Sorry Not Sorry: Let’s Talk Racism

Someone hung a home-made banner up over the edge of the Green Monster at Fenway Park.

(Wait – let me back up – for those of you who don’t follow sports at all in any way – Fenway is where the Red Socks play.   The Green Monster is a giant wall in the outfield, over which it’s really hard to hit a ball. For a long time, it was a wall of advertisements. Then it got painted green. Then they started putting ads on it again. Then they started selling seats above it.   Everyone watching the game, both live and on TV, have a great view of it.)

The banner read, “Racism is As American As Baseball.” It covered part of an ad for Foxwoods Casino. The people who hung it up were chased out, which is fine, since it’s a private business, and they broke the agreement they made when purchasing their tickets.  But they made their point.

Now, some people misinterpreted the banner as being in support of racism. I get that. It’s worded in such a way that it could be seen as saying “Stop whining – Racism is the American Way” – but, really, after a minute’s thought, I think very few folks would continue to see it that way.   Most people got it – they were saying that racism is part of our heritage, and we need to face it.

Now, I’m sure a lot of people at the game nodded, or talked about it with each other, or shrugged. But some folks took pictures, and the internet interneted, and now there’s all of this outrage. “How dare they ruin a baseball game?!?” I read. “How inappropriate.” I read long passionate statements about the mix of races on the field and in the stands. I read people basically saying, “Racism isn’t an issue here at Fenway Park in Boston.”

Let me get one thing out of the way. Racism is very real in baseball, in Boston, and in Fenway Park. Ok? If you’re white, don’t argue with me. I know, we white people don’t always see or sense racism, but it’s there. Because, yes, it is a part of the fabric of American society.

But – I want to address the conversations underlying the rejection of this banner. The whole “people are out, having a good time, spending a lot of money, wanting to relax – that’s a political issue, and it doesn’t belong here” kind of response.

Here’s my question for you. When is a good time to discuss racism? What should we be waiting for? For the family to go see “Selma” or “Detroit” as a springboard? For the classroom lesson on Reconstruction and Jim Crowe to bring up a conversation over dinner?

From my experience, there’s never a convenient time to talk about hard realities to children.

But – for all of those people who experience racism every day? It doesn’t wait on convenience.

Did Colin Kaepernick’s kneeling upset you, because your child asked you why he wasn’t standing for the Star Spangled Banner?

Well, he can’t stop being a black man every day of the week. And experiencing racism 24/7. It’s inconvenient as heck, I imagine.

We moved to Philly when my kid was just over 2. Fairly soon after, we were coming back from the grocery store, and passed a mural dedicated to the Philadelphia Stars, which was the Negro League baseball team here. He asked me if it was a billboard of the Philly team, and I explained that it was a mural honoring a team that used to play right around there. He asked where they played now, and I explained that they didn’t, that baseball was racially integrated (in slightly simpler words.) He asked why, back then, they didn’t just let black and white people play together, the way he played with his friends. I explained that there was a time that people believed that the color of the skin on the outside of your body made you different. He told me that didn’t make any sense – that the only difference between his friends and him was that his friend’s grandma made mac and cheese differently than I did. He actually said, “That’s stupid – we have the same blood and bones and brains. Who cares what your skin looks like.” I told him he was right, and those people were wrong.

I did lie by suggestion though – I was suggesting that the time people thought that was past. But we’ve talked about that since. It wasn’t a scary conversation, and, not to sprain my arm patting myself on the back, but it was actually an important part of his understanding that the world is maybe not just, and that society is maybe not fair, and that he can be a part of changing that.

It’s not that hard. You’re watching a baseball game, the majority of which consists of 8 people standing and watching one person pitch, and waiting to see if another person hits. There’s a lot of downtime. It’s a summer sport – there are lots of pauses.

But, let’s be honest – people don’t want to talk about it not because it’s inconvenient, but because, on some level, it scares them. It scares them because they know it’s true and can’t change it, or because they’re afraid they’re racist, or because they don’t understand what it feels like to be on the receiving end of racism. It scares them because they know “racists are bad” and they don’t want to be racists, but they don’t know how to talk about it.

We hear the word “privilege” a lot. This, my friends, is privilege in small. The ability to deal with racism when it’s convenient to you? That’s a privilege. You did nothing wrong, being born in the body you have. But you can do something right.

You can talk about it with your family. Your friends. Your co-workers. Because, until we acknowledge and own the racism endemic to our country, we’re not going to fix it. And police will keep shooting black people under the same circumstances that they arrest white people. And brown kids will still get sent to the principal more often than white people for the same behaviors. People of color will still be judged differently, given different chances, different hopes, different plans, different opportunities.

Sure, I wish it wasn’t a conversation that has to be had. But, you know what? If that banner made you talk with the people around you about something difficult, then it did its job. And I hope another one gets put up tomorrow.


One thought on “Sorry Not Sorry: Let’s Talk Racism”

  1. It’s always interesting to notice the crowds at Boston’s pro sports events. Stunningly pale, aren’t they? It’s not at all that way everywhere. With all its educational & cultural resources, Boston has always had it’s stubbornly parochial side. It’s a fascinating and perplexing city.


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