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.
Racism and Outsiderness ThemeTracker
Racism and Outsiderness Quotes in The Blind Side
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.”