Take action against racism and acknowledge white privilege
On May 1, Adam Jones, a center fielder for the Baltimore Orioles, was subject to racist taunts from a fan during a game at Fenway Park. The story made national headlines, partially due to the fact that this was not an isolated incident. According to a May 2 ESPN article, Jones stated that this was not the first time that he had been the target of such racist abuse during a Boston game, although he has not provided any details about the other incidents. Carsten Charles “CC” Sabathia, a Yankees pitcher and 16-year veteran of Major League Baseball, supplemented Jones’ comments by saying that Boston is known among African-American players for this type of abuse from its fans: “There are 62 of us, and we all know that when you get to Boston, expect it,” he said, according to a May 2 New York Post article.
I grew up in the Greater Boston area in a predominantly white suburb, going to predominantly white private schools. Every year, I would go to one or two Red Sox games with my family, and I was always struck by the sense of unity that the game created among the fans. Juxtaposed with typical American city streets whose inhabitants are generally rushed, unsociable and occasionally rude, Fenway provided a nice reprieve where strangers would act uncharacteristically kindly toward each other simply due to a shared allegiance to a baseball team.
However, recent incidents like that of May 1 have challenged these perceptions. I began to think of how someone of a different race than I may have had a drastically different experience in a place that I have long associated with happiness and camaraderie. Could my being a white male have shielded me from such blatant hatred? Could I have overheard evidence of this hostility in more subtle forms but not realized it?
While it is easy to understand that sports can trigger a wide range of emotions, calling someone something as hate-filled as the N-word is something much more severe than what should be expected at a sports game. The fact that these incidents have occurred repeatedly over the years is evidence of a deeper issue — one that results from widespread beliefs in a community rather than just ephemeral, tempestuous reactions to events at a sports game. Perhaps this is most evidenced by the fact that opposing minority players are not the only ones who have been subject to extreme racism at Fenway Park.
In January, Red Sox pitcher David Price said that he had been the victim of racial taunts in Fenway Park during his first season with the team, according to a Jan. 13 Boston Globe article. Former Red Sox outfielder Carl Crawford was also subject to racial taunts from members of the fan base in 2012, according to a July 25, 2012 ESPN article.
The question then becomes, why is it that Boston is known among African-American MLB players as a place where they are uniquely susceptible to racism? Is it possible that these incidents are merely aberrations or, as some in Boston have suggested, that they happen just as frequently in other cities but the media likes to sensationalize those that occur here because it plays well among those who hate the local sports teams?
In his book, “Autobiography of a Recovering Skinhead,” former white supremacist leader-turned-civil rights activist Frank Meeink attempts to answer the question of how and why hate toward different ethnicities had become such a big part of his past life. For him, the answer could be found in how he came to question his hateful beliefs. Through a series of relationships with people from groups he thought he hated, he was forced to challenge the stereotypes that he had believed so fervently. The story elucidates the fact that racist beliefs can easily take root in the absence of interaction between groups of different ethnicities.
Perhaps this lesson can be applied to Boston. According to data reviewed by 24/7 Wall Street in 2015, Boston-Cambridge-Newton is the seventh most segregated area in the United States.
Boston has a well-documented history of racism, such as the busing incident in the late 1970s when the court-ordered desegregation of city public schools was met with fierce opposition from white residents. While some have argued that their outrage and concern was simply for the inconvenience of the children who now had to endure long bus rides to schools outside of their neighborhoods, it became very clear that this was not the only impetus behind the outrage. Buses carrying African-American students from Roxbury into South Boston were pelted with bricks and stones and local whites referred to those students using racial epithets in interviews with reporters, according to a 2014 series on WBUR.
However, Meeink’s case provides another reason why Boston has had such an issue with racism. A white Boston resident that does not interact with racial minorities on a regular basis does not have the opportunities to counter the stereotypes that may have become ingrained in their minds from those around them or the media. Thus, the type of hatred seen during the Busing scandal and at Red Sox games can fester, as many Bostonians do not have the types of relationships with racial minorities that preclude them from making sweeping generalizations. This does not excuse one from having such beliefs, but it is important to understand how they can be borne out of societal and contextual factors in addition to simply being passed down from family members.
A day before the Adam Jones incident occurred, I was walking to a party with my friends before Springfest. As we walked up to the door, we saw that a group of African-American students were being told they could not come in because there was not enough room in the party for them. My friends and I, all white, walked past the host and into the party without issue. I looked back at what was happening and thought about how terrible it was, but then I continued into the event without saying anything. Later, I began to question myself and the extent to which I was a part of the problem. I have always considered myself to be a socially conscious person and have always supported movements advocating for the progress of marginalized groups. And yet, my instinct in the aforementioned situation was to internalize my feelings and move on without taking action.
Racism and injustice can take many forms and pervade many types of communities. Even one of the most iconic places in a Democratic stronghold and an institution founded on the principle of inclusion is privy to discriminatory attitudes. Greater efforts must be made to foster relationships between members of different groups and there must be action taken at even the slightest hint of such hatred in our communities. Even small gestures like walking out of the party in the aforementioned situation are important.
Learning about these issues in class, posting on social media or even writing articles about them is simply not enough. The real change occurs when concrete action is taken.