Explanation and Analysis:

At the University of Mississippi Michael Oher certainly doesn’t escape the racism and discrimination he’s faced for his entire life. The University of Mississippi has a long history of racial prejudice—indeed, when the first black student enrolled at the university during the Civil Rights era, students and locals rioted on campus. To this day, there is a strong racial tension on campus. One side effect of this racial tension is that even elite black students, such as athletes, are only treated with respect in some situations. As the passage suggests, black athletes are still ridiculed or just ignored when they’re off the field. As important as black football players may be to their school, their classmates sometimes treat them with condescension or outright racism, and even on the field they may be merely fetishized or objectified by fans.

Michael beat Antonio around the face and threw him across the room as, around the room, huge football players took cover beneath small desks. That's when a lot of people at once began to scream hysterically and Michael noticed the little white boy on the floor, in a pool of blood. He hadn't seen the little white boy—the three-year-old son of one of the tutors. Who had put the little white boy there? When he’d charged Antonio, the boy somehow had been hit and thrown up against the wall. His head was now bleeding badly. Seeing the body lying in his own blood, Michael ran.

Related Characters: Michael Oher, Antonio Turner
Page Number: 290
Explanation and Analysis:

In this disturbing scene, Michael Oher gets into a heated argument with his teammate, Antonio Turner. Turner has made some offensive comments about wanting to have sex with Leigh Anne, Michael’s adopted mother, and Collins, Michael’s adopted sister. Michael is so furious that he beats up Antonio in front of a roomful of people—and he also accidentally injures a little boy, the son of one of the football tutors.

Michael’s actions are horrifying and shouldn’t be excused—it’s absolutely wrong for an adult to settle a fight by attacking another adult (let alone hurting a small child in the process). But without forgiving what Michael does, it’s possible to understand his actions. On one hand, Michael is deeply loyal to his adopted family, and doesn’t like it when Antonio speaks ill of them. At the same time, Michael, in spite of his gentle nature, continues to feel uncomfortable and maladjusted at Ole Miss. He’s still an immature, lonely young man, and doesn’t understand how to address his own problems in a civil manner. In times of stress and anxiety, Michael defaults to one of the two strategies he learned as a young boy: fight or run. In the case of Antonio Turner, he does both.

Chapter 11 Quotes

As [Denise] had no income except for whatever the government sent her on the first of each month, the children had no money for provisions. They had no food or clothing, except what they could scrounge from churches and the street. Surprisingly often, given the abundance of public housing in Memphis, they had no shelter. When asked what he recalls of his first six years, Michael said, “Going for days having to drink water to get full. Going to other people’s houses and asking for something to eat. Sleeping outside. The mosquitoes.”

Related Characters: Michael Oher (speaker), Denise Oher
Page Number: 296
Explanation and Analysis:

In Chapter Eleven, we learn more about Michael Oher’s rough childhood living in the Memphis inner-city. Michael’s biological mother, a woman named Denise, wasn’t much of a mother: she was a crack addict, and showed no real affection for Michael or his siblings. Furthermore, Denise didn’t do much to take care of her children, and she spent most of her money on drugs. As a result, Michael Oher had to learn to fend for himself—scrounging for food and desperately hunting for shelter.

The passage sheds new light on Michael’s behavior. In part, Michael was quiet and lonely during his early time at Briarcrest because he simply didn’t fit in with the other students—his life experiences were completely different from those of his classmates. The passage also confirms that Leigh Anne is, in many ways, more of a mother to Michael than Michael’s own biological parent—she provides Michael the emotional support that Michael’s biological mother doesn’t.

But Big Zach’s girlfriend had already given birth to their first child. She didn’t want to go to Florida State, and the truth was he didn’t really feel like doing his schoolwork or making his grades. Surrounded by friends who told him that he’d be wasting his time to even try college, he quit. He never even finished high school.

Related Characters: Zachary Bright
Page Number: 306
Explanation and Analysis:

In this heartbreaking passage, we learn about a friend of Michael Oher named Zachary Bright, nicknamed Big Zach. Big Zach excelled at football, and could have attended a good college on a sports scholarship. However, partly because his peers pressured him to stay, partly because he wanted to take care of his girlfriend and kid, and partly because he was feeling unmotivated, Zach chose not to accept the scholarship.

The passage is tragic because, by accepting a football scholarship, Zach could have found a way to get out of the inner-city and build a better life for himself. With a college degree he could have gotten a good job, or even played in the NFL. Peer pressure and the more abstract, driving force of momentum can be powerful deterrents to success, reminding us that Michael succeeds not only because of his talent as a football player, but because of his determination and resolve—and his good luck in meeting the supportive Tuohys, of course.

Chapter 12 Quotes

And, after a long round of fulsome apologies and ten hours of community service, Michael was restored to his former status of model citizen—and the incident never even hit the campus newspaper. It just went away, the way it would have gone away for some well-to-do white kid. Of course, lessons were learned and points of view exchanged. Coach O, for instance, pulled Michael into his office to discuss The Responsibilities of Being Michael Oher. Rather dramatically, Coach O extracted from his desk a thick folder stuffed with newspaper clippings, and dropped it with a thud. “Dajus da crap dey wrotebout me last sittee days!” he boomed. (That’s just the crap they wrote about me in the last sixty days!) He went on to lecture Michael on the burdens of conspicuous success. “Let me tell you something, son,” he concluded (in translation). “It is lonely at the top.”

Related Characters: Ed Orgeron (speaker), Michael Oher
Page Number: 316
Explanation and Analysis:

Here Michael faces the consequences of beating up another student, and accidentally hurting a child—but the only problem is, there aren’t any real consequences to speak of. Michael does some minimal community service, and that’s that. Michael’s almost total lack of discipline for his actions (and, to be clear, he deserves some kind of punishment for beating up another kid) reflects his new status as an elite football player. If Michael were still living in the inner-city, by contrast, it’s not hard to imagine a racist criminal justice system sentencing him to years in prison for the same offense.

As Lewis describes it, Michael gets a slap on the wrist for his actions, the same punishment that a “well-to-do white kid” would receive. However, Michael’s avoidance of punishment is still unfair and enabling, just as it would be for any “well-to-do white kid.” Consider the way Orgeron excuses Michael’s behavior with the vague advice of “It is lonely at the top”—as if Michael, the guy who beat up his teammate, is the real victim of the incident. College athletic programs have gotten a lot of criticism for producing entitled young men who think the world revolves around them—and with enablers like Orgeron in charge, it’s not hard to see why.